We had booked train tickets to Pune from Thane for today, Sunday, Nov 15th. However, when my brother, Dinesh, came home on Fri night, we realized that the bag we intend to pick from Pune, would easily fit in the trunk of his Fiat Palio. So when he offered to drive us there and back, we readily agreed – it would be far more comfortable than having to drag the bag back on a train or bus. We can definitely visit Pune more leisurely some other day – right now the requirement is to get the bag back as it contains our winter jackets and hiking boots, which we’ll need for our trips. In the past, Dinesh and his wife, Neha, have lived in Pune for a year working for Pune’s growing IT industry, so they know the place well … or parts of it, at least.
By the time we left home on Sat morning, it was 11:30am. The new Mumbai – Pune expressway is India’s first high-speed, six-lane, tolled expressway. It’s 93km long starting near Panvel and ending just outside Pune. The toll’s Rs.140 each way for a car and is totally worth it. It’s quite well-maintained allowing us speeds in excess of 100kmph . The trucks on this stretch seemed quite well behaved as well and unlike the north, drivers here seemed to follow lane rules better. En route, we stopped at one of the rest stops, which was surprisingly well-constructed and maintained. There was a chikki store by the famed Maganlal Chikkiwala of Lonavla. I bought my favorite groundnut with jaggery chikkis and they were the best I’ve had in 10 years. There was a small restaurant that served snacks as well as regular meals. Since the plan was to have lunch at Pune, we decided to settle for just some snacks. We bought Wada-pavs and Dhabelis, which were pure bliss. The public restrooms provided at the rest-stop were also surprisingly clean and well-maintained….
We got to Pune around 2:30pm. It took us about 3 hours to get there but this included a leisurely stop in-between and quite a bit of traffic while getting out of Thane; definitely much faster than what it used to take before the expressway.
Foodies that we are, Dinesh directly took us to one of his favorite Pune restaurants, Tareef, for lunch. The restaurant is in Aundh, which is north of Pune’s city center and right off of NH-4 coming south from Mumbai. 15 years ago when Madhu was studying in Pune, he remembered Aundh to be an undeveloped, rural area in the outskirts of Pune. But today it is a bustling, well-developed area like any Mumbai suburb. Quite a few multinational, IT companies like Siemens and Symantec have offices here, due to which many young, IT professionals have moved in, giving the place a nice university-town feel.
After a fantastic feast at Tareef, we headed out for the real purpose of our trip to Pune – the bag. My friend’s dad is a recently retired army official. They live in army quarters in an area close to Vishrant Wadi. Dinesh didn’t know the area so it took us quite a while to find the place. One thing about folks out here as compared to those in the north – they are far more eager to help. We got extensive and detailed directions every time we stopped to ask. By the time we got to Ghotra uncle’s place it was around 5:45pm. It was a beautiful area – green and quiet. It felt like a resort, away from the crowds of the city. At their house, we were served more food. We hung out for a bit, played with their super-friendly 7-year-old dog, Snoopy and eventually left with the bag around 6:30pm. Uncle and aunty offered to put us up in the quarters if we wished to stay. We promised them that we would definitely take them up on it when we return someday to visit Pune as part of our Maharashtra itinerary.
We headed back home around 7:30pm and were in Thane by 9:30pm. For dinner, Dinesh took us to Vihang’s Inn, which is on Ghodbunder road and quite close to where mom lives. We were tired as hell but, of course, none of us even considered calling it a day without some more food. After a great meal, we were home and asleep by midnight. It had been a fun road-trip and a day of really good food …