Free Time in Pune

The program for studying at RIMYI is a full one – we have classes every day except for Sundays and practice sessions daily which we are expected to attend. (It’s in these practice sessions that the fruit of all Geeta and Prashant Iyengar’s teachings and our observing of the other classes, along with our own interpretations can really manifest, so missing them is not an option for most of us that really “get” the importance and privilege of being here.) The only classes on Sundays are the two children’s classes which take place one after the other from 8am. These are fast moving and highly active and you can come out of observing them exhausted just by seeing how hard the teachers work!

So, apart from watching the local children put through their paces on a Sunday morning, we visitors to Pune have several options for our “day off” – more practice, at home this time as RIMYI is closed to all visitors for the rest of the day, catching up with our studies, visiting friends and sharing lunch, shopping or taking a day out to visit a temple or other historic site, or to go further afield to the countryside surrounding Pune. There is a also great tour called the “Pune Heritage Walk” which gives a 3 hour walking tour around the historic sites of Pune. In fact, you are spoilt for choice and my advice to anyone visiting for the first time would be to not plan too much and always allow for things to take longer than expected. If you are sensitive to bad air, always carry a mask when travelling in rickshaws as traipsing across town for longer than 20 minutes, you will be exposed to every type of vehicle emission imaginable – if you can, early morning is best when the traffic is at it’s quietest (the walking tour starts at 7am on Saturdays and Sundays). Here in Model Colony, where RIMYI is situated, the air is noticeably better than in downtown Pune and there are more trees and greenery here and a lovely park nearby where people come from 6.30am to do their exercises, and school children come and play. It’s always nice to come “home” to Model Colony where it also has a more relaxed atmosphere than some of the more built up areas of Pune city.

Krishna TempleThis Sunday at 6.30am, we visited a ISKCON temple – very interesting with lots of chanting, dancing, ceremony and beautifully dressed people. Our guide, Krishna, skilfully navigated his way with 4 of us in tow, across Pune to the south of the city, on local buses, foot and rickshaws – at one point with 5 of us in a rickshaw, plus the driver in a vehicle built for 3 passengers maximum – “Don’t worry,” they said, “It’s only 2 kilometres” and when we arrived we had to peel ourselves out one by one.

Approaching the impressive temple, we take our shoes off which go into a white bag and we receive a token to exchange for them later. Then we are instructed to wash our feet before entering the temple grounds. Our bags are searched on the way in by fierce looking female security guards who greet us with, “Hare Krishna” before going through our things with a scanner. On entering the temple itself, we see a throng of men and women with chanting and dancing and welcoming smiles. It’s a great atmosphere, they’re really having fun. Lots of prostrating going on, prayers being given at the altars and we are welcomed warmly without the feeling that we are being judged at all or expected to join in.Krishna Temple Inside

Downstairs, after the ceremony there is usually a discourse on some aspect of one of the sacred texts which we were also welcome to attend, but today it was in Hindi, sometimes it is in English, so we were out of luck – the speaker was obviously very eloquent and articulate.

Afterwards, the bookshop is open – no more books please! I already have a full suitcase and although everyone in our little group agree that we can’t possibly want more gifts from the giftshop, we have a quick look round anyway and all sheepishly come out with another “little something” – I’m a sucker for stickers and the 3d Hare Krishna welcome sticker was just too much of a temptation, although I managed to resist the cow dung and cow urine remedies for mosquito bites…

Then finally, dangerously sweet chai tea and a tomato uttapa – it’s a kind of pancake with fresh tomatoes inside and a little spice. Very delicious and freshly cooked at the temple kitchen. The array of Indian sweets and cakes on offer, all baked there, thankfully didn’t tempt me this time and we left in the heat of the day back to our rickshaw journeys across town amidst the busy Sunday traffic. The atmosphere had completely changed since 6.30am and the two rickshaws we were travelling in weaved in and out of the mayhem effortlessly and without a hint of road rage or agitation whatsoever, even though there were several, what appeared to me, near misses from all directions. Despite the honking of horns, drivers in Pune are quite calm. The horn honking serves the purpose to just let you know that they are trying to over take (or under take) or to warn you to stay back in case you step out into the road unexpectedly. You could actually just set up a chair on a busy junction and watch the traffic all day, it’s an amazing spectacle of cooperation, skilful riding/driving and daredevil attempts to get somewhere fast. It’s not uncommon for someone to be driving the wrong side or even the wrong way along the road if it means they can cut corners (literally) and yesterday we even saw someone riding his motorcycle around the roundabout the wrong way to reach his exit quicker. Somehow I don’t think I’ll be hiring a car here any time soon!