You may remember from my first India post that I felt uncertain about writing about India for Aspies. It was so overwhelming when I first arrived that I felt it just wasn’t made for us. And there were several other times throughout my trip that I felt overwhelmed, but when I slowed down and went at my own pace, I found Autism-friendly places to go in Pune.
My personal favorite is Aga Khan Palace, the palace where Gandhi was held on house arrest and the current headquarters of the Gandhi National Memorial Society. The palace sits on 19 acres of land, seven of which are the palace itself, plus another 12 acres of beautiful grounds. One part history and one part serene gardens makes this a perfect place to come for quiet contemplation.
A brief history
Aga Khan Palace was built in 1892 by Sultan Muhammed Shah Aga Khan III, who wanted to provide employment for the local people suffering from famine. The Sultan employed 1,000 people to build the palace over a five year period.
The palace later served as a prison where Gandhi, his wife, and his secretary were held on house arrest. Gandhi’s secretary, Mahadeobhai Desai, died shortly after being imprisoned and Gandhi’s wife Kasturba died toward the end of their two year house arrest. Both have their Samadhis, or memorials, at this site. Gandhi lived another four years after his house arrest. After his assassination, some of his ashes were brought back to Aga Khan Palace to be laid to rest with his wife and secretary.
I got a chill of excitement walking up to the palace from the parking lot, not only because of its historic significance, but also because it is just so gorgeous. Its beige color, Italian arches, and pillars contrast the stone forts and colorful temples scattered throughout the city.
As I walked the corridor that loops around the palace, I imagined myself living there. In my mind I was a southern belle which is absurd not only because India could not be more distant from the deep south, both culturally and geographically speaking, but also because I’m a Midwestern tomboy.
The palace interior features sculptures and photos depicting the life of Mahatma Gandhi and the history of the freedom movement in India.
The highlight of Aga Khan Palace is the room where Gandhi and his wife Kasturba were held. You can’t go inside the room, but you can view the interior from behind a glass wall. The room still contains Gandhi’s sandals and charkha, or spinning wheel, among other belongings.
The charkha is particularly interesting. Although Gandhi didn’t invent the charkha, he did reinvent it, literally and figuratively. He built a mobile version for prison that could be folded up into a case. The charkha became a powerful symbol of the freedom movement as Gandhi encouraged more and more people to become self-sufficient, in part through spinning on the charkha to make their own clothing.
These two simple items, the sandals Gandhi walked around in and the charkha that Gandhi weaved with, standing only a few feet away made me feel such an intense connection to this place. It was like I was right there with Gandhi in 1942. I saw Gandhi spinning on his Charkha and getting up to put on his sandals to go to dinner. I love these moments during travel when time collapses on itself and only space remains.
Beyond the palace itself are 12 acres of gardens for you to wander, meditate, and enjoy your natural surroundings.
When I was there, the gardens were peaceful and serene, but be mindful of holidays and special events when it may be more crowded. The following events are held at Aga Khan Palace, although there may be other busy times, as well.
- January 26th – Republic Day
- January 30th – Martyr’s Day
- Mahashivratri – date varies
- August 15th – Independence Day
- October 2nd – Gandhi’s birthday
Aga Khan Palace is northeast of Pune city center along Pune-Ahmednagar Highway, just west of the Hyatt. I recommend taking an auto rickshaw. They are inexpensive and metered, but make sure to check that the meter is working before you get in.
I didn’t have a chance to check out the nearby Jogger’s Park, a short walk south of Aga Khan Palace, but it has great reviews. There are separate walking and jogging paths, grass for doing yoga, a children’s playground, and outdoor gym equipment. It sounds like it can be relatively quiet and probably another place to go to escape the sensory overload of the city.
There are plenty of good restaurants within walking distance, but budget travelers may want to pack a lunch when visiting this neighborhood. The restaurants are expensive compared to local Indian places and street food.
For more on India, check out my day in Mumbai with Asha Handicrafts and sign up for our email list so you don’t miss any content. There is more to come on Pune, India!
Have you been to Pune or want to go? Leave your comments and questions below! I would love to hear your tips for traveling in India or answer your travel questions.