Now that we have explored our immediate area—walking the streets, chartering rickshaws near and far—we’ve begun exploring farther afield. The surrounding hills, or tekdis, have been of particular interest. As a long-time mountaineer, and English professor who recently team-taught a course on the literature of mountains, I’m always drawn upwards—wherever I happen to be.
Pune is nestled in the Sahyadri Hills, on the lee side of the Western Ghats in the Indian state of Maharashtra. The city is at about 560 meters above the sea, and the dry winter climate of central India keeps the hills brown until the monsoon rains begin in June. When we arrived, much to my delight, I could see that there were open hillsides and ridges within the city. Our first walk up Hanuman, a rocky ridge (actually a spur of a larger ridge, Vetal Tekdi) that runs behind Symbiosis College and overlooks Deccan, introduces us to the tekdi in Pune. We walk from Fergusson College (where a Sunday afternoon cricket game is underway), up the basalt outcroppings to a small temple that overlooks the Ambedkar museum.
Our next outing is up the Law College hill where we eat lunch along the trail that heads west to Vetal Tekdi, the highest point in the city of Pune, at 800 meters (or 2625 feet). The air seems a bit cleaner on the ridge, and the warm sun and dry scrub forest is pleasant. After eating, we walk off the back side of the hill and circle back down a road that leads to a cluster of buildings, the Indian Automotive Institute. Passing through the entrance gate to the Institute we descend into a large slum tenement that rings the back side of the hill. A week ago, from Parvati, we had seen similar slums creeping up the lower reaches of the hill, almost like vegetation—stone and wood and corrugated metal, tightly packed, with paths leading into the tightly packed structures. Small children, goats and dogs, piles of trash, everywhere, with nowhere else to go.
This morning I head out before dawn to catch the sunrise from Vetal Tekdi. A few older Puneites are out walking, and trash pickers and street sweepers are beginning the day’s work. From behind the Law College, I run up to the ridge and then follow the trail to its highest point, Vetal Tekdi. After taking in the sunrise from the Vetal temple I drop down to the ridgeline path. The ridge is easily accessible (I came up the long way) from the road we descended the other day, and the path that winds a few kilometers to the Chaturshringi Temple is well-traveled. This morning, I talk with a father and son who answer my questions about the revegetation work underway and the history of the quarry on the west side of the ridge facing the area known as Arundh. Alongside the temple is a watchtower built by the Forest Department. The approximately 10.5 mile area of the Tekdi, I learn, includes the abandoned quarry, state forest land, and private land. The deciduous forests are open this time of year. The trees are medium-sized and there are shrubs on the lower reaches that have not been burned. There are native trees here, from what I can gather, accasia, babul, and glyricidia, as well as the cultivated ornamentals and exotics. I’m told that the tekdi is home to Barking Deer and Black Naped Hare, as well as many birds, including peacocks.
After seeing all the people enjoying the morning on the ridgeline trail I come home to read about a proposed new road connecting Balbharati and Paud Phata along the base of Vetal hill. When the road was proposed a few years ago, citizen groups blocked the proposal by the PMC (Pune Municipal Corporation). They organized in the Kamala Nehru Park near our flat, and then went out and gathered 90,000 signatures against the project. I also learn that the forest department is involved in an ambitious tree planting scheme on the ridge.
Trenches and berms (called bunds) have been excavated across the hillsides to catch the monsoon rains and prevent erosion of soil. The department employees burn the underbrush during the late winter months as part of their forest management plan. Carrying many questions about the ecology and natural history of this precious urban green space, I walk down a different route—a wider trail with a stone wall under construction. There are larger trees here, where the peacocks roost I am told, and I end up near the end of Pashan Road. I’m interested in where the ridge intersects with the spur known as Hanuman Hill. So I hop a wall and bushwack back up through the underbrush, wondering about snakes and scorpions, to a ledge where two laborers in white clothes are digging bunds by hand with worn pick axes. I regain the trail, help a young student who has caught his legs in a patch of thorns, and descend to Senapat Bapati road.