For most of my life, I have travelled the Mumbai-Pune route by bus. The Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC) runs a reasonably efficient bus service between the two cities. MSRTC uses Volvo buses under the 'Shivneri' brand, which also makes the journey quite comfortable.
By comparison, in previous years, trains seemed like terrifying bureaucratic machines with tickets that were hard to get and needed impossibly advance planning. All that changed for me recently, thanks to a host of apps that have integrated themselves with the railway reservation website. Trains can be more comfortable than buses with more leg room and a toilet at your disposal throughout the journey. More importantly, they can give you some astonishingly beautiful views of the ghats.
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The days of standing in lines at railway reservation centers or going to the nearby ‘tours and travels’ agent are over. You don’t even have to deal with the clunky IRCTC website either. Apps like Amazon have integrated themselves into the reservation system, showing you seat availability on a real-time basis and bringing in a sleek ‘shopping-like’ experience into the whole booking process. The frequency of trains between the two cities means that you can get seats, even without advance planning. The ticket itself comes as an SMS on your phone and an email in your inbox—so losing it is not the worry it once was. Note that you still need to carry an official ID document, such as an Aadhar Card. However, you do not need to show a vaccination certificate. Toilets on Indian trains have also become progressively cleaner and many actually have soap, particularly in the AC compartment.
What to see
If you are boarding from Mumbai, the train begins to climb the western ghats at Karjat. This station is also famous for its batata (potato) wada. The hilly stretch continues between Karjat and Lonavala. In the monsoons, it becomes a fog covered dreamland and waterfalls dot the landscape. The train will also go in and out of several tunnels. Grab a cup of chai and take in the views.
What to eat
No train journey is complete without food and train food has improved in taste and hygiene. Shorter trains like the Deccan Queen have the classic ‘bread omelet’ and ‘bread cutlet’ while longer trains, which stop at the two cities en route to other places, offer meals such as biryani. Chikki and chocolate fudge are inevitably sold by hawkers as you reach Lonavala. Chai is served in small paper cups with the IRCTC logo and with a cost of ₹10 per can, can be drunk at any number of intervals.
Cost and where to board
If you are departing from Mumbai, most inter-city trains stop at both Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST) and Dadar. In case of Pune, they tend to stop at Shivajinagar, apart from Pune station. You can always get off at Lonavala or Karjat—both beautiful fog-covered hill stations en route, rather than make it all the way to the megacity on the other side. The journey itself takes 3.5-4 hours. An AC ticket typically costs ₹400-500, while a sleeper class ticket comes from around ₹100.
Things to do in Pune
Lunch at Koregaon Park: Head to old-time favourite’s classics such as Malaka Spice or Arthur’s Theme for lunch or explore the many new joints that dot this foodie paradise.
Walk around Empress Garden: Close to Koregaon Park, the British-era Empress Botanical Garden is a treat for nature lovers. The garden also features horse and carriage rides for kids and adults.
Vetal Tekdi: This hill is part of a series of small hills, dotted with paths on the western side of Pune. It is hugely popular among morning walkers and joggers, but remains open all day for visitors.
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