Travelling is the arguably the best way to ditch your routine and take a break. There are so many wonderful places to explore in our diverse country, places we haven’t heard of but have much to offer to tourists. One such location is Mandu, the historic city in western Madhya Pradesh. Chetna Ramachandra had the pleasure of experiencing Mandu recently. Here’s what she found.
I wanted to get away during the monsoon, and Mandu is known to be magical in season. My love for history and architecture made it the perfect place to visit. A friend of mine and I decided to go with our families and a few other friends. In all, we were a group of 24: 16 adults and nine children. It was an interesting group, our ages ranging from three to 84! We left from our respective cities and met up in Indore – a place known for its love of food, among other things – where we spent a night.
Though we reached quite late, we headed out to this place called Chhappan Dukan. As the name suggests, there are 56 shops – all eateries! We tried everything we could get our hands on, from chaat and sweets to a local delicacy called pati, which is a deep-fried potato ball filled with coconut and raisins. After this, some of us visited a lane called Sarafa in the old city. A jewellery market by day, at night it becomes a foodie’s delight. They have all kinds of treats there, including a speciality called bhutte ka kees, a delicious dish made from grated corn.
The next day we left for Maheshwar, a small town about 90 kilometres from Indore. Right on the banks of the Narmada, it’s a quaint town with a small fort. A good place to stay here is the Ahilya Fort Palace. The town is also known for its Maheshwari fabric, and the women in our group spent hours shopping for it. On the following day we left for Mandu, 65 kilometres from Maheshwar and about 100 from Indore. It’s a small hill fort, an entire city in ruins. The architecture is beautiful, and during the monsoon, the entire place is a lush green, the moss-covered monuments giving it a romantic, magical aura. Mandu is known as the setting of the love story of Sultan Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. It is said that Baz Bahadur built the Rani Rupmati Pavilion on the edge of the Mandu plateau, overlooking the valley, so that she could see her beloved Narmada from there on a clear day.
There are many monuments of architectural importance in Mandu. If one were to really take one’s time enjoying each of them, it would take at least three days to see everything! Madhya Pradesh opens all the monuments at sunrise and shuts them at sunset, so we awoke early both mornings we spent there in order to catch the main ones. We were rewarded with some beautiful photographs in the morning light! Among them, the most noteworthy were Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Palace, Jal Mahal, Rani Rupmati Pavilion, Baaz Bahardur’s Palace, Jami Masjid, and Hoshang Shah’s Tomb.
However, the most inspiring facet of Mandu is the ancient waterway of the fort city – a fact ignored by the travel books! There are over 1,200 tanks and step wells in the fort, all more than 1,400 years old! The hill fort has no natural source of water – there is groundwater deep below, but no river. The ancient dynasties that ruled in the area (the Parmars followed by the Mughals) built many catchment tanks, filtration systems, storage tanks, wells and aqueducts to transport water and fulfil the city’s needs throughout the year. The sophistication of the system is awe-inspiring; it took our breath away!
Mandu has few options by way of accommodation. By far the best place to stay is the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Malwa Resort, which is where we put up. Mandu falls under the Malwa region, where the speciality is dal bafley, a dish similar to dal bati of Rajasthan. Because Holkars were the rulers pre-independence, the local cuisine is influenced by Maharashtrian food; poha is a breakfast staple and is served at all eateries. The region is also known for its fabrics – Maheshwari in Maheshwar, and Bagh print in Bagh near Mandu. There are several organisations that work with the weavers to give them better lives, independence and the chance to promote their craft.
We’d read quite a bit about these places before the trip, but discovering the amazing water systems in Mandu was an unexpected and pleasant surprise. Considering we live in a time when water scarcity is common, I felt great admiration seeing the issue addressed so fantastically in the past! I’d love to go back there, because we realised two days were just not enough. Since we organise trips for architects under the banner Archxplore, we hope to plan a tour to Mandu sometime. It’s definitely a hidden gem in the heart of central India, and was far more than we expected! Each time I visit Madhya Pradesh, I wonder why places like Hyderabad do not follow their schedule of opening and closing structures based on the sun. It’s a beautiful time to visit! ..... as told to Saloni