‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes’-Marcel Proust, and travelling to Mandu reminds me of these lineages. Mandu or Mandavgad was earlier known as Shadiabad (city of joy), named by a long-gone monarch Hoshang Shah. Even thus the pleasure is gone, & laughter died down; what stands tall among the crumbling fortresses, is the rustic history of several dynasties- their rise & fall, the destiny written within the places as well as at the battles fought outside the ramparts. But Mandu is far-famed for the epic love story of Baaz Bahudar & Rani Roopmati- like every time you walk around Mandu a little magic of this love story falls out from the ruins. And I wished to unfold this eternal love story so to visited the Fort-city; secondly, it’s been declared a Heritage City by UNESCO.
I started for Mandu post afternoon from Omkareshwar, it was a smooth drive of 3hrs 30min (120 km approx); you can either go via MPSH 38 & NH52 or via Khandwa road. Since it was Holi, streets were deserted with minimum traffic; only that could be seen where the long stretch of black & red landscape, dry vegetation, small & large villages with narrow lanes. While looking at the view passing by, I realized monsoon is the right time to visit Mandu, as nature is at its titillating best, her bewitching beauty under the green vile across the valley.
Upon reaching, we checked into the hotel, The Malwa retreat-a MPDTC hotel. Entirely the same, there’s an option too, like Hotel Roopmati close by to my hotel near the main market area. If you like to stay overlooking the lake, then can opt for Hotel Malwa Resort- an MPDTC hotel or Jahaz Mahal near Sagar Talao. Apart from these hotels, there are guest houses available in the primary marketplace. All hotels are decent to stay, don’t expect luxury; they a budget-friendly starting from Rs 700 up to Rs 3500. Since it was late evening, & we were exhausted due to day-long travel, I ordered a cup. Meanwhile, I surveyed the resort & inquired about a local guide, who can help explore the vast & the rich history of Mandu. Mandu was cold at night, even in March month, thus after a sumptuous dinner, we hit the bed.
I roused up with the shout of a rooster, & thanks to him, I could see the sunrise- changing colours from fiery red to molten gold. Subsequently a quick shower & breakfast, I got to meet my Local guide, Mr Vishwanath Tripathi an ASI certified guide, also a historian by passion. He narrated to me the forts here are not just forts, each ruin has life in it, a philosophy, a mystery & many old threads of history. Our day one tour of Mandu commenced with the Royal enclave, but before it, the history of Mandu was told to us. Mr Tripati started with the name of Mandu- which is the new colloquial name of the city; but as per a Sanskrit inscription sated 555 AD it was called Mandapa Durga, later changed to Mandavgad & now Mandu. Around the end of 10th-century, engraving confirms the frontier outpost was named Mandapika too. Overlooking the Narmada, and the Nimar plains Mandu is perched at an elevation of 2000 feet. It is the home of magnificent Afghani architecture- places, mosques, ornamented canal and many more buildings from the 15th century. Mandu is built along a mountain plateau approx 37miles in circumference, surrounded, by barricade walls, making it largest fort of India.
Over the period Mandu has seen multiple successors, it began with the Parmar dynasty who ruled from Dhar in the 9th century. However, Mandu saw its golden period & the moment of glory under king Munja & King Bhoja, it was during the 10th & 11th century. In that respect, a lake named in the memory of Raja Munja is inside the Jahaz Place- Munja Talao, also many Shiva temples were constructed during the 11th century in the vicinity of Lohani caves by Raja Bhoja. Only the fortune arose during the reign of Afghans- it started with the Dilahar Ghori khan, a governor of Malwa, who declared himself as an independent ruler in 1401. He passed away in 1405 when his son Hoshang Shah succeeded the throne (the founder of Hoshangbad), & shift his capital to Mandu from Dhar. Hoshang Shah has not only beefed up the defence & fortress but also added many architectural marvels including his tomb and the Jama Masjid. His tomb is the oldest marble mausoleum in India. On 1435 Hoshang Shah died,& his son Ghazni Khan ascended the throne. Only he was poisoned by this military Mahmud Khilji, in a year as ruler. So ending the rule of Ghori dynasty & beginning of Khilji dynasty. Mahmud Khilji ruled for 33yrs, after his death in 1469, his son Ghiyasuddin succeeded him. Ghiyasuddin was not inclined towards military conquest; rather, he devoted his time to peaceful pursuits and extravagant pleasure, that included women. He built the Jahaz Mahal & a huge harem for housing women numbering in the thousands. He was poisoned in 1500 AD by his son Nasserundin in the lust of the throne, though he ruled Mandu for 31years. Naseeruddin died in 1510 due to burning fever, who ruled Mandu for 10years only. The last ruler of Khilji dynasty was Mahmud II Khilji, son of Naseeruddin.
Finally, in 1526, the rule of the Khilji dynasty ended when Mandu was conquered by Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. But in 1534, the Mughal Emperor Humayun gained control of the fort city; but he deviated in 1536 when an officer of former Khilji took over the fort. Finally, Sher Shah Suri conquered Malwa in 1542, and Shujaat Khan was named as the governor of Mandu. He ruled Mandu independently till 1554 after he passed away, Baz Bahadur his son won the throne. But Baz Bahadur stayed away from military conflicts after his shameful defeat at the hands of Rani Durgavati of Gondwana. He dedicated himself to music & dance, from where the fabled love story of his & his favourite consort Rani Roopmati- a beautiful Hindu poet & singer evolves. The tragic love story is the theme of Malwa Folk songs & lingers over the beautiful architecture in Mandu.
Mandu can we best explored on foot or cycle. Walking around it; I observed that large part of the fort ramparts are now in rubble or boulders. Our guide explained, Mandu due to its strategic location & natural defence was a relevant military post. All together’ there are 12 Darwazas or gates within the walled bastions, few are intact like the Jahangir Gate, Tarapur Gate, Rampol Gate; and the main entrance to the fort is called Delhi Darwaza. He updated us further that, more than fifty ancient structures are spread out within the 45km wall circling the fortress, each grouped in categories.
Another thing that is prominent in the vicinity apart from the rubble of the fort, the Baobab trees- the world’s biggest tamarind tree. These trees reminded me of the Whomping Willow -one planted at the Hogwarts in Harry potter. Since it was a dry season, most trees looking parched with leafless branches; but Baobab is also known as the tree of life bearing fruit in rainy season & plucked in the dry months. Apart from Baobab, banyan trees are in plenty. It took me to surprise to know Mangoes, Custard apple & Chikoo are also found in abundance here. Strolling across the roads, I eventually reached the first category- Royal enclave.
As we get introduced to the royal enclosure, its the first monument that we come across, which is an ASI museum now. In ancient time it was used as the rest house of the guards or as a horse barn. Only now it showcases few collectables, statutes, paintings & carvings that have been found by ASI during their diggings.
The palace that looks like a ship in its reflection on the water. Standing tall on the narrow strip of land, between the water of the Munja & Kapur tanks; the palace resembles a ship that never sailed. Built around 1436-1439, by the Sultan Ghiyassudin Khilji, used to serve as Harem for 15000 women, along with 500 young and beautiful Turkish females clothed in men’s attire; and an equal number of armed as well as uniformed Abyssinian females as guards of the Sultan. I was baffled listening to the count, it was way too huge. Moving forwards in the palace,
it’s a two-storied building, with stairs that lead to the terrace that has rooms with coloured tiles. What astounded me was the water technique of the palace, that channelized water to each floor, pools as well as gardens. You capture a panoramic view of the Mandu fort from the terrace, along with mini pleasure pool that overlooks the larger one on the ground close to the northern end of the patio. Jahaz Mahal captures the medieval times of Mandu, as the structure has an amalgamation of Mughal, Afghan, Mesopotamian and Hindu architectural styles.
It also is known as swinging palace, which is little to the north of Jahaz Mahal; displaying beautiful arches. The walls of the Mahal are majestically slopping, giving it a swinging feel. Yet, the primary reason behind such construction is for better acoustics, as Hindola Mahal served as an open-air theatre or audience gallery. It’s a T shaped two-storey building, with a different passage for men & woman. The upper floor was built later for women to sit & watch. Sandstones were used to construct the Hindola Mahal. It has elaborately carved panels with facilities of cold and hot water connected to the underground rooms of the palace. I was mesmerized looking at the beautiful golden hue on the arch made by the sunlight, that was reflected through the roof on the floor
Royal Palace and Hamam:
Only the ruins of the palace are left, though you can walk along the corridors. What is still intact was the Hamam- which delivers several exciting water features including a sauna, & provision for hot as well cold water for bathing. The style of construction was prompted by a Turkish bathing system, with small water tanks running around, along with a window for Intel of light & air. It is an elaborate & a complex piece of architecture.
The Champa Baodi:
It’s the well used by the majestic palace, present before the entrance of the royal palace. The Baodi an elaborately constructed subterranean well with its tah-khanas (cool hot-weather retreats) – has wells, underground chambers with numerous channels to allow free-flowing water which kept the royal apartments cool.
Proceeding towards the north from the Champa Baodi, is the Nahar Jharokha, marble-framed window from where the king would hear petitions and receive his courtiers’ salutations. This balcony was once supported by a tiger. The use of jharokha is observed in Mughals, which suggests that it was built under the Mughal empire in 1564.
Dilawar Khan Mosque:
It is the oldest edifice in the Royal Enclave, an earlier Indo-Islamic building. It was built in 1405, with stones and pillars from Hindu and Jain Temples which has previously existed at the site. These are most evident, on the principal doorways and the collonaded hall. In that location is an inscription confirming that it was built by Dilawar Khan in 1405.
It was built in the middle of Munja Talao, which is well connected to the royal palace by a bridge. It’s also recognized as the royal pleasure palace or summer palace. The castle has an elaborate water and ventilation system to keep royal apartments cool.
Gada Shah’s shop:
It’s on the east of Hindola Mahal, and can be classified as as a medieval shopping mall. The building, featuring tall walls and high arches, though the roof in the midriff of the building has collapsed. The real meaning of Gada Shah is Beggar Master. Some Historians believed that Gada Shah was a byname for the Rajput chief Medini Ray. The latter had tactfully taken over control of Malwa from the Khalji ruler Mahmud II around 1515 AD, and flourished in the trade of ivory, saffron and musk. Near Gada Shah’s shop, there are two step-wells Andheri (Dark) Baoli and the other Ujaala (Light) Baoli. The previous is an underground well infested by bats, & later is an open step well in the middle of thick undergrowth.
That was too much history, to take in one tour. Thus we decided upon a lunch break, as it was 1pm already, before proceeding to the village cluster. We depleted the local speciality for lunch Dal Bafla- it’s made of wheat flour, Rava (semolina) and spices, well steamed & then roasted in Ghee. It is served with Dal, so we ordered a thali of Dal Bafla. It was seriously yum. Since the weather was hot, with no breeze to comfort, so to quench my thirst; I bought a Baobab, and a parcel of its sour & tangy core- it tasted damn good. Then we began our walk towards the south of the Royal enclave, where lies the village cluster- it majorly constitutes of the Jami Masjid (Mosque), Hoshang Shah’s Tomb and the Asharfi Mahal.
The 15th-century architecture is a massive structure on a large plinth, designed similar to the Umayyad Mosque (the oldest mosque in the world) in Damascus. It is the most enormous illustration of Afgan architecture, with huge domes and a long corridor flanked by the massive columns. There is some excellent Jali work which is yet intact, and along the corridor, there is a pulpit used by Imam to give sermons. Hoshang Shah started the construction in 1406 AD and was finally completed by Mohammad Khilji in 1454 AD.
Tomb of Hoshang Shah:
One corner of Jami Masjid has a small passage leading to another courtyard- The Hoshang Shah’s Tomb. It’s just right behind the Jami Masjid, the first marble mausoleum built in India. Before this, sandstones were used to create an Islamic tomb. The tomb has a round-shaped dome, and decorated with a Crescent believed to be imported from Persia or Mesopotamia. Hoshang Shah himself started the work on this white marble tomb; however, it was completed by Mahmud Khilji in 1440. The interior walls of the monument are adorned with intricate stone Jalis’ (lattice) in interesting geometric patterns. The beautiful carving on the luxurious white marble so impressed the Mughals, that Ustad Hamid took inspiration from the tomb to build Taj Mahal. An inscription dated 1659 AD records the visit of the architects. This tomb also combines Hindu style, as a Dharamshala runs along the west of the enclosure. The Tomb was under construction when I visited.
Right opposite to Jami Masjid is Ashrafi Mahal or Palace of Gold coins, only the word ‘Mahal’ is inapplicable to Ashrafi Mahal, as it was not a palace. Still, a Madras built by Muhammad Shah that serves as his tomb too. It is an open quadrangular structure with arcaded corridors of the external; though it’s now in ruins, small cubicles can be seen which might have been used to study & stay. In 1443 to commemorate the victory of Mahmud Khilji over Rana Kumbha, the Maharaja of Mewar, this Madrasa was converted into a seven-storey circular tower” Tower of Victory”. But a new fable was posted by MP tourism, that Ghiyasuddin Khilji offered a gold coin to queens every time they walked up and down the staircase. It was an excellent exercise to keep queens fit and sound. This is absolutely hilarious.
In that location is a Ram Temple built by Maharani Sakarwarbai Pawar in 1769 close by to Ashrafi Mahal. In the same furrow, are some Jain temples along with a museum housing a replica of the Palitana temple complex and colourful wall paintings. We did not see them, but if you wish can add to your list. Since it was twilight & we were exhausted post the extensive tour. On arriving at our hotel, we ordered a tea, some snack & basked ourself in the full moonlit night.
The following morning, we started late, as the only final category was left to be explored- The Rewa group of monuments. After breakfast, we set forth towards our destination. While walking past the village monument group; I could only see a stretch of green farmland. Among those farms stand-alone a round domed palace called Hathi Mahal, its the tomb of Darya Khan pointed my guide. It is a Sarai as well as a mausoleum, which was initially constructed as a pleasure resort. I was amused by the name- Hathi Mahal, I asked my guide what the reason behind the name, and then he pointed at its disproportionately large pillars. Interesting! There is an Echo Point little ahead of the tomb, probably the army used to convey information. Just scream out your lungs, standing here; the valley will echo right back to you.
Further down near the Sagar Talao are few, ruins structure The Malik Mughith Mosque built-in 1432 which stands in the entryway of the Talao; opposite to it is the Caravan Sarai. Eventually, we reached the Rewa Kund, the place has an earthy rustic fragrance, the cool breeze from the Kund & the floating clouds above; made it mystical as well as romantic. You can hear the ballad of the everlasting love story in the air, & their musical soirees linger over the monuments.
Baz Bahadur Palace:
It is situated near the Rewa Kund, and while you enter the palace there is an inscription at the entrance, which states the palace was built in 1508 AD by Naseeruddin. The architecture has a blend of Hindu-Islamic style and is a well-designed structure. I caught a few steps while entering the palace and then could see huge halls, humongous rooms, with a large open court. It is spectacular architecture with a spacious courtyard encircled by galleries, and in the middle stands a water tank. Still, the remarkable part is it’s built-in such a way that the acoustics reverberates around the place. Our guide sang a song, to explain there is no requirement for a sound recording studio, the palace has all the capabilities as a studio, including noise cancellation. This palace has hosted multiple performances by dancers, the noble courtesans, and other artistes. I was literally astounded. A narrow stairway leads to the terrace, and while walking around in the yard, I was amazed seeing water channels connected in ways to collect rainwater, also the lovely overlooking view of the surroundings and the palace lawns.
The Kund has a history of its own, a folk story recites once thick monsoon clouds hovered over Mandu, depriving Rani Roopmati the glimpse of the Narmada from her Pavilion. But one beautiful night, she gets a divine dream the waters of Narmada was also present in a nearby pond, thus naming it as Rewa Kund. Baz Bahadur’s Palace gets water supplied through an aqueduct from this Kund. People regard it a pilgrimage site, I saw them taking baths, and sitting on the halls with arched openings still stand facing the palace. Another new version about Rewa Kund was that; it was constructed to store Narmada water on request of Roopmati by Baz Bahadur. Since Baz Bahadur was smitten by the rare charm and beauty of his Lady, persuaded her to come with him to Mandu, with the assurance from the sight of Narmada River every day would be fulfilled.
We took a break for lunch, & decided to meet around 4pm at the Roopmati Pavillion to enjoy the beautiful sunset.
A large sandstone structure perched on the peak of a hillock was initially built as an army observation post. Subsequently known as Roopmati Pavilion overlooking the Nimar valley, as Rani Roopmati would gaze at the distant glint of the Narmada from this Pavilion. She began her day after a Darshan of the sacred river as an ardent worshipper of the Narmada river. Though I was unable to view the holy Narmada, which is 26 KM away, unlike Rani Roopmati; but the view was fascinating hills, valleys, plateaus, and forests.
The architecture is a Baradari structure with twelve doors designed to allow the free flow of air. A Baradari structure generally has three doors on every side of the square-shaped structure, known for their outstanding acoustic features. Various skilful techniques were employed in the palace like using charcoal through different channels for a rainwater harvesting system, as well as water purification system.
Rani Roopmati was a great poetess, composer, reciter, singer and also a skilful rider, & the holy Narmada inspired her. Baz Bahadur fell in love with her beauty and enchanting voice. But the love story came to a tragic end when Mandu was attacked by Adham Khan. It is believed Roopmati was captured, and she poisoned herself to avoid any lusty advances from Adham Khan. While Baz Bahadur submitted himself to Akbar in 1571 AD and was graciously received and brought up to the rank and honour.
While sitting on the patio of the palace, looking at the setting sun, colour changing sky, cool flowing breeze, you feel to stop & bask yourself in the beauty of the place. I do not recollect how long I sat there in silence, but by the time we returned to our hotel, it was late evening. After a quick dinner drifted off to sleep.
We can come to the end of our trip, I had a late flight back home, We were advised us to visit the Bagh caves- famous for wall painting & Maheshwar- the historic town of Rajmata Ahilya Devi Holkar. But also asked to visit Neelkanth temple, which offers picturesque views of the western side. So we started early morning, upon reaching Neelkanth Temple, what caught my attention was steep stairs, but as I climbed down fabulous mountain location, overlooking steep valleys could be seen. It’s an old shrine, destroyed to make way for pleasure house by a governor of Mughal emperor in 1574 AD. What now stands is an Islamic structure of the 16th century in red sandstone. There is a pond in front to store water, & temple is functional. I offered my prayers & drove off towards Dhar.
Mandu is a magical place, and reminded me the lines said by Aristotle -“Poetry is finer and more philosophical than history; for poetry expresses the universal, and history only the particular.”
How to reach:
The nearest airport Indore is the nearest airport from Mandu; 94 km away. This airport is connected to many cities in India.
The Patal Pani is the nearest Railway Station at a distance of 43 kilometres from Indore, which is well connected with other major cities.
Several cab services that connect Mandu plies on frequent, 94Km from Indore.
You can drive too, and the distance is 858.5km from Gurgaon.