Mandu is a marvel that never ceases to amaze with its monumental beauty. India’s original ‘City of Joy’, as well as the favoured monsoon retreat of emperor Jehangir, Mandu was also home to the country’s first marble monument, an inspiration for the Taj Mahal.
Once called Shadiabad or the City of Joy, Mandu, tucked inside Malwa plateau in central India, is today a ghost of its resplendent past. Dotted with innumerable lakes, palaces and monuments in various stages of ruin, Mandu, with its architectural legacy and a hint of a tragic love story, is an explorer’s delight. To see them all, you will need well over a week, which could be impossible for most. However, you can also do it in 24 hours. Here’s how.
6am-8am: We had checked into Madhya Pradesh Tourism’s Malwa Resort the night before. So early morning found us at the nearby ruins of Dai-ka-Mahal and Dai-ki-Chhoti-Behan-ka-Mahal located within walking distance from the lodge. The place looked abandoned and lonely in that early hour. The circular towers, vaulted ceilings and mini arches are an eye-opener to Mandu’s architectural legacy. We went around Sagar Talao, and walked back to the resort for breakfast.
9am-2pm: Finishing breakfast, we drove down to the Rewa Kund group of monuments on the southern tip of Mandu. We left the car near the Rewa Kund lake, and walked to Baz Bahadur’s Palace, built in the early 16thcentury. An accomplished musician, Prince Baz Bahadur could not withstand the invasion of Akbar’s army and probably died in battle. Learning that the invaders had won and were approaching the palace, the prince’s paramour, queen Roopmati, jumped into a fire-pit and committed suicide. it was her to her palace, famously known as Roopmati’s Pavillion, that we walked to next. Originally a sentry post atop the Malwa plateau, the pavilion offers a sweeping view of the Nimar valley two thousand feet below. On a clear day, you can even see the Narmada glitterring in the distance. After a refreshing drink of baobab juice at one of the kiosks near the car park, we started for the other popular monuments.
Our first stop was in the market area where we took in the Ashrafi Mahal, the Jami Masjid (inspired by the great Mosque of Damascus) and the famous Hosang Shah Tomb that inspired emperor Shah Jehan to commission the Taj Mahal; unfortunately, the marble edifice was covered by scaffolding as the ASI was renovating it. We stopped for a bite of Madhya Pradesh’s version of ‘daal-baati’ at an eatery in the market place before moving on to the two most photographed buildings of Mandu, the Jahaz Mahal and the Hindola Mahal. The 120-metre long ‘ship palace’ was built between two artificial lakes, Munj Talao and Kapur Talao. When the lakes were full, the palace with its open pavilions and overhanging balconies used to look like a royal ship. Hindola Mahal or the ‘swing palace’, probably an audience hall, got its name from the sloping outer walls. The Taveli Mahal adjacent to the Jahaz Mahal has been converted into a small museum.
If you’d like to explore more ruins, continue to Nahar Jharokha, Champa Baodi and the Jal Mahal, but be prepared to walk to get to these monuments. The ruins still retain the intricate network of water channels that were devised to keep the palaces cool during the scorching heat of summer.After a quick diversion to see the Nilkantha palace and temple, we settled for a late lunch at MPT’s second property, the Malwa Retreat.
3pm-6pm: We set out for Gada Shah’s house near the Malwa Retreat. We avoided the underground Andheri Baodi (the dark stepwell) and took a brisk walk around the Ujala Baodi (the light stepwell). On the way back to our lodgings at the Resort, we stopped at the Ek Khamba Mahal, Dariya Khan’s Makbara and the Hathi Mahal. We concluded our day’s tour at the Roopayan Art Gallery located near the Resort. A social welfare enterprise, it had a good stock of fabrics in traditional Bagh prints; the fabrics are decorated with floral and geometric designs with vegetable dyes.
8pm: After a round of drinks at the Resort’s fairly stocked bar, it was time for early dinner and tuck-in.
The next day, after breakfast at the family-run eatery opposite the Resort, we were ready to leave for Indore. We stopped for a while at the several old arched gateways along the fortified norther walls of Mandu – Haathi Gate, Bhangi Gate and Alamgir Gate. The road twists and turns through several hair pin bends; so be cautious if you are walking around. The government has thoughtfully installed mirrors at the turns so that cars are visible both ways.
Getting There: The nearest airport is Indore, 100km by road. Indore and Ratlam (124km by road) are two of the most convenient railheads.
Where to stay:
The Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation’s (MPSTDC’s) Malwa Resort beside Sagar Talao and the Malwa Retreat are the best places to stay in Mandu.
Rooms can be booked online
Where To Eat:
If you are looking for some local fare, the eateries in the market place, especially around Jami Masjid, and those near the Jajaz Mahal complex are worth trying; but don’t expect fancy services. Otherwise the restaurants attached to MPSTDC are your best bet.
When To Go: Mandu is at its picturesque best during the monsoon. Winter is a great time to explore on foot.