Dilapidated structures narrated numerous stories of kings and queens, lush green landscape looked picturesque, lakes shimmered during the day, tall baobab trees induced the feel of a far away land and the fort walls took me deep into history. That’s Mandu, which has been hailed by many as one of the most romantic destinations in India. I do adhere to that statement as Mandu seems like lost in time and reeks of nostalgia. It’s a place one would want to go back and stroll through again and again. Teeming with architecture, Mandu come alive during the monsoon, which is an ideal time to visit. The pale coloured decrepit monuments against the backdrop of verdant greenery and voluptuous water bodies paint a mesmerising frame when it rains in Mandu. Mughal king Jehangir summed up Mandu in the best possible way- “I have never seen a place that has such a pleasant climate and attractive scenery as Mandu in the rainy season”.
Mandu is spread over a flat hilltop in Madhya Pradesh, a few hours’ drive away from Bhopal. Overlooking the Malwa plateau and Nimar plains, Mandu lies cosily nestled in the Vindhya ranges at a height of more than 2000 feet above sea level. Though inscriptions state that Mandu existed as early as the 6th century, the town flourished under the Parmar kings in the 8th century. It changed many hands later and was ruled by Gurjar kings, Khilji dynasty and Mughals. More fortifications and structures were built during these years. While a few structures still stand tall and intimidating, most of them are in a crumbling state. Mandu is also known for its legendary love story between Rani Rupmati and Sultan Baz Bahadur. The monuments have been segregated as Royal enclave, Village group, Sagar talao group and Rewa kund group.
The road that leads up to Mandu meanders through a couple of large fort entrances offering a glimpse of the architectural ruins that lie ahead. While most of the fort walls have crumbled over the years, a few entrance gates still stand tall and intimidating. Delhi gate is the grandest of the lot with its beautiful arched entrance. Bhangi Darwaza, Alamgir Darwaza and Kamani Darwaza are some of the other fort entrance gates. Baobab trees which are native to Africa and rare in India are found across Mandu. Baobab trees are popular for their weird shapes as they resemble an inverted tree with its bloated trunk and scrawny branches. The fruit it bears is known as Mandu ki imli (Mandu’s tamarind), and are pretty large in size.
Rewa Kund group is known for Roopmati pavilion, which stands atop a hillock overlooking the Nimar plains. The love story of Rani Roopmati and Baz Bahadur is legendary in Mandu. Roopmati was a shepherdess who was in love with Sultan Baz Bahadur and they got married. She became the queen of Malwa after her marriage. Roopmati’s pavilion was built by Baz Bahdur so that Roopmati could have a view of the river Narmada. However, the love story had a tragic end as Roopmati was abandoned by Baz Bahadur when he was attacked by Akbar’s general. Baz Bahadur died in the battle and Roopmati consumed powdered diamonds to poison herself to death. The pavilion has a nice walkway with carvings on one chatri (umbrella shaped covering), and has numerous carved arches beneath it. Views from the pavilion and chatris are gorgeous with the expansive valley of lush greenery sprawling way below. Amidst the greenery lies the palace of Baz Bahadur, with a lovely garden surrounding it. The palace was built in early 16th century and Baz Bahadur took a liking for it because of its proximity to Roopmati pavilion. The palace has numerous arched pillars, large entrance doors, courtyards and a small pond in the centre. Adjacent to Baz Bahadur palace is the serene Rewa kund, a sacred pool.
|Baz Bahadur palace|
Sagar Talao which is the largest water body in Mandu looks gorgeous during sunsets and in the monsoon season when clouds float low above the serene lake. Apart from the local fishermen who are often seen fishing here in the morning and evening, the lake is also home to birds such as storks.
The water also lends its name to the group of monuments near it. Most of the structures in the Sagar Talao group are in a dilapidated state and some even have creepers all over them. Dai Ka Mahal which translates to wet nurse’s palace has lost most of its structure over the years. However, the red stoned structure still has a few arches remaining. There is a tomb nearby which is on a raised platform. Though worn out, the interiors of the tomb still look attractive. Dai Ki Choti Behan Ka Mahal which is similar to Dai Ki Mahal is in a crumbling state, but has a few arches which give a glimpse of how beautiful the structure was in its prime. Carvan Sarai located nearby was built in mid 15th century and is a large inn with a huge courtyard. Malik Mughith’s mosque might have very little left of its original structure, but its beautiful arches, turrets, corridors, intricate carvings and designs are beautiful, and one can easily envisage the gorgeous structure from the 15th century.
|Dai ki Mahal|
|Tomb near Dai ki Mahal|
|Dai ki Choti Behan ka Mahal|
|Dai ki Choti Behan ka Mahal|
|Malik Mughith's mosque|
Beyond the lake and the tall Baobab trees lies Nilakantha palace, home to a Shiva shrine built by a governor of Mughal emperor, Akbar. Chor Kot enroute Nilkantha palace is a small fort which is in shambles and was occupied by thieves in earlier times. Near Chor Kot lies a tomb and a mosque built from red stone with domes and arched entrance doors. Ek Khambha Mahal is another nice tomb located nearby which too has domes and arched entrances. Chappan Mahal, a short distance away has now been converted into a museum. Darya Khan’s mosque is known for its numerous arches and is a popular attraction in Mandu. Darya Khan’s tomb next to the mosque has beautiful works and carvings on it. Sarai Kothari, Roja Ka Maqbara and Somvati Kund are some of the other structures nearby.
|Tomb and mosque near Chor Kot|
|Ek Khamba mahal|
|Darya Khan's tomb|
The town of Mandu is a small one with a main road running across and a square with numerous shops around it. The prominent structure in the middle of the square is Jami Masjid, which was built in mid 15th century. The mosque which is modeled on the great mosque in Damascus was started by Hoshang Shah Gori and completed by Mahmud Khalji. The magnificent structure has beautiful carvings, painted enamels, domes, arched pillars and a large courtyard. Adjacent to the mosque lies the marble edifice with the tomb of Hoshang Shah built in Afghan style architecture with lattice works, domes and arches, but devoid of carvings. The ruins of Ashrafi mahal opposite the mosque was built as a madrasa, a school of Islamic learning during early 15th century by Hoshang Shah. A fleet of steps that lead up to the entrance foyer is what mostly remains now apart from the arched corridors on the ground floor. It also had a victory tower which was built to commemorate the victory of Mahmud Khalji, but very little of that remains at present. Ashrafi mahal also houses the tomb of Mahmud Khalji.
|Entrance gate of Jami Masjid|
|Hoshang Shah's tomb|
The most stunning structure in Mandu is Jahaz Mahal (Ship Palace), which is a part of Royal enclave. Flanked by two large ponds, Kapur Talao and Munja Talo on either side, Jahaz Mahal looks like a ship at sea. The sprawling garden adjacent to Jahaz Mahal further accentuates the charm of the place. The best time to visit this place is early in the morning when the structure is bathed in the glowing morning sun and looks gorgeous. It was built in the 15th century by Ghiyas-ud-din-Khalji as a large palace. Jahaz mahal which is made from red stone has numerous pavilions, domes, arched entrances, and a nicely designed pool. The lower floor of the double storeyed structure has numerous arched pillars and long walkways. History also states that the mahal once hosted the Mughal king, Shah Jahan and the whole palace was lit up to welcome him. Adjacent to the Jahaz Mahal is Hindola mahal (Swinging palace), an audience hall adorned with beautiful arches, latticed windows and slopping side walls. Behind this is Champa Baoli, most of which are in shambles. Champa Baoli has numerous hamams, underground rooms, large arenas and much more. Beyond these lies Jal Mahal on Munja Talao. The ramps that lead into the tank are a major attraction here. The dilapidated structure has very little left of it at present. Taveli Mahal has been converted into a museum with a nice display of carvings and sculptures collected from across Mandu. In one corner of the Royal enclave lies the ruins of Gada Shah’s palace, most of which have been lost over time. Gada Shah was a 16th century chieftain whose shop is another intimidating but dilapidated structure which stands just outside the royal enclave. Though more than half of the structure has fallen, whatever remains look grand. Adjoining this is Ujala Baodi, a stepped well with a chatri.
|Jal mahal on Munja Talao|
|Gada Shah's palace|
|Gada Shah's shop|
|Gada Shah's shop|
Mandu seems like a town that has been stuck in the 16th century. A languorous stroll through Mandu's lanes reveal its history which is dipped in architecture and romantic stories. One can easily visit all these places over two or three days at a slow pace.
How to reach Mandu:
Mandu is located in Madhya Pradesh, 88 Kms from Indore. The nearest airport and major railhead are in Indore. There are regular buses plying from Indore and Bhopal to Mandu. It is recommended to hire a taxi to reach Mandu from Indore or Bhopal.
Food and Accommodation in Mandu:
There are restaurants across Mandu, most of which serve vegetarian cuisine. Mandu has numerous hotels which are in the mid range category.