Friday, February 19, 2010

Travels in Central India Part 3- Mandu

I had absolutely no idea what to expect from Mandu or Mandav and all I knew was that I had 3 days on my disposal and no definite plan to reach anywhere. I heard of Mandu fleetingly in a conversation and knew that it was known for its historical ruins and monuments. So on bright sunny Christmas morning I took bus to Dhar a town known for Raja Bhoj. Raja Bhoj, a philosopher king is a well known figure in Indian history and Dhar was the capital city of Paramara Dynasty to which Bhoj belonged.

Today, Dhar like many other small Indian towns is congested, noisy and chaotic. Urinal at bus station was dysfunctional and actually had half a dozen people living there and playing cards. Somebody was burning heap of garbage on corner of square in front of bus station and loud advertisement for some local product was blaring from loudspeaker hung on terrace of a bigger looking shop. The policeman posted to control traffic on square was busy talking to a young man on bike, perhaps trying to extract some money in compensation for breaking traffic rule, as rest of traffic was trying to meander its way around a big stubborn cow, not bothered of blaring horns, carelessly passing the road while chewing the cud. Overhead, blue sky could be seen from a maze of hundred criss -crossing electricity wires and all kinds of political and religious banners hung on ropes attached to poles and building on either sides of square. I found a small bus parked in corner of station which was to leave for Mandu. It had a very vocal family seated inside who were eating poha and bananas with banana peels summarily being deposited out of the window. The kids were excitedly talking about going to Khala’s (aunt) place and their dad was telling another man how much children enjoyed during last Id when they visited Ammi’s house. Within few minutes the bus was full and started. A man, conductor of the bus, standing near the Bus door on the foot mat was loudly shouting ..’Mandu Mandu Mandu’, soliciting passengers to Mandu even as the bus made its way slowly through chaos on road out of the bus station and ahead of square. In no time bus had passengers, sitting, standing and hanging wherever possible.

Day 1
After half an hour drive, I could see the plains making way for small hillocks and plateau. It was lovely December morning and when I saw the glimpses of a ruin of what perhaps was a mosque, I knew that I was going to enjoy Mandu. Just before noon, bus finally left me at main square, in front of Jami Masjid and I saw a dozen buses and cars parked and offloading tourists. A big bus with banner of a school plastered on its side had bunch of chirpy kids surrounding it with their teacher trying in vain to get the unruly lot to form a queue The Ram Mandir (temple) in front of Masjid was full of people attending last day of weeklong yoga workshop. I had come to Mandu when it was full of tourists due to Christmas weekend and I hurried to find myself a place to stay. Govt has restricted new construction in Mandu and there are just 3,4 small lodges and Tourism department hotels here. Luckily I got a place to stay in one of better lodge which had immaculately green lawn and overlooked the gorge (kakra khoh) and villages down in it. Bag was deposited, a map bought, a cycle rented and I was on my way. What A day it was. Balmy winter sun, clear blue skies and aroma in the air. Most people come to Mandu on a day long trip, day trippers as they are called, visit some well known monuments and go back by evening. But if you really want to enjoy Mandu , you got to stay here for at least 3 days explore the place on a cycle. Mandu as it turns out , is a natural fort on top of plateau in Vindhay range and has a ruined city spread in around 20 square km , sprinkled with historical buildings and monuments of bygone era. It is also called celebration of love and life in stone and it is quite true, for such is beauty of the place. Built by Hindu Rajput kings of Malwa on a plateau protected by Kakra khoh (deep ravine) on all sides, the fort was won over by Muslims rulers during advent of Mughal empire and traces of it can be seen all around Mandu. One can observe that many muslim buildings have stones and pillars reused from dismantled Hindu temples.

Jahaz Mahal (Ship Palace) is most popular attraction and is quite impressive. It was used by Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilji as his harem and is surrounded by two artificial lakes. One can stand here and imagine how it must have been in its day of glory when Sultan would visit his women who were housed in naturally air conditioned quarters around Champa Baoli (water tank) , whose waters it is said used to smell of Champa flowers. Many parties and orgies must have taken place in Hindola Mahal (Swing place) in front of Chmpa Baoli, which is quite unique in its architecture. There is a large courtyard in one corner of palace which was ostensibly used for royal dance parties under starlit skies. I met a small girl here, whose mother is employed with keeping place clean, who told me that at night courtesans who are buried nearby come alive and she said that she knows because she has seen them many times. I thought she was a very interesting kid to talk to. Around 10 minutes away from Jahaz Mahal are Lohani caves and sunset point. Lohani caves are small chambers cut in a rock face on one of the cliffs overlooking Malwa plains. Caves have a water cistern filled from natural water source and were used by Buddhist or Hindu mendicants and later by Mughal sentries protecting the fortress . The sunset from this place is quite amazing and one of the sights that I cherish from Mandu. As the night fell, I cycled back to my lodge. The night was still and silent and I could hear croaking of creatures of night interspersed by laughter of merriment carried from a distant hill by gentle breeze.

Day 2
There is something in bright sunny mornings. There is something in sun when it is not at its ferocious avatar. It gives you warmth which percolates inside you into your soul. Is that the reason that sun worship was so central to Hindus! It was one such morning and I took my cycle on my way to another popular spot called Baj Bahadur’s palace and Rani Rupmati's pavilion. It is around 6 km from the Jami masjid and on the way I stopped at many ruins along the road. Dai ka Mahal is quite interesting building. It was built by a poor woman. It is said that during its zenith, Mandu did not have any poor and every new citizen was provided with gold coins by residents and this is how Dai , a poor woman could build a palace for herself. Overlooking Dai's Mahal is echo point which was used by mughal sultan's sentries to shout to Dai whenever one of Sultan's women was to deliver a baby .She must have been very busy women considering the big harem of women the sultans had and absence of reliable birth control devices during those times.

Baj Bahadur's palace is the place where you get the essence of Mandu. The palace is build near Rewa kund (pond) which itself was built by Baz Bahadur to supply water to his consort and lover Rani Rupmati's pavilion which is situated on a hillock , some 500 meters away from Baj Bahadur's palace. When you stand atop Baj Bahadur's palace you can clearly see Rupmati's pavilion and it is said that in evening Rupmati, would sing for her lover and Baz Bahadur would hear her sitting in his palace. Baz Bahadur and Rani Rumpati's love story is extraordinarily unique. Baz Bahadur was a muslim king and Rupmati was a hindu shepherd woman who worshipped Naramada very dearly. After Baj Bahadur met her during a hunting trip, he married her in accordance with Muslim and Hindu rites. When Adham Khan, during battles of Deccan marched on the Mandu fort, Baz Bahadur confronted him with his small force and was defeated . Instead of falling into Adham Khan's hands, Rupmati poisoned herself and thus ended Baz Bahadur and Rupmati's love tale. Rupmati's Pavilion is on top of hill which overlooks Narmada river flowing in its glory in Nimmar plains. So on one side Rupmati could see her beloved Narmada , on other side she could gaze at her lover, Baj Bahadur. Rani Rupmati's pavilion is one of most scenic places in Mandu and on a clear day , one can see vast Nimmar plains. I find Baz Bahadur and Rumpati tale both fascinating and poignant , steeped as it is in times of music, poetry, love, wars and tragedy. Sarojini Naidu's beautiful poem "An Indian Love song" comes to my mind when I read Baj Bahadur and Rumpati's story, considering that both of them were from two religions which were at loggerhead at that point in history and yet found love for each other. Love after all conquers all divides:

Lift up the veils that darken the delicate moon
of thy glory and grace,
Withhold not, O love, from the night
of my longing the joy of thy luminous face,
Give me a spear of the scented keora
guarding thy pinioned curls,
Or a silken thread from the fringes
that trouble the dream of thy glimmering pearls;
Faint grows my soul with thy tresses' perfume
and the song of thy anklets' caprice,
Revive me, I pray, with the magical nectar
that dwells in the flower of thy kiss.
How shall I yield to the voice of thy pleading,
how shall I grant thy prayer,
Or give thee a rose-red silken tassel,
a scented leaf from my hair?
Or fling in the flame of thy heart's desire the veils that cover my face,
Profane the law of my father's creed for a foe
of my father's race?
Thy kinsmen have broken our sacred altars and slaughtered our sacred kine,
The feud of old faiths and the blood of old battles sever thy people and mine.
What are the sins of my race, Beloved,
what are my people to thee?
And what are thy shrines, and kine and kindred,
what are thy gods to me?
Love recks not of feuds and bitter follies,
of stranger, comrade or kin,
Alike in his ear sound the temple bells
and the cry of the muezzin.
For Love shall cancel the ancient wrong
and conquer the ancient rage,
Redeem with his tears the memoried sorrow
that sullied a bygone age.

From Rupmati's pavilion I cycled my way to Fort of Sonagarh which is around 7 km. There is nothing much left in fort expect for its door but I enjoyed cycling to it. The afternoon was so beautiful that I could live there forever. On way to Soagarh, is temple of Nilakanth which is a Shiva temple clinging to a steep hillside and is unique because temple facade has a look of a mosque and has Persian inscriptions on it from the time when Akbar visited it during his stay in Mandu. The village kids around the road to Sonagarh would wave to me and shout "Hi, whats your name, which country!" Every second kid asked exactly same question. I guess they are used to seeing foreigners on cycles and perhaps thought that I was also one. Apart from well known monuments there are many other ruins which one can stop by. There is a very impressive Cavern building which was built in European style, and around Dai's Mahal is a ruin of mosque where one can clearly see use of temple pillars. On intersection of Rupmati road and Sonagarh is Hathi Mahal, a deserted place , perfect to get siesta under its tree covered courtyard. Jami Masjid is another beautiful building, built in year 1450 after a famous mosque of Damascus. Adjacent to it is Tomb of Hoshang Shah . Tomb is architectural marvel and it is said that architect of famous Taj Mahal in Agra had paid a visit here and used this white mausoleum as blueprint for building Taj Mahal. I must say that ASI (Archaeological survey of India) has done a good job of maintaining ruins of Mandu and must be commended in a country which is known to deface its historical legacy. In evening I cycled back to Sunset point and interplay of lights before the sun set was mesmerizing again. Just sitting on a hill side and watching the night fall on ruins is one amazing moment.

Day 3
Next morning was the most beautiful. I could understand why Mandu became city of pleasure. In rainy season it is said it becomes entirely green replete with vegetation and hundred natural streams that start flowing from plateau down to kakara khoh. In winters it is pure heaven, days are comfortably warm and evenings are cooler mixed with aromatic breeze. Summers are not as harsh as in towns of Malwa and in plains of Nimmar. There are many ruins and buildings one can explore. Gada Shah's shop has an impressive facade and is must visit. But the place I liked the most was little known and almost skipped by day trippers; Chisti khans's place. Take a book there, soak in sun with none to bother you, hear distant faint voices from tribals working in their fields down in kakara khoh (Kakra gorge or ravine), pure heaven. I thought of going down the hill to tribal villages but then love of cycling won over and I decided to cycle my way to a Fossilarium, around 7 km away from Mandu and outside the fort. The road is littered with ruins again, Zali mahal, some old temples, Delhi darwaza, etc. Fossilarium is small and can be seen from a distance due to two massive stone statues of Dinosaurs in its compound. Mandu is considered to be part of ancient Gondwana continent and places around it and Narmada valley are considered to be geologically very significant. 100 fossilized dinosaur eggs were found in Dhar region including Mandu in year 2007 and some of them are displayed in Fossilarium. Millions of years ego before kings and sultans made Mandu a pleasure resort, before love and songs reverberated in ravines around it ,Mandu was home to these gigantic creatures.

“Origin of self initiated System of Systems resulted in the existence meaningful enough , that is being Shiva- According to Hindu mythology”

Domed mausoleums Mughal palaces, mosques, ruins crumbling beside medieval reservoirs and precipitous ravines, a place where love roams in air, where tragedy lies buried in sands, a place where stones tell stories....that is quintessential Mandu or Mandav. And at the end , all I could say was "Incredible India".


Angsuman Barua said...

great travelogue gaurav..

Anonymous said...

Very enlightening and beneficial to someone whose been out of the circuit for a long time.

- Kris

Anonymous said...

Man, really want to know how can you be that smart, lol...great read, thanks.

Anonymous said...

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- Henry