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Mandu

By Anamika Mukherjee

A trip to Mandu, if you are a die hard sightseer, is an exercise in futility. There’s too much to see, much of which is inaccessible, obscured, ruined or decrepit. At every turn, there’s lovely hill-station scenery, a couple of water bodies are scattered loosely around, dazzlingly reflecting the blue skies, the white puff clouds, the ruins, tall rust coloured grasses, and whatever else happens to be at water’s edge. This place is a romantic retreat, as well as a paradise for those who love historic sites.

We drove up to Mandu from Indore, by cab with an old and cheerful driver. He decided virtually our entire itinerary, which sights we should see, when and even when it was time to take a break. Rupmati’s Pavilion first, he declares, heading us up the road towards his chosen destination. Much has been said about Rupmati’s Pavilion in various books and tourist guides. It has been endowed with a romantic air, as legend has it that she was the mistress or perhaps the rani of Baz Bahadur, the then ruler of Mandu. Nothing of the sort, says our driver, it’s merely that he loved music and so – until he fled from the attack of Akbar’s army – they made beautiful music together. You might have expected him to build a beautiful pavilion for her, but the irony of Rupmati’s pavilion is that it was built before Rupmati arrived on the scene. Prior to being endowed with romantic significance, it was a military outpost, from where lookouts kept watch, and yelled the news of enemy positions to other posts in town.

After all that build up, Rupmati’s Pavilion was a bit of an anticlimax. The most spectacular aspect is the approach road, which winds steeply up the hill, and, right at the top, does four hairpin bends in rapid succession on a very steep gradient. Apart from this natural bounty, it was a charming sort of unremarkable pavilion with an interesting ceiling and a grand view stretching away to the Narmada, whose silvery stream can be glimpsed on a clear day, which this wasn’t.

Baz Bahadur’s Palace was the next stop, and a quick look around revealed that it was more grandiose and interesting than his supposed-beloved’s humble pavilion. In fact, though, the building is attributed to the earlier period of Nasir-ud- Din’s rule. It has an imposing, high screen of arches leading up to it, and a tank in front.

In rapid succession we saw Malik Mughith’s mosque, the neighbouring serai, the also-neighbouring Dai Ki Chhoti Bahan Ki Mahal, and the Dai Ki Mahal, then on to Darya Khan’s group of monuments, a tomb, serai, and mosque around a baodi. (For those not familiar with the terminology, a serai is a guest house, and a baoli or baodi, is a well or a tank or a reservoir for water or for bathing.) Here we discovered the lamentable fact that many of the monuments in Mandu are even today being inhabited. Adivasis, said our driver scornfully. The mosque was hung with cloth cradles, the serai had been turned into a stable, its floor covered with dung. Another distressing fact which we discovered a little later was that those monuments which were free of human habitation had been taken over by bats, and reeked unbearably of bats’ excreta. This was especially true of Hoshang Shah’s Tomb – which is otherwise well-maintained and clean – but it is a recurring motif in all the most fascinating structures.

Disappointed, we proceeded down a path which, a sign proclaimed, would lead to Elephant Palace, only to find our path shortly blocked by a stretch of sharp-edged stones substituting for a road. The driver looked at it dubiously. It’s not really worth seeing, he said, which was a change from his usual line that most tourists were not interested in seeing all the sights that he wanted to show them.

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Legends of Mandu (PDF file) | Mandu on the Map

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Copyright 2008 Amit and Anamika Mukherjee. All rights reserved.