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So Much to See (And So Little Time...)

Aborting the cross country drive to Elephant Palace, we carried on downtown to the Asharfi Mahal, also known as the Madrassa. A quick look around at the tomb and the enormous though very fractional victory tower (both built, in the first half of the fifteenth century, by the first Khalji ruler, Mahmud Shah, not to be confused with his predecessor, Mahmud Shah, born Ghazani Khan, the last Ghuri ruler, who was the son of Hoshang Shah – who said history is boring?), was followed by a hop across the 30 ft wide road to the Jami Masjid, the mosque with 158 cupolas on its roof. The mosque backed on to Hoshang Shah’s Tomb, which had another serai in the same compound.

I could here launch on a detailed description of this long litany of sites, but it would hardly make interesting reading. Suffice it, therefore, to say that Malik Mughith’s mosque with its arcade of Hindu pillars holding up arches and three domes was interesting; Asharfi Mahal was too ruined to be interesting; the Jami Masjid was huge and fascinating, especially the first floor compartments at the two ends above the mihrab; the tomb of Hoshang Shah – born Alp Khan, son of Dilawar Khan – was gleaming white against the black background of the Jami Masjid; the red sandstone colonnade in the compound was a mixed offspring of Hindu columns put together to make a distinctly non-Hindu structure – in this case a serai, though a mosque is a more frequent outcome of such pilferage, including Malik Mughith’s. Other monuments we saw were too numerous, too similar and too unremarkable to dwell upon.

Sightseeing at Mandu, even by car, is an exhausting business. We were already tired on the morning of the second day, when we arrived at the Jahaz Mahal complex, the royal complex of the fort, and perhaps the most famous part of Mandu. We bought our tickets and entered, strolled around for ten minutes, and were exhausted by the sheer size of the area. This called for sustenance. Lunch break, we decide unanimously.

After lunch we returned to explore more thoroughly (though we were made to buy entry tickets again, at Rs 2 each, what a pity). The royal enclave had around a dozen different sites to see. We ambled around, dazed. Two hours later, we had seen Jahaz Mahal, unnamed palaces, a hammam, a sophisticated underground water system, an open-air theatre, Hindola Mahal, Jal Mahal, Gada Shah’s Shop, and sundry other ruins. We had crossed and recrossed the lake within the complex, and had taken dozens of photographs. We had seen most of the complex, missed out on several things, without knowing what, argued about which way to proceed, and come to hostile settlements, and stepped in cowdung. Shit! Enough is enough – we headed for home.

Or so we thought. Driver had other ideas, and willy nilly he drove us to a spot called Sunset Point and Picnic Spot. Lovely view of course, and a path leading down to Lohani caves, which date back to sometime around the 11th century. Momentarily I felt the allure of the ancient, and wanted to undertake the trudge down to the caves. I was shouted down, and my enthusiasm subsided with a whimper. Instead, we watched the sun disappear into the clouds, not exactly a sunset, but a good enough substitute, as the shadows lengthened over the valley and darkness descended.

And so, homewards. Mandu has no social life, no clubs, no activities, and very little by way of shopping. All of which is just as well, because we were too tired to do anything. In fact, Mandu is itself little more than a village, with the numbers of goat, chicken, cows, buffaloes and dogs probably exceeding the number of humans. The easiest source of livelihood seems to be picking the custard apples off the trees which grow abundantly on the hillsides and roadside. Not that this is as easy as it sounds, because finding a market involves trekking for several hours straight down the hillside, and then on to distant towns and villages with a basket of fruit on your head, a journey undertaken even by children between the ages of eight and 14 years.

We had reached the end of our journey. The next day we left. There was much we hadn’t seen. Our books told us of buildings in the royal enclave which we missed, and of gates at remote corners of the fort, and of 700 steps leading to the bottom of the hill, and of a citadel on another hilltop connected only by a narrow strip of land, used as a retreat at times of distress. And of one particularly distressful instance when the king, Bahadur Shah, was forced to flee thither in face of Humayun’s attack (and whence he supposedly fled by lowering himself and horses on a rope over the wall, which sounds rather incredible). In short, there is much to be seen, and not enough time.

I made a promise to myself to go back one day, to revisit and linger over the nicest, quietest, remotest spots, and to venture, by foot if necessary, to the inaccessible areas: the temple in Songadh, the 700 steps, the interiors of the Lohani caves, Jahangirpur gate, which once protected the fort from attack from the south, and now protects and is protected by only jungle, and Bhagwan gate, in the valley below Rupmati’s palace. And all the other romantic old buildings, known and unknown, which call to me silently from far away, until I return.

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Copyright 2008 Amit and Anamika Mukherjee. All rights reserved.