Palatial Splendour

Among the most impressive buildings in Mandu are the Royal Palace complex with its Jahaz Mahal and Hindola Mahal, plus all those water storage and filtration systems that Chetna described in an earlier post

Jahaz Mahal is named such because it is an enormous structure set amid two lakes, and appears to float over the water, or must have, once upon a time. I don’t have any picture that represents it such. The architecture is stunning though, with its water channels, rooftop pools, and even a provision for fountains, all coming from rain water!

 

Hindola MahalThe other interesting building is the open-to-sky Hindola Mahal. Our guide told us tales about how the princesses would swing in their saawan ke jhule (during the monsoons) and the king would arrive on his elephant, be deposited on his royal seat at the upper level to admire the women. Creepy that sounds! I didn’t know whether to believe him, but it does make a good story! As it happened, he (the guide) walked off in a huff because we weren’t paying 100% attention as a group, and the kids were having fun, scampering around, catching frogs. Whatever!

People and poses Hindola Mahal

 

More fun aspects of the royal palace were the “air-conditioned” underground levels (we couldn’t enter those), all water-cooled, and the hamam (baths) with their hot & cold water features. As well as the elegant corridors and channels that carried water everywhere.

 Mid morning, at the peak of a hot day, with teeming crowds, probably wasn’t the best time to visit this place, and I do wish I’d been able to spend some more time exploring here!

 

A Legendary Love Story

I’m still hungover from the travel to Mandu – it shall continue to haunt me until I blog about it! 

I knew nothing about Mandu, except a half-story of Baz Bahadur who fell in love with Roopmati, a shepherdess with a lovely singing voice. She agreed to go with him on condition that she would always have a view of the sacred Narmada river, Legend has it that she got her wish at the structure now known as Roopmati Pavilion on top of the hill from where you can sight the river on a clear day. Lower down the slope was the palace of Baz Bahadur – he had a clear view of the pavilion and probably of Roopmati when she visited. 

We were meant to wait for our Tempo Traveller transport for a sunrise visit, but when the vehicles were delayed, we set out walking impatiently, and were treated to some lovely village sights of people getting ready for a new day:

Our vehicles arrived just as we made it to the gate of the Pavilion. While they parked, a random car backed into one of the vans, dented the car and injured the driver. They then spent the next 2 hours arguing. We had no choice but to walk down to see the palace. Thankfully, they settled the matter in time to drive us back to the hotel. So much for the love in the air.

The landscape more than made up for these glitches – lush greenery mingling with solid stonework, elegant architecture and a hint of mystery. 

There’s romance, but there’s also the practical ‘water’ consideration satisfied by Rewa Kund, a reservoir that supplied water to the buildings here. 

Baz Bahadur was devoted to the arts, and probably spent hours gazing at his lady love, but his kingdom suffered attacks from the mighty Mughals. Sadly, when the going got tough, he fled alone, leaving his Rani behind. Bahadur (brave) he was not, and met with an ignominious end, after spending some years as a fugitive.

Roopmati proved to be far more loyal, and killed herself rather than be captured by the enemy. 

The guide book from the Archaeological Society of India suggests that, to experience the magical beauty of the place, you should visit on a clear moonlit night. If only they stayed open after sunset… and it wasn’t the middle of the rainy season… and the crowds would magically disappear……….

 

On the banks of Narmada

Maheshwar is just 91 km from Indore, but our reluctant bus driver made it seem like forever.

Once there, and well-fed at the MPTDC resort, I couldn’t wait to get going, and neither could some of the other women in the group. The decision to get out in the heat of the afternoon was made easier by the availability of boats that took us to the main ghat in a couple of minutes. Life along the sacred river looks exciting, with little temples dotting the banks, and people bathing at all hours, plus colourful boats to add to the scenic beauty:

I read that the town of Maheshwar has a mention in both the Ramayana and Mahabharat, but it reached its pinnacle of prosperity during the rule of Ahilyabai Holkar, who is believed to be among the most perfect rulers ever. Reva & I photographed our way to the top of the fort while the others attacked the shops. The carvings are simply marvellous!

A spectacular view of the ghat from the top of the fort:

On the ghats of Narmada

The sunset landscape on the ride back was even more grand:

On the ghats of Narmada

If that wasn’t enough, I was up at sunrise for more of the same:

We had no time to visit any of the temples of Maheshwar, but a quick stop at the sari shops was a must! There are plenty of shops on the road leading up to the fort, apparently the ones at the foot of the hill are cheaper than those at the top. We found happy prices at a few in between, and came away loaded.

A Yarn and Some

When opportunities to travel to new destinations present themselves, I tend to shamelessly grab them, just as I did with Reva’s tour to Maheshwar & Mandu with her friends.

Maheshwar, to me, evokes a vision of yards and yards of hand-woven sarees. Ever since a cousin in the family started her own business designing Maheshwari sarees and employing local weavers, they’ve been top of mind for most of us, making an appearance in family weddings and being the perfect gift. They’re lightweight yet dressy, in multitudes of colours, and even make super salwar-kameez for non-saree people like myself.

 

My cousin has her own label, Gayatri, and retails in Indore.

Getting back to the weaving, since we were traveling to the source, I expected it to be a fantastic photo op. Sadly, since it was a national holiday that day, most of the weavers were out of action. I did get a few though:

 

Water, water, everywhere

When Aarti asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I was very flattered. After all, I’ve never blogged before, and if a “professional” blogger asks you to write, you assume they think you have something to write about.

In order to keep a good image, and to live up to the task at hand, I started reading up articles on the internet on how to write a good guest post. What seemed like a common tip was that your content should be unique and backed with facts.

Keeping that guideline in mind, I wrote about a subject that I feel very strongly about (those who know me will say that covers my feelings for almost everything). In this case it was water, or to be more specific, rainwater harvesting.

Water is a touchy topic with me, and if you happen to be washing your hands in my kitchen sink with the tap running, well, I’ll leave you to imagine the consequences of that….

Anyway, I got down to the task of writing about our recent trip with Aarti to Mandu, and it’s centuries old rainwater harvesting systems. Backed with solid facts, it was, a “good post” (in Aarti’s words) but not “me” (Aarti’s words again mind you).

Now, there are two words I’m always vary of. The first one is interesting. When someone describes ANYTHING as interesting we all know it is anything but that. And the second is not you. Oh – oh.

So, here I am, back to the writing board, trying to be as me as possible (which, I accept is a very shallow, frivolous image, not fit to talk about a serious topic as rainwater harvesting). But I’m serious. Honestly.

There are two reasons you should visit Mandu. On second thoughts, let’s make that three. The first two are the usual good old reasons to travel – it’s a beautiful place, green, serene, largely untouched by the concrete jungles we make of any pristine location and it has awe inspiring, unusual historical architecture. The combination of the two in the monsoon is simply magical.

However, if you are touchy about water, like I am, then I think Mandu is a pilgrimage. You should go there and bow your head, look at the skies in wonder, gasp with tears in your eyes and imagine yourself dead and in heaven – even though with the life you’ve lead so far, you’re probably better suited for hell.

So imagine this, over 1400 years ago, the wise kings of the Parmar and the Mughal dynasties, knowing that they were making Mandu their base, and knowing that the hill town is not quite wisely located – on top of a plateau with no ground water and no river in sight, decided to solve that issue smartly, sophisticatedly and beautifully. Frankly, one wonders if humanity is losing it’s common sense as it’s gaining it’s technological sense. Anyway, I digress….

What you find in Mandu is a very well engineered rainwater harvesting system in place, and lying idle (yes, the town faces acute water shortage every summer). There are over 1200 manmade tanks and baodis (stepwells), for catching rainwater, for storage, supported by filtration systems, aqueducts and pulley systems to take water up to higher ground. The system must have captured rainwater during the monsoon and sustained life long after the rains have come and gone.

Your heart will swell up when you see water provision made on such a large scale. Yes, someone knew how important water is!

Go to Mandu, pay your homage and feel good that all that destruction you see on your TV is not all that we humans are capable of. We are capable of creating beauty, of sophistication, of art in something as basic as a water system, and if we could do it then, we can do it now.

Mandu, in its days of glory was called the City of Joy. To me, it still is.

Quick facts:
Mandu is 98 kms from the city of Indore (the closest airport) in Central India.

We stayed at the MP State Toruism’s Malwa Resort. http://164.100.196.72/mptourism/pages/56/MANDU.html

Best time to visit is the monsoon.

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Filtration plant with many levels of sedimentation

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Jal Mahal in the Munj Talab

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Yes, even pools!

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Of aqueducts and tanks

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Wondering at the wonders

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There are tanks, and there are tanks of Mandu

Yet Another India Travel Story – Introduction

It’s been a roller coaster of a summer lately, what with the traffic woes during Ramadan, then the highs of receiving the work permit, just in time for a long and hectic travel to India. Yeah, you read it right. There’s ‘work’ in the statement above. About time too. But not before some quick journeys to exotic places.

I managed to grab a short vacation to the historic towns of Mandu and Maheshwar with Reva & her friends. Chetna, our intrepid group leader, not only organised the tour and all the logistics associated with it, she also cracked the whip to make sure we had everything we needed and nobody got left behind. There was a unique ‘essentials’ list – homemade Shammi Kebabs from Hyderabad, home-baked brownies, tortes, banana loaves (all properly delegated), colouring things for the lil ones, alcohol preferences, secret social networks for the latest updates, a wicked sense of humour – to name a few.

Who better then, to write a guest post for my blog, than Chetna?

If ‘Mandu’ is evocative of romance and poetry, you’ll be surprised to know that it’s real claim to fame is not the best known tale of Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati. I was pleasantly surprised. Look out for Chetna’s post, and you’ll know.

 

Friday Photo walk: Ramadan prayers

All of Indonesia has been observing Ramadan – the holy month of fasting, so what better place to photograph than the masjid and Friday prayers?

I’ve blogged about Masjid Istiqlal before, but this was totally worth it. It is the largest mosque in South-East Asia; with a total capacity of 200,000 people. While we didn’t see it packed to capacity, the grand hall was full and a sight to behold.

Waiting for the prayers to start

Praying while they wait

Looking over

The official Friday prayer

Tip: Always dress conservatively when visiting a place of worship – knees and shoulders and sometimes the head must be covered. A scarf is handy.