Mist and myth in Mandu
Travel back in time to a small town that is home to over 60 monuments
The light drizzle caressed my back as I stood on the terrace of the Baz Bahadur Palace in Mandu, Madhya Pradesh. It was nearly sundown and the red-gold light painted a stunning portrait of an ancient bottle-shaped baobab tree, its scraggly branches framing a hemispherical dome. It was a gorgeous sight, with monuments from the 15th century scattered across the emerald landscape.
Perched on the Malwa plateau, a few hours from Indore, Mandu was established by the Parmaras in the 10th century, and thereafter ruled by the Khilji dynasty, the Ghuri dynasty, the Mughals and the Marathas.
With over 60 monuments, the array of palaces, gardens, tombs, mosques and temples can be overwhelming. The larger structures are grouped together—the Royal Enclave, Village group, Rewa Kund group, Darya Khan Mosque group and Sagar Talao group. The Village group is in the town centre, while the other groups in the town’s north and south are within an accessible radius, easily covered over a weekend.
There was a nip in the air, so my friend and I decided to rent bicycles to explore the secluded ruins and water bodies surrounded by the exotic baobabs. We even found a lady carrying a basket of baobab fruit on her head and sampled the famous Mandu imli (tamarind).
Wandering along the eastern side of Sagar Talao lake, we stumbled upon a brickwork monument with the curious name of Dai ki Chhoti Behen ka Mahal—a building commemorating the sister of a royal wet nurse. Standing inside the arched tomb crowned by a dome with blue mosaic, we enjoyed the view of the sprawling Mughal garden behind and wondered how a sister of the wet nurse had earned such royal favour. Not much is known about this unusual monument, seemingly once a home and now a mausoleum.
Further down is the unique Malik Mughith’s mosque. The highlight is the mosque’s courtyard, where intricately carved temple pillars have been used. Mandu’s monuments are architectural gems of an Islamic style believed to have influenced later Mughal buildings.
Off the main road, we saw a lady cooking on a charcoal and cow-dung fire in a small eatery. Curious, we stopped and watched her painstakingly wrap corn patties in the leaves of a local tree and slow-cook them. It was tempting enough for us to stop for a delicious meal of wholesome dal, hot makki ke paniya (baked corn patties) and bafla (baked whole-wheat balls).
By evening, we reached the Rewa Kund group of monuments that includes the Baz Bahadur Palace and the Roopmati pavilion. Walking uphill from the palace, we reached the dramatic sandstone pavilion that overlooks the Narmada river winding across the Nimar plains.
The next day, we explored the Royal Enclave, the largest and most well-preserved group of monuments, with palaces, a baoli (step well), a hamam (Turkish bath), and pavilions clustered around two lakes. My favourite was the sandstone Hindola Mahal, with its distinctive sloping sidewalls and a series of open-to-sky archways. At Munj Talao, a lovely birdwatching spot, we spotted pheasant-tailed jacanas, moorhens, darters and ducks.
Inside the hamam, we watched the light filter through the stars cut out in the domed stone roof, bathing us in soft natural light.A gentle drizzle enveloped us as we cycled back. It was one last glimpse of the magical beauty of Mandu in the monsoon.
Ahmedabad-Mandu via Indore
Top tip: During the day, skip the larger monuments that attract the crowd; visit them in the evening instead.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.
Divya Candade tweets at @divyacandade.