Jahaz Mahal, Mandu, MP By machadinha
For a regular traveller it is almost admitted, that his wildest dream is to discover lost places, and suddenly to come across a hidden site, surrounded by marvellous monuments in the middle of dreamed landscapes. Sometimes, even a magic aura flies over some of this places and makes the encounter a certainly amazing and iniciating journey.

“India is a country whose only mention brings immediately passion to all the backpackers and globetrotters.”

Travel-lovers know the reality of such kind of paradises, Shangri-La, Oxiane, Eldorado or Xanadu are not only legends. Mythical names runs to our mind: Tombuctú, Samarkhand and many others. India is a country whose only mention brings immediately the passion to all the backpackers and globetrotters. The indian subcontinet is full of spots whose name makes shaking because of the excitement. Varanasi, Agra, Pushkar, Jaipur, Kashmir, Golconda, Khajuraho, Madras, Kerala and even Bombay could be some of these places. Mass tourism has converted almost in a game the protected visit to all this mentioned places.

Fortunately there are still magic places, lost and hidden in the middle of nowhere. Discovering them fills you up with pleasure and fulfil all the expectations of the obstinate and unwavering traveller. Some of this emblematic places have conformed my particular imaginary, and their existence has served, at least, for keeping the sacred flame of hope burning. Mandu is one of these places.

THE HISTORY

 Delhi Gate, Mandu, MP By machadinha
Mandu known in the old days as "The city of joy" is situated in Southern Madhya Pradesh, in the centre of India. Its origin are uncertain, and the short literary and archaeological references brings us to the end of the first millennium, when Palmara rulers in Malwa region, took advantage of its natural defences to built there a fortified place under the name of Mandovgarh, capital of some of their brief and ever-changing kingdoms.

It is only at the end of the 14th century when the history begins, as the city felt under Dilatar Khan Ghori governor of Malwa, who was at the service of the Sultanate of Delhi. He took advantage of the circumstances of the siege of Delhi by the Moghul troops of the fearsome Tamerlan, to become independent, nominating himself as first Sultan of Malwa, and establishing the capital in Mandu, whose name was in those days changed to Shadiabad or City of Joy. It was the year of 1401.

This kingdom only lasted four years. Succeeded by his son Hoshang Shah who ruled the country during the next three decades, devoting himself in his reign, to make beautiful the perimeter of the city, already of bout 45 kilometres, with palaces, mosques, stepwells, cenotaphs as well as civil buildings. At the same time he surrounded the city with high walls. Twelve impressive gates protected the city from the elephants of the enemies. He died in 1435 and was succeeded only for a year by his son Ghazni Khan who was poisoned by one of his majors: Mahmoud Shah Khalgi, he declared himself Sultan, the first of Khalgi’s dinsty. His reign lasted for thirty three years, and was almost always occupied fighting with the neighbouring kingdoms, conquering part of the actual states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra.

His kingdom was continued until the end of the century by his son Ghyas Ud Din under whom the arts flourished in Mandu. He was the builder of some of the most beautiful monuments of Mandu like the impressive Jahaz Mahal, 120 meters long, where as the chronicles says, he accommodated his harem of 1,600 women. Legens always brag, flatter, exaggerate and enlarge the exploits of their patrons. He died at his eighties poisoned by his son Masis Ud Din, who ruled the country during the first ten years of the new century.

The decline of Mandu and the Khalghi’s dinasty, begins with his son Mahmood Ud Din mainly due to the continous battles with the neighbouring kingdoms. In 1526 Mandu was conquered by Baz Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, whose reign was interrupted several times because of the raids of Humayum, the moghul king of Delhi. The ups and downs of the destiny gave Baz Bahadur back the throne of Mandu until 1562 when the troops of Akbar, the great moghul emperor, probably the biggest ruler i the history of India, invaded Mandu. Baz Bahadur fled the country, leaving at his fate not only the city and the country, but also his loved Roopmati.

Mandu and the Sultanate of Malwa joined the Moghul Empire just as another lost and distant province. The following decades gave faith of the final of their greatness and the beginning of its abandonment that continued during the next centuries.

Mandu India Mandu India

THE MONUMENTS

Mandu is absolutely covered of architectonic gems widely spread in the whole perimeter. When the traveller looks around in the middle of nowhere he can see curious baobabs beside the walls, or may be domes af any of the countless cenotaphs, graves, huge stepwells or small mosques, sometimes almost overrun by the weeds and always lying in a mournful loneliness. The horizon celebrates every dusk the beautiful sunsets with plenty of rounded domes images.

A walk through the different monumental areas, introduces us from the north, on the road to Indore through one of the strong gates, Alangir or Bangui to the Royal Enclave where we can find some of the most impressive palaces of Mandu.  The Jahaz Mahal or Ship Palace, long as a ship and situated in the middle of two artificial lakes, welcomes us, and in the full-moon night sinks us in oriental evenings with the flavour of this thousand and one night tales. The fourth moghul emperor Jahangir, great admirer of the site, mentionned several times its beauty at moonlight. Nur Jahan the most famous of his wives also enjoyed the beauty of the place.

Not far from there, we find the Hindola Mahal, a palace with a strange architectonic attraction, built in an odd style that from the outside reminds a ptolomeic temple, with succesive archs looking like small viaducts in the interior. It was here where the king received daily his subjects, sometimes only to show them that he was still alive. Amazing sign of this stormy days.

Few metres further the Nilakhanta temple meus with a curious fountain designed like a snake. Not far from there we find two big baolis or stepped-wells, Ujala Baoli and Champa Baoli. These huge step-wells with several rooms and halls were used as a rest place mainly in the warm days of the summer. From there we can also see the remains of old palaces like Gada Shah Shop and the Royal Palace next to the northern lake. The mosque of Dilatar Khan is another monument whose ruins are scatted in the area.

We leave the Royal Enclave, heading south to the small village of Mandu, the only village today of the former kingdom of Mandu; we can also find in otehr parts of the site very small hamlets. In the middle of the village stands out the huge Jama Masjid or Friday’s Mosque, inspired in the great mosque of Damascus. The mentioned Jama Masjid is considered the finest example of Afghan art in IndiaIts considerable size together with the austere elegance in the interior brings a great emotion to the visitor. Inside we find seventeen polychrome mihrabs, the biggest of them in the middle preceded by a graceful pulpit with decorated steps in hindou style. The Jama Masjid produces an impression only to be compared with the most important mosques in Asia.

In front of the façade we can see the Tomb of Mahmood Khaji and the Palace of the Golden Coins or Ashrafi Mahal, originally an important medersa or koranic school. Nowadays only one of the eight stores remains of the celebrated Victory’s Tower, conmemorative of the famous victory of Mahmood Shah Khilji against the troops of the king of Mewar. The remains decorated with polychrome marbles still give the visitor the sensation that it was most probably the most important monument in Mandu.

Behind Jama Masjid we find another jewel of Mandu: The Tomb of Hoshangh Shah. This mausoleum is located in the middle of a big courtyard with four towers in the corners of a cloister with arcaded galleries. The vision of the dozens carved columns in the galleries, looking for an infinite point of fugue reminds the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The main building keeps the tomb of Hoshangh Shah as well as five other smaller graves of his family. The building is completely made of white marble and was one of the sources of inspirations for the famous Taj Mahal of Agra. Four of the architects went to Mandu sent by the emperor Shah Jahan to study this mausoleum.

We continue heading south to Rewa Kund. In our way we can enjoy the time discovering lost remains in the middle of the greenery, or beside a pond with buffalos playing in the dirty water. We run into artistic graves and many other monuments, where we can look at the blend of the sober islamic elegance with the brighter indian style.

In the east bank of Talao Sagar we find the Malik Mughit Mosque, the only monument remaining from the kingdom of Mohammed Ghori. Not far from there lies Dhaiki Chotti Baitham a fine mausoleum enclosing a ruinous mosque. The tomb stands on a platform of an octagonal plant crowned with a big dome. The visiton can access to the tomb by four arched entrances situated according the four cardinal points. From here we have an amazing view of plenty of graves, mausoleums as well as small mosques spread out across the forest and lanes.

Not far from these mosques, Dhaika Mahal welcomes us. Next to this very well maintained palace there is a small mosque. West from Dhaika Mahalwe run into a fine anonymus tomb probably belonging to a relative of the royal family. Far away in the distance and shining in the sun, Hatti Mahal dazzles us with its charming walls plunged in an aristhocratic decline.

Back to the steep path, we resume our wals towards the south to reach Rewa Kund. This area took its name from an old reservoir. The first significant monument we find there is Baz Bahadur Mahal, one of the best kept-up palaces in Mandu; oddly enough the palace was not build by this king, but in 1508 by Nasir Ud Din. Baz Bahadur gave the reputation to the place when he moved there the court and it ended-up taking his name.

The estate has a curious blend of rajasthani and moghul style, and still today it remains in almost perfect conditions. Inside this majestic building we see many rooms and halls separated by fine arches. In the middle of a huge courtyard we find an stylized fountain that reminds us that we are in a muslim palace. Two pavillions crowned by big domes each one supported by twelve columns and fine archs, stands out and communicate an atmosphere of sad calm in their actual loneliness.

Lastly and looking south a few hundred metres, we can see on the top of a hill, lying on its own and hanging over the valley, the Roopmati Pavillion.

People in Mandu still hear the echoes of songs poetries about the love of the poet Roopmati and the king Baz Bahadur. Their love story is still reminded as the sign of identity of this period. Roopmati’s Pavillion was build over an old fort. From there the poet looked north the palace of her beloved king and from the other side to her birth place: the smiling valley falling to river Narmada and its meanders. The pavilion and his location looks like coming from a fairy tale. A romantic halo comes off from the place as well as from the mentioned love story. Oddly the ending of this story was not only sad but dramatic.

When the troops and the elephants of the great moghul emperor Akbar were close to the walls of Mandu, the king Baz Bahadur left not only the city and the kingdom but also his loved Roopmati. She then decided to poison herself before falling in the arms of the enemy. The kingdom of Mandu almost wrote tragically the final chapter of its brilliant history.

EPILOGUE

The arrival to Mandu, located in an evergreen plateau in the middle of lusting vegetation, surrounded everywhere by lakes, exotic baobabs and spendorous monuments, constitute for the traveller a milestone in his continous wander. The time here goes by very slow, opening our senses to all the things around. It is a real privilege. The departure cannot be sad, far from it must be happy because finally you found your own Eldorado. We shall remember Mandu in the dark winter days.

Our journey heads now through the valley to the sacred cities of Omkareshwar and Maheshwar, to the Ghats at the Holy Narmada where next to the blessed waters we shall meet  countless pilgrims.