The marvel of Mandu Ki Imli has been forever etched onto my mind ever since I caught the first picture of the Baobab tree online.
The tall, bulbous tree looks like giants walking on earth. The smooth bark with absolutely nothing, not one branch or leaf till it reaches the top, and at the top is a fringe of branches and leaves like frizzy hair.
While going to Madagascar to see the tree seemed to be quite a thing of the future, my excitement was caught up by the one at Mandu! I didn't even have to travel to Africa, and I was surprised to see the stout tree standing right there between the ruins of Mandu. In my two weeks of touring around Madhya Pradesh, I got to see it nowhere else apart from this particular town.
And it has been labelled as the Mandu Ki Imli.
The first time it caught my attention was when a seller cart had a basket full of the greenish huge bulb-like vegetable. I pointed out to ask what it is, and he promptly replied, "Mandu ki Imli".
Imli, meaning tamarind, I wondered how they would use such a big thing as an alternative to tamarind. Usually, we let a lemon-sized ball of tamarind soaked in water, dissolve it and use it in curries.
Mandu Ki Imli, however, is something I had to hold with both my hands.
And then came a few revelations from the seller. It is not a vegetable but a fruit.
And the inside of the fruit looked more like a dried-up custard apple—white pulp segments with seeds that can be pulled out and chewed on. Packets of dried-up Imli were available for sale, and out of curiosity, I got one. I popped in one of the dried-up Imlis, and it was more like a stone that I had to chew on eternally. It was too mildly sour to call it Imli and very little flesh around the seed.
But it is said that it is extremely rich in Vitamin C and hence good for your health. This is also used in the curries to give them a distinct flavor. Having tried out the fruit, I went on a hunt for the tree.
Mandu ki Imli
I came across the first tree near the ruins.
Not far from the shop. It was winter, and the tree was void of leaves. The thick trunk was shining white, and the branches were like the creepy frizzy white hair of an older man.
It was not as tall as the ones in Africa. But a variant of the baobab tree. Well, everything in India makes sense through the eyes of myths !!
A folk tale says that the baobab tree was so tall, and it was so proud of its stature that it is used to make fun of all the other trees. So, God thought of teaching it a lesson. God then uprooted the tree and planted it upside down, and hence the branches look like a bunch of frivolous roots. From then on, it was all I could see. I wonder how these could look at night. The shadows for sure would look like giants dancing on the way.
There are no justifications on why such trees are found only in Mandu.
Maybe the dry area of Mandu helps in these trees growing there in abundance. In all possibility, when the Africans were trading with India once upon a time, they brought the seeds along to plant their "Tree of Life". Or might have gotten transported along and got dispersed in India.
Some studies said when India and Africa were part of the same continent centuries ago, the trees were planted in this region, and it continues to be. And few say the seeds got washed away by water currents and got distributed to India. Fascinating huh!
Seeds traveling from Africa to only Mandu, so we get to have Mandu ki Imli.
Africans consider this tree as a Tree of Life. They store up a lot of water, and during summers or when the land is parched, people will cut open the bark to quench their thirst. The fruit is rich in vitamin C, much more than what could be found in oranges. The leaves are also added to cooking and consumed like green leafy vegetables. And the bark is fibrous that it is used for various purposes.
Like how we Indians use the plantain tree, everything in it is used in one form or the other. But the Mandu Ki Imli tree is not put to use so much. I am unsure whether the locals know that the leaves are edible, or maybe I saw it in days when the leaves were not lush !!