Can you think of a better title than this for Mandu? - I couldn't.
As I stood at the Mandu Fort and looked at a harem that housed thousands of women and so many beautifully designed swimming pools, I had to ask myself - "Man, did this king have any time to rule the city at all?"
Mandu is full of stories like that. Once the pleasure stories of the Sultanate die, the love stories of Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati begin. I am telling you, Mandu is indeed the city of joy and pleasure.
….the joy is gone, the laughter has died down, the swimming pools have dried up, and the fort is crumbling. Nevertheless, if you let out your imagination run wild, then you can see the town come up alive.
History of Mandu Fort
Mandu or formerly known in the sixth century as Mandapa Durga was set up as the city of Joy by the Khaljis, who ruled Mandu for close to 70 to 100 years. Being in the central region, Mandu was easily accessible for emperors and their armies which is why the rulers of Mandu did change quite often.
Rulers of Mandu:
Shahs (Sultanates from Gujarat)
The Mughals found Mandu to be a place of strategic significance seated between the Vindhya hill range and the Narmada river. They focused more on its strategic importance and neglected the place's beauty, which then started to deteriorate.
Drive to Mandu
I went to Mandu from Maheshwar, which is only an hour away in a cab. My ride to Mandu was great; kudos to the well-maintained road and the beautiful view of the Gehu (wheat) farms all around.
At the end of the beautiful landscape, I was welcomed with a bustling town crowded near the Jami Masjid.
When I got down and purchased the ticket to visit the monuments, there was a list of ASI guides with phone numbers available at the counter. Only about 7 to 8 of these were registered ASI guides. A guide promptly turned up upon calling and quoted a whopping 1.5K to 2K rupees!!! Since I was already spending on a cab for that day, I decided to give the guide a pass, which I later regretted.
Mandu is enormous, and the amount of history it holds is insurmountable. The MP Tourism has set up audio guides that you can dial in and listen to, but it wasn't working in many places. So, don't be a miser like me and hire that guide.
Do not forget to experience these 2 things for an even more delightful stroll through the region
- The serene view of the Baobab Trees
- A packet of the sweet and sour Mandu Ki Imli to munch on.
Read More about the Baobab trees of India and the famous Mandu ki Imli here - Mandu ki Imli
Tour around Mandu Fort - Royal Enclosure
Mandav or Mandu is heavily influenced by Islamic architecture. The only temple over there, called Neelkanth, also was converted into an Islamic structure by the Mughals. When observing Mandu fort architecture, you will come across unique and exciting work, be it pillars, domes, coloured tiles or motifs.
I started with the Jami Masjid….
Jami Masjid, aka Jama Masjid, is one of the biggest mosques in India. You will realize this without a doubt the moment you enter the courtyard.
Inspired by Damascus's great mosque (the oldest mosque in the world), the architecture is stunning with its dome structures and grand entrances. The construction of the mosque was started by Hoshangshah Ghori and completed by Mahmud Khilji in 1454 AD. The jaali work is splendid, and the lengthy corridors around the mosque are symmetrical, making for an excellent photography spot.
Past the corridor is the pulpit where the Imam stands and gives the sermon.
Tomb of Hoshang Shah
Just behind the Jami Masjid lies Hoshang Shah's tomb, who constructed it himself and was later enhanced by Mahmud Khalji. It is believed to be the first marble structure in India. The tomb served as a holy pilgrimage place, and many people came here to offer their prayers.
One of them is the Taj Mahal architect Ustad Hamid, who named this tomb as the inspiration for his work in Agra. The tomb was under renovation when I visited. The light through the jaali work was playing over the grave. I prayed, paid my respects and went ahead.
Right opposite the Jami Masjid is the Ashrafi Mahal. There are three exciting stories for this mahal:
The First story says Ashrafi served as an Islamic school, built by Hoshang Shah and popularly addressed Madrasa. The open quadrangle served as a place to learn, and the corridors had rooms around it, serving as a place to stay.
The Second story goes, Mahmud Khilji constructed his marble tomb here. He wanted it to be grander than anything else, but there is no sign of it now. The description ahead of the monument reads a victory tower, minarets on all corners, and many more domes around the corridor. Of what little is left, you can see a raised platform, few calligraphy and marble pillars.
The Third story is the funniest and has also been posted by the MP Tourism board.
Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji constructed it so that his queens can walk up and down the stairs to reduce weight. He was concerned that they were getting obese and offered a gold coin every time they walked up and down the stairs.
After these three sets of monuments in the central Mandu, you move to the royal corridor where all the main palaces are located. You need a vehicle to take you around as there are no autos there; at least I didn't see one.
The first monument you come across as you enter the royal enclosure is the Taveli Mahal. In yesteryears, Taveli Mahal served as a stable and a rest house for the guards to sleep at. At present, it is an ASI Museum. You can see a few collectables, carvings, statues, and paintings kept here. Not very impressive, in my opinion, but a good collection.
One of the popular attractions of Mandu fort is the Jahaz Mahal, aka the Ship Palace. It gets its name because it is like a ship floating on an ocean.
The Jahaz Mahal stands in between two artificially built tanks, the Munja tank and the Kapur tank. Jahaz Mahal was built by Ghiyas-ud-din Khalji and used as a harem. The harem is said to have accommodated nearly 15000 women! How!!!! And why!!!!! Ugghhh.
No wonder he is also known as the pleasure-loving king. He even renamed Mandu Shadiabad, meaning the City of Joy. I am sure you will notice it when you walk around Jahaz Mahal.
It is a two-storied structure with lawns sprawling in the front, and the water in the tanks glistens away. Stairs lead directly to a terrace with rooms that still have coloured tiles.
Oh...and the Swimming Pools...
The palace is filled with swimming pools of all sizes, patterned in floral designs with steps leading into them. There is a swimming pool on the first floor, second floor, small, big and in all shapes. Imagine all these women of the harem swimming in these pools. It is indeed the city of joy!
Climbing up the stairs of Jahaz Mahal gives a panoramic view of the Mandu fort. The talao (tanks) were not full.
There were some ruins inside the water tanks, which could be the Ujala Baodi and Andheri Baodi. I did not find a way to get there. I feel that it is a great place for birding
Walking down the Jahaz Mahal is the Hindola Mahal. The architecture of the Hindola Mahal was ecstatic.
Hindola Mahal means Swinging Palace. It was named so because the mahal slope's walls majestically, and it looks like the whole palace is swinging. Apparently, it was constructed this way for better acoustics, indicating that it could have been a music hall or served as an audience hall. The right side portion of the building was constructed at a later point in time, and it was meant for the ladies of the palace to sit and watch. I loved this place, the arches inside the Hindola Mahal are majestic, but I wish some of the coloured tiles were still intact.
Royal Palace and Champa Baodi
A king may or may not need a harem, but they surely need a palace, right? Hence, the Royal Palace.
This must have been a huge structure, for what remains seems to take up a considerable area. There are arches, rooms, maybe a mosque? , swimming pools and a bath. The Champa bawdi is present right before the entrance to the royal palace. It is said that there are passages from Champa boadi to a series of vaulted rooms beneath, which helps keep the whole palace above cool.
A bath is attached to the royal palace. Constructed as per Turkish baths, you can see small water tanks running around and windows letting light through. Simply, the thought process that went behind this construction is fascinating.
For a common man, swimming pools are a luxury but for a king….NAH..NOT ENOUGH!!
This is why there is a whole palace constructed inside the Munj Talao. It has water all around and plenty of swimming pools inside as well. Water channels run all around, so it could have been one way to store water.
With that, the Royal enclosure of Mandu Fort comes to an end. Now we drive towards the love story of Baz Bahadur Shah and Rani Roopmati.
Love Story of Mandu - Baz Bahadur Shah and Rani Roopmati
When talking about Mandu, the love story of Baz Bahadur Shah and Rani Roopmati is what comes to the fore.
Here's how this epic love story goes….
Once while hunting, Baz Bahadur notices Roopmati, a shepherdess singing melodiously and frolicking around with her friends. Baz Bahadur Shah, who also loved music and poetry, quickly fell in love with Roopmati. He begged Roopmati to accompany him to Mandu. Roopmati had only one condition - that she should be able to see her beloved River Narmada every day. It is said that every morning she would sing songs in praise of River Narmada and only then have her breakfast. She wished to continue this tradition, and Baz Bahadur Shah agreed to do so.
He built an artificial tank called Rewa Kund, which brings water from the Narmada and remains filled all the time. Not just that, Roopmati was also given a palace on a hilltop so that she could see the Narmada river at least from a distance. Their marriage happened with much pomp and show, in both Hindu and Muslim tradition as she was a Hindu. They both spent their days in music, poetry, and love. She was also fond of horseback riding, and most of the paintings depict the same.
All good things come to an end...
AND so did their love story.
It is said that Akbar's foster brother Adam Khan attacked Mandu because he had heard about the beauty of Rani Rupmati and he wanted her. The fierce battle of Sarangpur led to Baz Bahadur Shah fleeing the place. He feared that Adam Khan might add her as another lady to his harem. Roopmati ended her life by consuming poison.
This incident upset Adam Khan, and he went on a killing spree of innocent people in the Malwa region. Following this, Akbar called Adham Khan back and replaced him with another general. Baz Bahadur did briefly recapture Mandu but soon again lost it to the Mughals.
Baz Bahadur Palace
Nasirud-Din Shah constructed Baz Bahadur Palace, but Baz Bahadur loved this place for it was close to Rewa Kund that Rani Roopmati frequented.
Be it Baz Bahadur palace or Rani Roopmati's Pavilion, both are built in such a way that the acoustics reverberate around the palace. The acoustics were very important as both Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati loved music and poetry, and the music concerts were a frequent event in the palace.
In fact, while I was visiting the palace, a commoner was recording his song in one of the chambers, and he mentioned that there is no need for any sound recording studio; this palace has all the capabilities of being one, including noise cancellation. This literally amazed me.
The grand entrance leads to a huge courtyard in the middle. There are lengthy corridors around and private rooms. It has a swimming pool and a water reservoir too. If you walk around on the palace's terrace, you will be amazed to see the water channels connected to collect rainwater.
Rani Roopmati Pavillion
This was probably the only structure in Mandu that was fully intact. It was originally used as a watchtower. However, Roopmati requested a palace from where she could pay her respect to River Narmada every day. She then moved to this Pavilion which acquired the name after her.
The Rani Roopmati Pavilion is uphill facing the Nimar Valley, and from here, you can see Baz Bahadur palace as well. The passageways inside the Pavilion are narrow and eerie, which is also said to have been built for better acoustics.
The tank was built by Baz Bahadur for Rani Roopmati. This seems to have a perennial water source from the Narmada. People now consider this more of a pilgrimage site. You can see them taking a bath here.
Other Places of Interest
Apart from these two sets of monuments, many more mausoleums, artificial water tanks, and entry gates are built around Mandu town. Although, most of it stands as a ruin and hasn't been maintained well.
The ones you can are listed below:
A place from where probably army people used to communicate information. Stand here and shout out your lungs; the valley will echo right back at you.
A couple of advice for this place
- Do not feed the langurs around
- Do not forget to check out the mausoleum, which is right next to it.
As the day came to a close, there was one last thing that was left.
Nilkanth Mahadev Temple
When the cab pulled up at this temple, my first reaction was a sigh of relief as I did not have to climb stairs anymore. However, my driver chuckled and pointed me towards a flight of stairs.
I WAS WRONG...STAIRS AGAIN!!
From the start of the stairs, the Narmada valley view is beautiful. There existed a time when Nilakanth Mahadev temple stood here. But then, when the Mughals came in, one of Akbar's governors destroyed it and constructed a pleasure house over a temple.
So now an Islamic structure made of red stone stands in its place. But then Lord Shiva found His way to the palace. So, as of today, in the Mughal architecture pleasure house stands the Shiva Linga statue. It is basically a functional temple where regular pooja is done. The temple has a pond in front of it, similar to Mandu's water storage structure.
With this, my tour to Mandu was done. I seem to have missed the Kakra Koh waterfall and suicide point.
Few things to keep in mind
- Mandu Fort is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.
- The entrance ticket to Mandu fort is different at Jami Masjid and the Royal enclosure. And if I remember, it was a small 10 or 5 INR kind.
- I visited Mandu in December during the winter, and all the above pics are from around that season. The best time to visit would be from October to March to avoid the scorching sun.
- I personally felt Mandu in the monsoon could have been very pretty. During that time, I have not been there, but few pics on the internet showed Mandu to be lush green during the monsoon. Check out the pics from the Madhya Pradesh Tourism site on Mandu in monsoon; it is splendid.
- As I said, Mandu has very few commute options, so better to have your own vehicle.
- There is plenty of walking involved. Carry water, good walking shoes, a hat, energy bars.
- Lemon juice, aka Nimbu sherbet, is famous here, and I drank plenty of it. Another unique thing in this area is Mandu Ki Imli.
- Hawkers sell one more small greyish grainy stuff, which they say is good to make tea, maintain weight, etc., but that was just some bogus seeds that did not taste any good.
- You can easily spend a day in Mandu.
Also read, How to spend a day at Maheshwar. Travel guide - By the Narmada ghat, Maheshwar
What to Eat in Mandu
For lunch, we drove a little into the town, away from the monuments. I wanted to have some famous dishes for the area, and my cab driver suggested that I have Dal Bafla or Dal Paniye. We hopped around restaurants asking for it and finally stopped at one which had Dal Bafla.
Bafla is a combination of wheat flour with semolina (Rava) and spices, steamed and roasted in ghee. Bafla is then generously dipped into dal and had for lunch. So this meal platter was yummy, and I loaded myself with some more Baflas.
Where to Stay at Mandu
How to Reach Mandu
The nearest airport to Mandu is at Indore. From Indore you can hire a vehicle and do Mandu as a day trip. Or you can board a bus from Indore to Mandu too. Indore is about 100km away from Mandu. The nearest railway station is Ratlam.