© Anant Raje

The typical ‘Indori picnic’ consists essentially of a big group of noisy families that span, on an average 3 generations and a lot of cardboard boxes filled with snacks, specifically all quintessential ingredients for BHEL – onions, tomatoes, green chili and spiced puffed rice, complete with truckloads of newspaper that doubles up as the giant potion maker and serving plates, and in some cases even spoons, for the extra dexterous. And the destination is often Choral Dam, Tincha Falls, Sitlamata Falls or Mandu. So, given that the IDEA of Mandu was too main stream for us, it was never on our radar. I always thought of it as a bunch of ruins with A+R dug in the walls, paan stains all over.

On the recent family reunion, the parents suggested the ‘destination’ for 3 days. I signed in, counting on the lovely monsoon weather that would make the road trip and the stay bearable and the fact that wherever we are, I’d get some quality time with family. The destination itself wasn’t top-of-mind for me. I’d go anywhere with family. My brother having recently turned PRO with photography went in for the pictures, or the possibility of them.

But, boy, were we in for a surprise!
First up, I am a sucker for historical monuments that tell stories – the older the better. I do not seek scandal, war or color, but authenticity and timelessness. And was I in for a treat. It was like there was so much history right in our backyard and I hadn’t explored it for 30 years. I switched into power drive and read up on this quaint, beautiful town. Mandu used to be under the rule of kings of the Central Province before it was acceded by the Mughals in the 11th century. It was under multiple rulers till the 17th century before it got taken over by the Marathas. But it got gifted with some rich architecture while the Mughals were around. Tombs, Mosques, Forts, Palaces galore! Every turn you take, you see a building in beautiful benign sandstone, a subtle blushing pink. I was pleasantly surprised that most of the buildings (even the small ones) are in very good condition and fairly clean. I didn’t get clobbered by the crowd or queues. If I have to compare globally, I might have to stand in queue or book online tickets for a monument that would even be dating back to 18th / 19th century. But here I am walking through time that takes me back 600 years with absolute quiet, possibly because it may not be the most accessible, even by Indian standards. I could feel the old fort of Mandu and life as it were. It was magical. It is really rare in this day and age to walk into a palace and just get to while time away as you absorb the legend that goes with it.

And legends there are many. One of them that stands out, and almost masks the actual history of the town is the love story of Baz Bahadur, an independent ruler and Rani Roopmati. From how they met, to how Roopmati gave up her life for love and pride – it’s every bit a tale meant for a Bollywood movie. As I walked into the pavilion built for the queen, so she could see her beloved river Narmada every day, I could feel my goose flesh, imagining how the entire song and dance would arrive every day for her, so she could but get a glimpse of the sliver that she might think is the river. What was even more intriguing was the view of this very pavilion from Baz Bahadur’s Palace a mile away. You can just visualize him look at her in the distance and be all smug for having built her the magnificent pool and lounge as a symbol of his love. I guess this is what men could possibly learn – gift her something that she can enjoy and revel in while she is alive and kicking. Probably telling the world how much you loved her with marble may not be the best way to spend your dime.

There are other stories – how elephants could walk up the ramps to bring the kings to their courts. How injecting oil and setting it alight would light up an entire maze of lamps around the fort. How Roopmati poisoned herself before Akbar’s army could get to her. How Baz Bahadur ran to seek help and failed and finally died years later, trying to avenge Roopmati’s death. How the chief mason of Taj Mahal came to Hoshangshah’s tomb to pay his regards (probably because this tomb may have been one of the inspirations for the Taj).

I’ll be honest, as architecture goes, this may not qualify as the most ornate or elaborate exhibit of Mughal splendor. However, the buildings are still so majestic, they command silence. They have a calming effect on you. They still serve as a very efficient time capsule and gets you to dig out your books to read more, as they incite so much curiosity.

The best way to get to Mandu is to fly in to Indore and drive here. It’s about 2 hrs of a slow, yet pleasant drive. Indore also has a lot to offer – delectable food being top of the list. While in Mandu, stay in one of the two MP Tourism resorts. They are well located, clean, and provide excellent service. On a special request, for about 20USD, the chef can make you the delicious “Kadaknath” a locally available wild rooster, with dark, flavorful meat. When you visit the Roopmati Pavillion and Hoshangshah’s tomb, go at the break of dawn to avoid the crowd and get some quality peaceful time in there. Do not venture out to the smaller restaurants – you may be compromising on the quality. But a must have – the potatoes (the black soil of Malwa plateau makes the tastiest potatoes) and the DAL BAATI (another local favorite) with spoonfuls of ghee! Sit by the lake over sunset. Or better yet, visit Dai ka Mahal – another rarity – a palace built for the mid-wife! All in all, it deserves 2- days for the history buff or the tranquil-seeker. So if you are ever passing through Indore or Dhar, set aside the time, to breathe in the air from 6 centuries ago.

Read more about the author:

Rollerglades is proud to host Apoorva Raje Divgikar, an avid traveller and a tasteful writer. Read more of her funny, relatable and thought provoking musings on : http://apoorvaraje.blogspot.com/?m=1

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