The last bus to Mandu graciously dropped us at the bus stand at 7 PM, despite we being the only passengers using its service. With a very few high priced options for lodging, we chose the Nagar Panchayat Rest house, which though lacking in comfort was easy on the pocket. A side walk of 1 KM from the road took us to the lone building in the vast barren expanse of shrubs and trees. The lane was pitch dark and light from cell phone display was the only way to figure out if we were walking on the path or the bushes. A sole watchman, probably in his nineties pointed us to an open room with two beds.
After a good night's sleep, the foggy dawn revealed the town to us as we set out at 6:30 AM. We merrily pedaled on our rented cycles towards Rani Rupmati's pavilion at one end of the fortified town. Mandu originally a military fortress was conquered by the Mughals in the 1300s and later christened Shadiabad (city of joy) owing to the number of pleasure palaces and lakes that dotted the town. As many were the number of people here, there seemed to be twice the number of cattle and thrice the number of children. The only concrete in the entire vicinity was on the roads (all the houses were thatched huts with mud plastered walls). We parked our cycles near the Rewa Kund to visit the deserted Baz bahadur's palace and Rupmati's pavilion.
The place is said to have been the witness to the romance between Sultan Baz Bahadur, the mughal ruler who devoted himself mostly to music and poetry and his queen Rupmati. A slight drizzle and a whiff of chill air welcomed us into the empty corridors of the Baz bahadur palace. The nearby Rupmati's pavilion, situated on a 365 meter high precipice is from where the lady offered her prayers to River Narmada, visible at a far distance. On our way back, we visited a number of other monuments in various stages of dilapidation. The architecture was an amalgam of the mughal style with various elements typical of Deccan and Hindu architecture of West India. Most domes had turquoise patches at places, revealing that they were originally covered with Lapiz lazuli tiles, lost to the ravages of time. A lone kid selling Sitaphal that had fallen off trees was happy to sell his fruits for as less as a rupee and provided for a tasty breakfast.
(Inside Malik Mughtibh's Mosque)
At the center of the city were four monuments which can be treated as the
prime attraction of the place. The Jami masjid and Hoshang shah's tomb are part of the same
complex while Jahaz and Hindola mahal are a kilometer away. Jami masjid is an
imposing sandstone structure while Hoshang shah's tomb an intricately crafted
white marble mausoleum. On entering the Jahaz Mahal I was troubled to see a
huge mob of noisy school and college kids (the day being a Sunday). I escaped
into the deserted corners of Hindola Mahal. The broken walls and domes set
against a placid lake and green grass seemed to come alive in solitude. At once
I was charmed by the magic of Mandu. With a handful of grazing cattle for
company, I mulled over the timeless charm of this quaint little hill town in an
inaccessible corner; a town that holds together in it's heart an idyllic combination of a ravaged yet ravishing past and a humble bucolic present.
(Altar - Jami Masjid)
Started at 6:30 and visited the monuments in Mandu by 1 PM. After lunch, took a cab to Bhadwah and from there a bus to Khandwa to catch a night train to Pune.
Mandu has the barest of facilities to offer. MPSTDC has a hotel with the lowest priced rooms starting from 1100. Nagar panchayat rest houses are right at the bus stand and provide a night’s accommodation for Rs.150. If they are occupied (as in our case) another rest house 2 Km away provides the same for twice the cost. (Unless you have your blankets/bed sheets and are ready to face broken doors and dirty toilets do not venture into these).
Bicylces (Rs.30-40 a day) are the only way to get around if you don’t have your own vehicle. There are 2-3 hotels serving decent food. Spending a day or two in the town (preferably not weekends) can be quite a refreshing experience away from the routine hustle.
And take this map if you’re planning for a cycle tour
(Tomb seen from Baz Bahadur's palace)
(Hoshang Shah's tomb)
(Archways - Hindol Mahal)
(Cattle grazing around Hindol Mahal)