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Memories of my travels between 1972 and 1982

Thursday, 10 February 2011

February 10th: Mandu

On February 10th 1982 I was in Mandu in Western India, travelling with Mary after we had met up in Delhi.  

Mandu:  My picture
Mandu is a village inside a ruined fortified town, a Muslim kingdom from mainly the sixteenth century, renowned for its prince Baz Bahadur who wrote poetry for his consort Rani Rupmati.  Mandu was then fairly off the beaten track and it had neither hotels nor restaurants - there was a simple place doing puri meals in the market.  There was however a Tourist Bungalow, where we stayed, and they served us meals in the room.  When we left the manager contacted the police in the village and they arranged for the bus to call in at Mandu in the morning - it was that remote.  Going to Mandu was very much Mary's idea.  It certainly had not been on my radar before, but I loved it when I got there.

We took a bus from Indore, a slow and bumpy hundred kilometres in three weary hours, past the military looking town of Mhow at first.  Soon however we were in a much more rural Madhya Pradesh, a bone-rattling ride through villages and little towns.  We saw a camel train coming over a hill-rise, maybe as many as 40 or 50 animals, and nearby some of those women with red saris, white blouses, arms of bone bangles and lots of silver jewellery, gypsies I believe.  Later we saw more of the women with unusual low carts and, in a different spot, an isolated field of opium poppies.

I wrote this up that evening:
Bhil at Mandu:  My picture
Mandu is delightful, a mountain completely fortified with some fairly early Muslim mosques and palaces and tombs within.  We took a crowded tempo (a type of autorickshaw) to the Tourist Bungalow; it will do nicely, a large comfortable room, adequate home-cooking served very slowly, and intermittent water and electricity.  We took a stroll through the main central monuments in the late afternoon; a big mausoleum with Hindu-style pillared hall wing, a high narrow structure with pavilions which overlooks a pretty tank and has nice views over domes and ruined walls towards more distant walls and precipices.  I really liked the site of the Lohani caves which date back to the 10th Century, pre-Muslim, in a lovely spot, complete with cowherds and a sadhu cooking curry and chapattis.  Sat looking at sunbirds and falcons and the plains below, all looking pale and dry and washed out in this winter season.

There's a rural atmosphere, it's really a village with a fort around it, and only a few tourists around, only one apart from us not Indian.  People friendly, everyone says hello and smiles "namaste", "namaskar", "goodbye" or very occasionally "one rupee. "  We met a man with a bow of bamboo and iron-tipped feathered arrows; he wore a bright yellow turban with tassels inside, his woman had big silver anklets.  Local house architecture is interesting, mainly unpainted thick mud-walls, tiles, thin wood support if there are verandas, some have second stories, or semi-second stories with windows; the main street is all banked up above the road.  One house on the far side was built in the ruins of something older and was a rambling affair with colourful garden and a big statue without arms, of Mahavir I think, a Jain temple?

I was reading Robert Byron and noted him asserting that other simpler structures were superior to the Taj; I understand this and I empathise with some of his travel hassles.

During the following two days we walked around the various monuments which cover quite a wide area, once even renting bicycles.  In the evenings we returned to the Lohani caves which gave a lovely sunset spot, as the hills faced predominantly to the west over the Narmuda valley beneath.  Here are some of the notes I wrote up in the evenings: 
We took a long slow walk up to the Rewa Kund area through the heat of the day.  Beautifully rural and for the most part peaceful.  Trees and autumnal grass, birds of all sorts at every turning, little houses and cows, cows, cows, smiling children and friendly adults.  First we side-tracked to a tomb/house, Dai-Kai Mahal, with a pond beside, then the long country walk, metallic water at a pump, puja at the Rewa Kund tank and Mary was lectured at in Hindi by a celebrant woman.  Ash-covered sadhu and a woman who sold us guavas.  At Baz Bahadur's palace we found a pavilion with a beautiful view over a pastoral scene, a ploughed field, a cart by a hay-stack, a woman in red with an earthen pot on her head.  Finally the ramparts and Rupmati's Palace and Pavilions, where we sat in much needed shade up on the top gazing out over the Narmada valley, seemingly infinite.
The Lohani Caves:  My picture
In the evening we did little else but sit above the Lohani caves and watch the sun go down.  It was no especial sunset, too much haze, and the features in the valley below only came into focus as the sun went below the horizon.  The villages looked beautiful in the reddish tint of evening.  We glanced into the temple with the big elephant gate and were shown around.  It's a Jain temple with several shrines, one to the Seventh thirthankar  (Suparshvanath) is a famous and ancient point of pilgrimage.  There were a couple of venerated white robed ascetics of good education, like Buddhist monks.  There were rooms around for visiting pilgrims.
We visited the large Friday Mosque, with its two large and many smaller domes, its pillared hall and its latticed windows, its niches on the prayer wall lined in polished black stone.  Then we looked at the Ram Mandir, the courtyards made of dwelling houses, with another set almost completely surrounding the outer courtyard, two-storied white-washed with wooden fittings, old looking and completely unchanged or converted, perfect really, the sort of architecture I love here, demotic architecture.
We cycled to Nil Kanth though the distance was not that great.  There were good steps leading down, the Moghul palace built around a spring which has been turned back into a Shiva shrine, complete with sadhu and duni with bell and pujas in the central room and tridents and lingam to left and right.  We sat on the rocks above admiring the wooded valley beneath.  Then to the edge of Songarh and the Sunpur Dahwaz where a couple of lookouts over the arched entrance gave us a wonderful atmospheric view over the same side.  This was Maratha work, complete with paint and plasterwork that was probably only 180 years or so old.  A quick view on the south side where a road goes down, and then to the Tarapur gate on the same side which is in quite good condition.  Inside is a tank with villagers' houses flanked by mosque and shrine, most picturesque.  The people here gathered around us, sure sign of their unfamiliarity with foreigners.  In fact the village atmosphere was real.  Later we went back to town to return the bikes, have a chai and barfi and spiced puris, look over the ruined Madrassa and have sunset by the Lohani Caves. The town was full of colourful tribals, colourful turbans and bows and arrows, Bhils I believe.  Coming back after sunset, the light was lovely, silhouetting domes and baobabs.

Saurab Saxena has a detailed recent account of Mandu in his blog and an album of photos.  I find it amusing that he calls Mandu a very commercialised tourist location - it was anything but that when I visited.  I also like these photos by Ramesh Lalwani.

These pictures are by Mary or myself:

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