rupmati-mahalI set off around noon from Indore for Mandu. Mandu or Mandavgarh is an evocative city in ruins about 100 kms from Indore. The ride was scenic and calmly in the bright afternoon sun. The local bus was very comfortable, and the fact that it had bright, lovely tribal-like patterns all over it only added to the trip. One of my co-passengers politely enquired about where I was from and where I was going to. On knowing, he indicated the strong sunshine outside and casually remarked that summer was off-season, and monsoon sees the tourist crowd when Mandu looks really beautiful.

I checked (?) into the dharamshala of the ram mandir – a double bed room with an attached bathroom ! I couldn’t make out too many residents in my neighbourhood, but it did comprise of a mosque, looking old and full of character just like the mandir I was put up in. Also in the immediate vicinity was a much newer, posh Jain mandir – with landscaped gardens and marble guesthouses – and very serene like all places of worship.

Later on in the evening, after dark was an aarti in the temple by a middled aged pehlwaan pandit with a long flowing beard with a decent number of local looking people assembled -from dont know where they turned up – in the temple courtyard complex – in front of the temple under an the large canopy of an ancient looking pepul tree. It was an energetic aarti was vigourous waving, and prayers in the priest’s robust baritone voice.

The next morning, refreshed, I hired a bicycle, got in some breakfast, and moved on to explore Mandu. It was indeed off-season. It was only me on the cycle among the remains of Mandu. One abandoned building after the other. Abandoned makes the place sound desolate but it was hardly like that. The place was beautiful. Maybe DD shows all these beautiful historic places in India accompanied by lovely classical music, and indeed that is how I pictured it. Thank you DD! Beautiful domes, hauntingly beautiful arches opening up to vistas of pillars arranged in lovely symmtery approached by mysterious, alluring staircases, flanking courtyards in a play of green, light and shade.

I knew that Mandu was steeped in history with many dynasties conquering the place over the centuries. The wars mustve been bloody – but that was furthest from my mind in the ruined beauty of the place. Indeed it felt like I was in one of DD’s documentaries with the happy classical music. And the romanticism of the place is high on peoople’s minds – what with the story of Rani Roopmati and Baz Bahadur belonging to Mandu.

The weather. It was hardly the hot summer day it should have been. There were few whiite clouds in the morning, but very gradually it got more overcast, and by noon there were showers. And the cool breezes that come with it. I got to see Mandu in its monsoon charm !

The buildings. The mosque, Rupmati’s mahal, an area where plays and dances were performed with arrangement for lighting, and an area for artistes to prepare and enter from – are all vivid.
jahazmahalBut I hit jackpot with Jahaz Mahal. I had left it for mid-afternoon. It would have been just another ruined building for me, with a dirty pond of mossy water if front on it – if it hadn’t been for my guide. He approached me – and I refused politely – just out of habit. He asked again. He was a young shrivelled up man and had a very prominent stammer and I guess I felt sorry for him. But I shouldn’t have been. Only 15 rupees – he said. It was off-season – no tourists. It was the best part of my trip! He was an excellent guide. He walked me through the levels of the Jahaz Mahal and explained the functions of the various areas – bringing it to life. He pointed out the narrow channels, which might have been ornate once, along the borders of the building though which water flowed. The water having been drawn up at one end of the building and poured would have flowed through the entire building with gravity. The pond which I thought water had collected in by chance, was actually in better days a large pond designed into with Mahal’s complex, bordering the building. In fact at the time there were three such ponds surrounding the building, and when he pointed it out, I could now see it.
My guide was in full flow now. He was in no haste, and his stammer was reducing all the time. Perhaps he could see that I was really appreciating his tour, and that was only spurring him on more. I dont think he had to, but at the end he took me to certain points away from the Jahaz Mahal and pointed out the Mahal to me from different angles. He asked me to imagine certain areas where there were ponds at the time filled with water bordering the building. He insisted I picture the ponds and indeed the Ship structure of the building flashed right back at me. It will always be one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. One part is because it is actually a beautiful building, but also because of the surprise when I did see the Jahaz! In a cool afternoon with a sky overcast with rain clouds. My guide turned that ruin which I would’ve ambled around and played sentimental classical music in my head into an architectural and historic marvel for me.

I was so happy – I gave him 30 Rs. while leaving there. He looked visibly happy, slightly shaken, and his stammer came right back.

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