Updated: Dec 28, 2019
By Nandini Rao
Contributing Author for Spark Igniting Minds
I do not remember what age I was when the word Mandav comes into my mind. I do not know what it means nor do I remember how it came to my mind. Whatever the reason, that is a word I just cannot get out of! This word stays with me and often comes to my mind, but I just ignore it, thinking it is some fancy flight of my imagination!
At that time, I may have been 10 years old or so! I’m not sure!
When I was studying in 8th standard, my friends invited me to join them to watch a movie they were planning to see over the weekend. With my parents’ permission, and armed with a list of do’s and don’ts, I went to watch the film with my friends. The film was a Hindi film called Kinara. Beautiful film, it was indeed! But what left me stunned was Mandav, which I always considered a fancy flight of my imaginative mind. It turns out it was not so!
It is the name of a tourist spot near Indore. I walked out of the cinema hall in a daze. My friends kept raving about the film while I felt numb. It was a feeling that I could neither fathom, nor speak about. I replayed the film again and again in my mind, and Mandav, where a good part of the film was shot, became my dream destination. I lived with that dream for many years! I will, one day visit Mandav.
In those days, having a vacation, for us, meant visiting our cousins at Chennai, Bangalore or Varanasi. Traveling from Kolkata to these places by train and the possibility of meeting our cousins was exciting enough for my family, perhaps. But my yearning for visiting Mandav increased with every vacation.
I completed my graduation from Kolkata. Soon after I got married to the person my parents chose. I moved to Mumbai. My heart leapt! Mumbai is quite closer to Indore, the city which leads me to my dream destination Mandav. My husband and his family were not particularly fond of traveling. Hence, my dream to visit Mandav remained a dream in the pipes many years that followed!
However, in 2006, I could not take it anymore and I decided to travel solo to Mandav. Thanks to the internet, planning for my solo travel was quite easy. Train tickets to Indore were booked, hotel reservations at Mandav were made. And I boarded Avantika Express at Mumbai and embarked upon my journey to my dream destination.
Happiness and trepidation mixed, I experienced a strange sense of freedom! The freedom of being able to make my choice, independent of others in my family! The freedom to undertake the compelling journey of my life! The freedom to just be me! Freedom for a week!
I reached Indore in the early morning. Now, I had no idea how to reach Mandav. A hired car is an expensive option. Since I was traveling on a small budget, I needed to count my pennies. I went to the railway booking counter and asked the clerk how I could reach Mandav. He looked at his colleague, smiled in a sinister manner and told me to take a shared autorickshaw to Dhar, and catch the private bus from there to reach Mandav.
For a moment, the smile puts me on my guard! Why did he smile so? What was on his mind?
I quietly sent out a prayer to my Spiritual Guru and hailed the auto-rickshaw to Dhar. I decided not to share the auto with anyone. I offered to pay him twice and voila, I was on my way to Dhar. Dressed in jeans, and a jacket, having a backpack and a small suitcase, I reached Dhar and waited for my bus to arrive, which was another two hours to come.
The tea stall owner at the bus stand was a pleasant fellow who chatted up with me. He made me a toasted butter, to go with my tea and let me sit on his bench. He even offered to send his little boy, about 12 years old, to put me on the bus. He told me that all daily supplies to Mandav go from Dhar; hence securing a seat in a twenty two-seater bus with the locals, on my own, maybe impossible for me.
The tea stall owner and his little boy stole my heart with their simplicity and goodness. I instinctively knew I was going to spend my week with simple rustic folk, eager to please their guest. What a change it was from the corporate offices, where I had spent so much of my life!
As I traveled by the village folk in the bus, I befriended a dudhwala carrying milk supply to Mandav, swearing that he would rather die than mix water with milk; an andawala who held his wares, his prized booty, the supply of eggs, close to him every time the bus driver applied brakes or we ran over a bump; a toothless old woman stealing glances at me through her ghunghat; a young boy, who spoke a smattering of English, to impress me! The simplicity of these folks touched me so much that it almost brought a tear to my eye! The abundant greenery on both sides of the road, the little hamlets with ladies wearing bright saris and men wearing pristine white dhoti brought a strange calm to my excited mind. I felt liberated like never before!
As we entered the village Mandav, I hopped off in front of the hotel, where I had reserved my room. I thanked the bus driver, who stopped his bus there just for me to get off.
The people already had made me feel a part of them! I already felt that I was no stranger to this part of the country! Simplicity and love have a very endearing quality universally. I made a call to my husband and informed him that I had reached my dream destination. I decided to go sightseeing the next morning, as I needed to catch up on some rest. The bumpy roads leading to Mandav ended up giving me a slight backache so I needed to rest.
Having freshened up and rested I chose to sit in the lawns of the hotel and soak in the pleasant weather and the local atmosphere. The hotel was not much occupied, apart from me, there was another family on the same floor, another solo traveler and a honeymooning couple. I booked a car to take me sight-seeing for the next day. The solo traveler approached me requesting if she could share the car I had booked, thus halving our expenses and also adding an element of safety. Not a bad deal! So, I agreed. The next morning, Preet, my newly found friend, and I set out to see the tourist spots.
We first visited the Ujali Baoli, a mammoth step-well where one has to climb down the steps, almost as many as a seven-story building to collect water. This well is considered to be a very important part of rain harvesting in the olden days when King Baz Bahadur ruled the kingdom. This well is a sight to reckon with! A beautiful piece of ancient architecture. Two flights of steps on two sides of the well. Inside it, there are a number of arcades and landings, built for the convenience of the water carriers.
As I climbed down the steps of the well, a strange fear gripped me! I do not know why I had this fear! Therefore, I do not complete my journey to the bottom. I returned back to the top. I overheard a guide telling another group of tourists that when the Mughal army killed the king, Baz Bahadur in the battle, and marched into the kingdom, many women jumped into the well to save themselves from the impending dishonor. Maybe that is what was chilling my bones as I climbed down. As a person, not often given to the emotion fear, I felt strange to succumb to this feeling. While I sat on the steps at the top, my friend Preet was back after her journey to the bottom of the step-well and we continued to our next destination, Jahaj Mahal.
Jahaj Mahal, a palace of Baz Bahadur, is an extremely artistic piece of architecture. Built on a thin strip of land between Munj Talao and Kapur Tank, it looks like an anchored ship, when both the water bodies are full in monsoon. It is a delightful spectacle to see the silhouette of this structure, with the tiny domes and turrets of the pavilions against the silence of the clear moonlit night. It was as an assembly hall which contained three halls on the ground floor, one of which served as an entertainment center.
A little away from the Jahaj Mahal is the beautiful Hindol Mahal, which literally means ‘swinging palace’, a name given to it because of its peculiarly sloping sidewalls.
The plan of the structure is ‘T shaped’ with the main hall and a transverse projection to the north. On both sides of the main hall are six arched openings, above which are windows filled with beautiful tracery work for letting light and air inside when the womenfolk would be seated.
The water management system of this hilly kingdom is considered to be one of the best in ancient India and also in modern times. There are several water bodies dotting the entire town, Rewa Kund, being the most famous.
The Hammam was the bathhouse of the harem queens of Baz Bahadur. Constructed in line with Turkish baths, the Hammam had two separate water channels, one for hot and one for cold, which merge into one after some distance and is connected to the bath. The impressive feature of this bath is the ceiling where a star like opening has been cut to let light pass through, enhancing the pleasure of bath.
A little away from the Hammam is the Champa Baodi, so-called because of the sweetness of the water and its smell is like that of the champa flower. The subterranean of this well is constructed like a labyrinth of vaulted rooms, which again connects itself to Munj Talao and Kapur Tank, thus keeping the rooms cool even in the harshest of summers.
Moving further on the other side of Munj Talao, are some structural ruins which are the Jal Mahal, a monsoon retreat of the king. From the splendor of the ruins, it can be, said that this was certainly one of the most luxurious retreats of the Sultan of Malwa.
Ruins of Jal Mahal
By now, it was time to return back to the hotel and grab a late lunch. Although the day began for me with the strange feeling of fear, it ended with a strange sense of fulfillment. Visiting the palaces, I experienced the luxury and carefree life of the women in the sixteenth century. Now for some rest and a leisure-filled evening!
Lunch was done. I took a nap and woke up to the luxurious feeling of being on a vacation, having the choice of many options to choose from to spend my evening. As I stepped out to the balcony of my room, I took in the view and was left dumbstruck. The hotel stood almost on the edge of a cliff overlooking a crevasse and I could see the deep valley, not far from me.
For a city-bred woman, it was no lesser than a wondrous sight to experience, no less a wonderful experience to hear the sounds of silence and nature around me. I inhaled the air deeply, filled my lungs with oxygen and stood still, almost transfixed.
I enveloped in a wonderful experience. The sun was going to soon set and the valley would be enveloped in the velvety darkness!
I wore a shawl over my shoulders and decided to take a walk before it got too dark. I loved the nip in the air! I loved watching the women carrying firewood on their heads, the men returning home from work! Some of the women even posed for photographs for me. In fact, they requested to be photographed. Maybe they had never had the freedom of preening their beauty at home and indulge in their secret desire with a stranger like me! As for me, not for a moment did I feel that I was walking on the roads of an unfamiliar town. All these people, the roads and everything, I felt were mine! I belonged here! Strange and perhaps, a discomforting feeling for others! But for me, it made me very secure! Something I cannot explain!
The next morning, I woke up early and went for a brisk walk with the break of the dawn. On the way back, I treated myself to some freshly made, piping hot kachoris and jalebis. The aroma of the kachoris pulled me towards them and in an instant, I had decided what I was going to eat for breakfast.
The car came in by 9 am. I was ready at the reception. Preet joined me soon. And we started our next lap of sight-seeing. We went to Rani Rupmati’s mandap.
This structure, constructed on a precipice, originally, seems to have been a watchtower of the kingdom. The pavilions and some other parts of the structure on the other side seem to have been constructed later. Rupmati’s Mandap, situated at the topmost point of the structure has a magical quality to it. When I closed my eyes, in the stillness, I experienced being transported to another era.
I started to hum the songs of the film, Kinara, to myself. I sat there for a very long time. I left Preet to explore other parts of the palace. As the solitude and quietude descended on me, I heard music lingering in the air that touched my face. Not a specific song, nor a specific raag, but the melodious notes of an alaap! Apparently, as the guide told me later, Rani Rupmati used to sing while seated in that Mandap and the valley would be filled with melody. It was not an uncommon occurrence to have Rani Rupmati and Baz Bahadur indulge in a musical jugal bandi. That moment I experienced the words I had often heard, “What is let out into the Universe remains there for aeons to come.”
Mandap or the Pavilions on Rani Rupmati Mahal
The pavilions are known after Rani Rupmati, who, it appears used to come here for darshan of River Narmada, which could be sighted flowing downhill in the valley. It is in this place, that one can see how powerful history of a region is on the atmosphere, on the culture, and on the present.
Our next stop was the Ashrafi Mahal, which was built in the 15th century by Hoshang Shah. It was built as a madrasa. It has arcaded exteriors and row of cells enclosing a huge quadrangle. Now, all that is left are ruins of the structure except a grand staircase and a walk on the roof. It is also rumored that Ghiasuddin Khalji had built this palace of staircases to have his overweight queens to lose some weight. The incentive that the queens were offered to go up and down the staircases was one gold coin for one step.
The memories that I have collected and cherished in my life are many from this trip. Mandav beckoned me again and again. Mandav provided me with a familiarity which no other place has ever provided me with. Of all the travels that I have made since then, there is none to beat the richness of experiences and emotions that Mandav has left me with.
I planned to make a trip to Omkaleshwar and Maheshwar during the rest of my vacation. I will however, cover those experiences someday later.
As I share my trip to Mandav with all of you, I have at many places mentioned the closeness and the familiarity that this place has offered me. I do not cease to wonder why Mandav is so magical!
Some years later, I posed this question to my Spiritual Guru. She closed her eyes in response to my question and asked me to do the same and re-live the experience. What she told me after some time answered all my questions. She said: in one of my previous births, I was a Muslim singer in the court of Baz Bahadur and one of the ladies who jumped into Ujali Baodi when the Mughals invaded the kingdom! That explained the feeling of terror I experienced in the Ujali Baodi.
Things made a little more sense when I reflected back. I come from a non-musical family. I have neither had exposure to music nor am I formally trained in music. Yet I sing instinctively, as my musician friend Vijay put it, even complicated melodies. I have no knowledge of the raag or the notes of the raag.
Yet I sing from the heart and my musician friend says it is possible only when it is God’s gift!
This journey has truly liberated me and whenever I feel caught in a rut, I re-live my days at Mandav and I am raring to go!
About Nandini Rao
Ms. Nandini Rao
Nandini Rao is a Transformation Coach with in-depth exposure to several business functions.
An internationally certified coach, she is committed to coaching people to raise the quality of their lives, achieve their goals.
Her writings reflect the depth of her understanding of life and people. Her ability to relate to people instantly makes her an excellent coach, mentor, and builder of lasting and meaningful relationships.