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From the Heart of Incredible India #TWC

I have always enjoyed travelling – and when the opportunity came by way of a 2-week vacation in October, I wanted to go somewhere far and fascinating. Intrigued by Madhya Pradesh I decided to go to Bhopal, and figure out from there. I got there late one night in early October by way of a 27-hr train journey from Bangalore, followed by a 20-min ride to the hotel by taxi from the railway station.

Not much impressions can be gained of an Indian city by late night – and i couldn’t figure out much by the smoky haze. Here and there an old building or haveli reminded me of an essentially North Indian city with Muslim influences.. I was very excited for the next day.

We stayed in the Jehan Numa hotel in Shamla hills. The hotel has a historical past – being built by the nawabs. The hotel itself isn’t too good though – for the price it commands. The room offered smelt of cigarette smoke so we changed it. Breakfast the next morning – served in Indian and continental buffet. Tasty food but hygiene was questionable – flies in the dining area. Overall the place looked run-down and could be cleaner and the service better for the rates they charge.

Day-1 : Bhimbetka & Bhojpur, the City lakes

The next morning we set off for Bhimbetka – the caves to the south of the city. It was my first glimpse of the city. Bhopal is contradiction – beautiful in parts, ugly in others. The lakes lend a special beauty to the place. They are quite well maintained and clean by standards of Indian cities – and it’s a pleasure boating around them in the evenings. We reached Bhimbetka around 11.00 AM in the morning and found the place mostly empty. It was great to be there with hardly a crowd and we had the place pretty much to ourselves. I got an ASI official to be my guide for a 1-hour tour of the place. It is an amazing site – and well kept.

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Cave art is found in various places around the site – under huge boulders, within cavernous holes, up the rock faces. The paintings are beautifully done, many with pigments and vivid colors that still show. There was one that I was especially fascinated by : a huge bull giving chase to it’s hunter more than 10,000 years ago! It was sad to see some of the painting damaged and peeling off – i thought it needed urgent restoration and asked the ASI official if they planned to do anything about it. The answer was not very re-assuring and i hope these paintings stay around for generations to enjoy. Bhimbetka is a good exercise as well – walk about the rocks within well marked trails that take you through the sites. At one elevated point, we got a very good view of the plains below – and I could imagine what my ancestors would have looked out to all those years ago : herds of bison grazing perhaps or tigers on the prowl!

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By then it was mid-day already and the sun was quite hot for October. We decided to return the 30-odd kms to Bhopal via Bhojpur. Bhojpur is the site of an ancient 11-th century temple built by Raja Bhojraj. Not much remains of the original structure – but the ruins are beautiful. The temple has an enormous lingam – the largest Shiva-lingam in India. It sits within an enormous carved high-ceiling. The stone work is breath-taking, what remains of it. The high ceiling gives an impression of a cathedral rather than a temple – although the main hall is much smaller. One could well imagine the splendor of the place when it was completed.
After doing Bhojpur , we returned to the city by 5.30 PM after a stop over for lunch in a road-side dhaba. There are many such places in north Indian cities where you could get decent good food both vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Be careful of the water though – and always go for the fired tandoor food. On reaching Bhopal we decided to spend the evening boating in the lakes – the sun setting over them was an amazing sight.. with that we retired back to the hotel for dinner after a tiring first day.

Day-2 : Udaipur, Vidisha, Sanchi

It is amazing the amount of history and civilization one passes through in a few miles of country around Bhopal! This part of India contains treasures from pre-historic, to the great Hindu and Buddhist civilizations (the Gupta, Maurya dynasties and Ashoka), down to the later Islamic sultanate dynasties and beyond.

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The area near Vidisha and Sanchi contain the relics and monuments from ancient Buddhist cultures and kingdoms more than 2000 years ago. These were great centers of study and worship at the time. Ashoka’s wife herself was from Vidisha. The road to these parts is good and we covered the distance in a little over an hour. We first decided to go to Udaigiri. On the way we stopped by to see the “Kham Baba” – an ancient stone pillar. It is also called the Heriodotus pillar and is said to have been erected by a Greek resident convert to Hinduism. The site contains the solitary pillar on a stone platform. I met a local and enquired more. He said there were annual festivals when sadhus and babas arrive and large crowds of people from all around came to this site – so apparently it still had some religious significance.

Looking around, I noticed large peepal trees nearby and saw some curious objects. One was a long wooden platform which turned over revealed a bed of nails! I always read about yogis on beds of nail but never saw one myself. I was told this was used during the festivals by the babas.

The tree trunk itself was covered with nails – hammered in to control evil spirits. Near the roots were small stone obelisks decorated with a man and a woman, the crescent moon and other symbols. These were used during Sati worship – this part of India once had strong tradition of Sati , and there are similar small deities glorifying this around the country. This abhorrent practise is thankfully extinct, but it was a little eerie to see it’s malevolent influence still felt and seen in places such as these.

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I decided to move on – to Udaigiri caves. This is a little distance from Vidisha and is a large hill of black stone that contains numerous caves and rock-cut sculptures. Not a soul at this time and once again the place to ourselves. I got in at the wrong entrance somewhere to the side and found a set of steps leading up. There were caves on the way, some of which had shiv-lingam inside. Others were empty. The view as we climbed up the hill of the plains for miles around was beautiful. At the top is a cave which is supposed to catch the rising sun, and you reached it via a large flat rocky ledge at the edge of the hill. It was locked i was told due to bat menace. I turned back and went up to the end of the ledge as far as I could dare – because below was a sheer drop and sharp rocks.

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I trekked up further as i saw more steps leading up the hill. At the very top I came across a “rest-house” built in 1933 which was completely desolate and crumbling. It clearly was from the British days – and was a simple structure of 3 rooms. All locked and overgrown with weeds and bushes. Beyond was a huge mound of stone and broken pillars lying around covered in dense vegetation. I struggled to try and make sense of what I was seeing when I spotted an old stone carving listing the site – “Ruins of ancient Guptan temple”.

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The sun although early in the morning was beating hot already and my shirt was sticking to my back with sweat. The trail led through dense jungle at the top of the hill and I walked until i crossed the top  and the trail started to descend. Along the way there were some empty rock caves.

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Near the bottom we came across some beautiful stone work – a sculpture of Vishnu on the snake.The guard came up to open the enclosure gate for us to get a better view. It was marvellous even if broken. There were other such small cave temples with deities in them. Nearby we came across the statue of Baraha Vishnu in his avatar of a boar – cut in place out of the stone walls of the cave. It was very beautiful – and retained the splendor of the colors even to this day. This place was a site of residence for Hindu and Jain monks and probably Buddhist as well, and it definitely was a nice quiet place for contemplation.

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It was now close to mid-day when we decided to leave for Sanchi. Sanchi is a hill situated about 45 kms north-east of Bhopal. It has stupas – which are hemispherical mounds of stone some of which are surrounded by stone railings. Sanchi is one of my favorite sites – it is very well maintained by the ASI. The main stupa is well preserved and the stone work is brilliant. There are 4 stone arches or gates in the four cardinal directions and each of the gates is covered by elaborate carvings in stone that enact the Jataka tales – of the life of the Buddha. There is a stone railing all around and steps lead to an elevated platform that runs around the stupa. It is an amazing sight – and rightfully a world heritage center.

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Near the main stupa several other smaller ones are seen. Sanchi is actually a large open-air museum with stones, relics and ruins spread over a large area at the top. Behind the stupa I came across the ruins of a Buddhist temple complex with splendid carvings, much of which was destroyed. There are remains of large monastic centers as well – this once served as an important center for studies and worship. Sitting in the gardens around the stupa and taking in the beauty of stone all around you is an amazing experience. For all it’s beauty and splendor, I think Sanchi is most under-rated in India as compared with several other sites.

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We had lunch in a restaurant near the stupa run by MP Tourism. The food, here as in everywhere I travelled in MP, was simple and delicious. I always loved the fresh curd served for lunch – a great way to beat the heat. And although we intended to see the Sanchi museum nearby, the food had it’s soporific effects so we decided to return back to Bhopal. It was already 3.00 PM by now. For the return trip I decided to stop by Raisen and check out the fort there. This was a mistake. There is no infrastructure – no road, just a heap of stones where a road should be. This was almost undoable by car and I wonder how we escaped a breakdown. After a bone-rattling 10-mins or so you reach the bottom of the hill where a path leads to the top. The fort itself looks impressive and must be so inside – but I was dismayed by the utter lack of infrastructure and upkeep of the place so that it had almost gone to seed. Also, I came across unsavory elements who i’m told frequent this place. I’d definitely give it a skip – not worth the trouble.

On the way back to Bhopal though, there is a dargah which is worth a visit. It is the dargah of Peer Fatehuddin, a famous Sufi saint who lived in the area many centuries ago. If you do go there, mind the monkeys!!

We reached back in Bhopal by late evening on the end of day-2 of our trip. It was a wonderful experience so far and we were looking forward to the next day which we kept for the city itself.

Day-3 : Bhopal City

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We had 1 more day to ourselves which was set aside to explore Bhopal city itself. We started by visiting the Taj-ul-Masjid, said to be the largest mosque in India and Asia. Not having been to other large ones (like Jama Masjid) I could not compare but it certainly was vast. The courtyard in front is huge and I struggled to get the entire mosque within my camera frame. There was repair work on one of the minarets when I visited. The domes are ringed with beautiful blue tiles, kind of the ones seen in Iran. The building itself is of reddish-brown stone, with the pearly white domes and sheer scale, it was amazing. The mosque is not very old – under 150 yrs, but it’s stark beauty makes it look even older. I chose a time when there was no namaz to avoid what would have been huge crowds, and I had the place pretty much to myself. I was not disappointed.

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Bhopal has many beautiful mosques, mazhars, dargahs and Sufi shrines. I’m a hopeless romantic when it comes to Islamic architecture, so left to myself I could spend days wandering around. Since time was a constraint, I decided to cover essential ones. Moti masjid is another beautiful mosque not far away from Taj-ul-Masjid. Located nearby are the old town quarters of Bhopal, where you can see some ruined but impressive buildings and structures. But the general up-keep and surroundings isn’t very good here and along with the shocking decay of the heritage of a city, is sad to see.

We later drove around the lake-front. There are a number of old havelis and palace buildings once belonging to the Nawabs of the city. Most of these are out of bounds or in severe disrepair. To me it seemed an awful missed opportunity – as the lake-front boulevard with it’s buildings on top a hill overlooking the lake could be a wonder if kept well. One such quaint place we visited was the Gauhar Mahal. Most people I spoke to never heard of it or maybe i didn’t pronounce it right – I then found an ill-marked entrance to a crafts-fair (amazing how many of these you see in our cities) that seemed to open out to a market place. It was actually the site of the Gauhar mahal which was a palace at one time, housing eminent ladies and nobility. Inside are many shops selling crafts from all parts of India. We took a Chanderi sari from a Mriganayani outlet inside. The palace itself is beautiful, sad and crumbling, at the same time. The top floor is vacant and has beautiful wooden arcades and balconies, which seemed to have rotted out of shape. Clearly the tourism ministry had no vision, idea or will to maintain and market such marvelous assets that our country is full of – not just here but the length and breadth of India. A similar site elsewhere in the world would have charged $40, had long queues of camera-touting tourists, and marketed like a wonder of the world.

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After some time wandering the shops inside, we needed a break for lunch and wanted to go someplace with a panoramic view of the city. We decided to head out to the Jain mandir which is atop a hill and affords a good view of the city. The ride to the top was by cable car, and when we reached there we were about the only persons wanting to go. The view from the top is good, I could see what looked like the new airport coming up to one side of the city. The immensity of Bhopal’s lakes could be appreciated from this height – as also the extent of shrinkage of the waters after what I was told was a deficient monsoon with almost no rains. The life of the city clearly had to be these waters – and I hoped there would be no encroachment of the drying lake beds in the name of development.
The Jain temple at the top is clean and sharp, the breezes at this height are pleasant. The small park at the top was not maintained well, and we took the cable back downhill.

For lunch we were recommended Raheem’s and it was a good choice. Those of you who enjoy mutton curry will not regret New Raheems in M.P Nagar. The gravy is rich and spicy, and gorging without guilt is easy! Hot oven rotis, curry and dal vanished almost as soon as they were placed before us!

By now it was already quite hot and we decided to take a break and resume later in the evening. I wanted to cover 2 spots – the Manav Sangralaya (or tribal museum) and the Van Vihar. With my 8-yr old daughter, it had to be the Van Vihar first, which we started at about 4.15 p.m. This is a must-see if you have kids or even by yourself. It is a sort of open-air enclosure with many wild animals by the side of the lake. The vegetation here is quite dense, of tall grasses and trees and the air very cool and pleasant. The sanctuary itself is very well maintained and offers an experience of the wild from the comfort of your car . There are stops all along for you to park and take a closer look. We saw a fat-bellied croc come out of the water and plod along the shores of a lake into the marshy grass by the shore. A black bear obliged us by dancing from side to side no more than 10-feet away, separated by a ditch. All in all, the Van Vihar is a wonderful experience of fresh air, water and wild-life of different kinds. One spectacle that takes place around 4.30 p.m is feeding of the Indian & Burmese pythons – with live chicken. We missed this, by a few minutes, and when we saw the enclosure, we spotted the fattened bellies of the snakes that had already swallowed the chickens.

We left the park at about 5.30 p.m and wanted to cover the Manav Sangralaya. Unfortunately, it was closed by then. I was told this was a very nice open air museum of tribal arts from all over India and I must say I was disappointed to miss it. My advice is to check the timings – as they differ from summer to winter and keep a few hours at hand if you wish to explore this site.

With nothing more to do, we headed to the lake and spent some time by the water-front. There is a Cafe Coffee Day with great views to the lake front located on the hill-slope. This was a great spot to relax over good coffee. The previous evening, we had spent time motor-boating and pedalling around the lake – definitely a great way to end your day in Bhopal.
We returned back to the hotel early to pack for our departure early next day – we were headed to the south of the state for the rest of our journey.

Day 4 – Mandu via Indore

When planning for my trip to M.P, I wanted to make Bhopal my base. I then had 2 choices (with the 8-days I had on hand) – either cover the north : Gwalior and Khajuraho or take the route South. I knew doing both would be far too hectic and covering a lot of travel, so I decided to skip the usual tourist attraction of Khajuraho. I opted for Mandu instead – and boy was I delighted.
We left early morning of October 8th, by MPTDC bus to Indore. The service is convenient, the road trip is comfortable, the condition of the road very good and we could cover the distance in little under 4 hours. We got off at the last stop in Indore – MPTDC bus-stop. We had arranged for a car to pick us up from there to drive to Mandu, about 100 kms south of Indore. That arrangement did not work out, and I approached Mr Mathur of MPTDC who obliged me with arrangements from their agency for a taxi cab transport. All in all, I’ve always found MP Tourism to be quite customer service friendly, and although late in the afternoon, was able to arrange a taxi for self and family to Mandu.

We headed south on the highway to Mumbai and after about 45-mins or so, we branched out to a state highway. The road soon started winding around hilly and rocky terrain, winding roads and fields of corn and wheat. The landscape looked desolate and sparsely populated, with a small village here and there. After an our or so more, suddenly we saw the ruins of a fort-gate announcing our arrival near Mandu. Here and there were scattered ruined tomb-like structures on hill-sides and near ponds and lakes. This was my first glimpse of Mandu – the place that would enthrall us for the next 2 days we spent here.

Day – 5: Mandu

Every now and then, we come across hidden wonder and beauty in our lives. There are few places in India which I would say are still steeped in the romance of the ages. Mandu is one such jewel – and a place I would love returning to any time! Picture a rocky hilly plateau littered with ruins of tombs, palaces and forts and romantic tales of warrior princes and beautiful courtesans. A place with architecture and beauty that inspired masterpieces of human creativity – the Taj for example. A place where time seems to have stood still, where you can almost imagine and feel the ages gone by!

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We reached Mandu late evening on 8th of October, and stayed at the Malwa Resort. It is a very beautiful location – at the back is a walk-way that leads you to the side of a large lake . It is a spot with a beautiful view of the lake and valley beyond. In the stillness of the morning, it is most relaxing. On the evening we reached, I was met by Mr Tiwari, a local who introduced himself as a guide with an active interest of the local history. I do not usually take to guides – and my experience of them in India and abroad (like the guides I took in Egypt) has been that they are most superficial in their knowledge and direct experience. You are better off with a Lonely Planet guide-book and I found myself knowing more than these so called guides. So it was with doubt that I agreed to employ the services of Mr Tiwari for a guided tour the next day of the ruins of Mandu.

We started the next morning with the Jahaz Mahal in Mandu. Mandu was the capital of a break-away clan of the Khilji dynasty. The kings of this dynasty had Malwa (comprising modern day Indore, Mandu, Dhar and surrounding places of western M.P) as their kingdom. They were vassals of the slave dynasties that ruled Delhi during this time. When Delhi was invaded by hordes of Mongols in the 13th/14th centuries, these sultans took advantage of the ensuing chaos and declared themselves independent. Thus started the Malwa dynasty and the capital of their kingdom was shifted to Mandu. These sultans overthrew Hindu kings of the ruling Parmar dynasty and established themselves instead. Mandu is perched on a rocky plateau at the top of the hills of the Sayadri range of mountains in central India and offers a very strategic view of the plains of the Narmada river below.

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Mr. Tiwari was a short man, with a clear voice and as I soon realized, excellent command of the history and finer points of Mandu and it’s buildings. He has written a book in Hindi called “Mandu Darshan” which he most graciously offered me a copy. He first took us to the Jahaz Mahal, a palace built by Ghias-uddin, one of the early sultans of Mandu. The place has indescribable beauty – it is a palace atop 3 small interconnected lakes. On a full moon night, with the stars out and the shimmering lake, it is said to have an almost ethereal and surreal beauty to it. The palace (as in others in Mandu) is among the finest specimens of Indo-Afghan and Turkish architecture to be ever found anywhere in India. The Turks were masters in designing palaces and gardens with the intelligent use of water resources. Here, they used water to roll, gush, roil and cascade into their gardens and private baths – the Hammam – in very ingenious ways. Mr. Tiwari pointed out the intricate water-ways and channels carved into the stone, which led water with pressure and force, caused it to eddy in concentric circles before being led into baths and ponds within the palace. The Hammam is a special experience – you will find a number of nooks/cubicles that are within an octagonal enclosure. Look up to see natural light filter through star-cut openings in the stone ceiling. There are separate channels that were used for hot and cold water as well as small vents and holes to let water out as in a modern day Jacuzzi or Sauna into these cubicles!! There even was a series of low ovens beneath the hammam where the water was heated by burning coal. It was amazing to see the ingenuity of the early ages – and how water was used to provide most exquisite beauty, function and pleasure, be it garden or bath.

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We then explored the Hindola Mahal, with it’s swinging buttressed structure. Mr Tiwari pointed us to symbols of Hindu deities within the walls of the palace. This was from a period where the Muslim dynasties built on top of pre-existing Hindu temples and architecture. The result was a fusion of both styles that was quite simply out of the world.

Nearby we came across Dilawar Khan’s mosque – which is said to have been built for women only. The pillars of this mosque show unmistakable signs of temple architecture and Hindu motifs.

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As elsewhere, the best time for sight-seeing is early morning and late evening. By now it was almost 10.30 a.m and so we decided to retire to the hotel. We resumed in the evening with the Jama Masjid. This is an austere looking masjid in the heart of Mandu village. This is a beautiful structure, maybe built on top of an earlier palace of the Hindu kings. It was unclear whether it was used as a mosque or a public building. For one, it does not face west like all mosques do. Look closer, and you find unmistakable signs of traditional architecture, like the pots on top of the domes. The Jama Masjid is now under the care of the ASI – and isn’t a mosque anymore. The beauty of the domes and the pillars in the evening light is best experienced rather than described.

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At the back, is a jewel of Mandu – the Tomb of Hoshang Shah. The tomb is built of white marble, and is stunning to say the least. It is said that Shah Jahan sent his team of architects to study this building for months prior to designing the Taj. No wonder, it is a beauty. The marble stone and Jalli work make it astoundingly beautiful. It is not surprising to see how this building could have inspired the Taj!

Outside of the Jama Masjid is the Ashrafi Mahal, a ruined palace with wide stairs. It is said that fat ladies of the royal harem were sent here where they were expected to climb one stair at a time with each step. This exercise made sure that the extra calories and fat were shed in no time. When I tried these steps, I could understand the purpose quite well! The wide spaced steps done one at a time made for very good exercise and a sure way to get back in shape! The Moghul emperor Jahangir visited Mandu in the 16th century. He is said to have offered one gold coin for each step to his wife Noor Jehan, who then used the money for charity. That’s why it is called the Ashrafi Mahal and is a beautiful ruin today.

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Outside the Ashrafi Mahal, you can notice vendors selling the “Khorasani Imli”. This is basically the fruit of the Baobab tree – a native tree of Africa. Local lore has it that the Caliphs of Egypt exchanged gifts with the Mandu sultans sometime around the 14th century. The Mandu sultans sent talking parrots to which the caliphs sent Baobab tree seeds and saplings. These were then planted by the Sultans in the rocky soil of Mandu over 500 years ago! Today you see numerous such trees all over Mandu – nowhere else in India have I seen this tree. The tree has a wide trunk and branches at the top. It is said to be a storehouse of water which it uses it’s swollen trunk for. In Africa, during times of severe drought, the trunk is tapped to access large supplies of drinking water! The fruit looks like a swollen pod, and is called Khorasani Imli. I picked up 2 pods which I still have – it is my dream to one day be able to grow a baobab tree in my garden! In a country like India, I feel this tree will be a great asset to have around as a source of food, water and wood.

Below : Darya Khan’s tomb with a Baobab tree at right

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It was now evening and a great time to explore the most romantic of Mandu’s legends – Baz Bahadur and Rupmati. It is said that Rupmati was a shepherdess who took the fancy of Baz Bahadur, one of the last Sultans of the dynasty. Baz Bahadur was from Gujarat and he conquered Mandu in the 15th century to make himself the king. One day it is said when wandering around Mandu, he came across Rupmati in the fields with her herds. He immediately wanted to take her as his own and she relented after he agreed to build her a pavilion with a view of the Narmada river, the land of her birth and origin.

We drove south of Mandu to reach Baz Bahadur’s palace – a well preserved building. This is said to be more of a pleasure pavilion than a palace and the king used the place to listen to the music and song of his favorite bards. Mr Tiwari demonstrated the advanced acoustics of the place to us – he made us stand at one end of the building under a dome. He then went to the dome at the opposite end and began a song. His mournful intonation of some long-lost ballad resounded beautifully to where we stood.

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It was almost like a theater with surround sound – the music and his voice carried beautifully to be appreciated anywhere in the building. It is said the Sultan rested in the top part of the building where he could listen to his favorite musicians sing and play in the evening, with the sun setting over the hills! A most wonderful setting for someone who patronized the arts!

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From here, we worked our way up the hill further until we reached Roopmati’s pavilion at the very top. While used as a garrison gate and watch tower, Baz Bahadur is said to have extended the building to include a pavillion for his beloved Roopmati. From here, a striking view of the hills and the plains below can be had for miles around. The beauty of the place has an almost magical quality to it. We watched the sun setting over the horizon – and in the distance Baz Bahadur’s mahal, which had an unobstructed view from here.

The tale has a sad ending though. When Akbar’s general conquered Mandu, Baz Bahadur is said to have abandoned the place and fled for his life. Learning of this, and not wanting to fall into the hands of the enemy, Roopmati poisoned herself to death. A most tragic ending after all.

We spent the last fading minutes of dusk admiring the view and soaking in the experience. As it quickly became dark afterward, we started descending the road down to the car below. On the way back, I couldn’t help wondering how life must have been all those years ago! And I was thankful to Mr. Tiwari who earned my respect and full marks for his excellent grasp of local heritage. If you do visit Mandu, I would strongly recommend his services – it’ll help you enjoy and experience Mandu in a whole new light.

Day 6 – Maheshwar and Omkareshwar

I wanted to spend more time exploring Mandu by myself. Mandu can best be experienced all by yourself – hiking across the fields especially in the early hours of the day or late in the evening. This is when the sun is at its coolest and the play of light on the monuments lends a magical feeling to the place. There are many anonymous tombs and structures littered all over the place. Darya Khan’s Tomb, the mosque of Mallik Mugith and Dai ka Mahal are some that are definitely worth exploring, and I came across these pretty much on my one, wandering around. It gave me a sense of the early explorers, stumbling across one magnificent ruin after the other.

The next morning we decided to go to Omkareshwar and Maheshwar. These are holy places by the Narmada river and important centers of pilgrimage. At Omkareshwar, you can hire a boat to take you across to the major temples by the ghats. This has a Benares-like feel to it, with the city and it’s temples crowding down to the ghats by the river. But it’s hot as hell, so you should avoid visiting in mid-day. It is best seen early in the morning if possible. On the way back to Mandu, we visited Maheshwar. This was an important center and has a fort of the Holkar’s who ruled Indore.

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Ahilya Bhai was an able leader, a widow at that – who did well to rebuild this area after the ravages of Aurangzeb. She built many beautiful temples and forts by the river bank in Maheshwar and elsewhere in India. Her residence is preserved to this day and you can visit it near the fort. The ghats are a beautiful sight – especially in the evening, where the shadows cast on the steps and the temples give it a most splendid effect.

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We returned back to Mandu by late in the evening – and thoroughly exhausted. After a quick dinner we retired to bed early. We still had one last day to ourselves – and we intended to return back to Indore the next day. Mr Tiwari persuaded me to visit Ujjain, having come this far – so I was game for it!

Day 7 : Ujjain & Indore. 

We left early morning for the 3-hour drive from Mandu to Ujjain in a taxi arranged by Mr. Tiwari. The road was better this time, and we reached Ujjain by mid-day. We visited the Maha Kaleshwar and Kal-Bhairav temple. Both these were well managed and maintained, especially the former, which is an important center of pilgrimage. It has a Jyotir-ling, one of the few in India, and is considered most holy. Kal Bhairav temple on the other hand is a center for Tantric studies, and the Shiva deity there enjoys booze! The prasad offered by devotees is whisky in bottles which are then tipped over to the lips carved on the lingam. As we watched, the liquor disappeared from the plates on which it was served as an offering – to be taken in by the lord himself!!

We then made our way back to Indore – the final stop of our journey. We reached the place late in the evening and stayed in Apna Palace, a hotel close to the airport. This hotel is good value for money and conveniently located not more than 20-mins from the airport. This was a major advantage given that as we experienced, it took more than an hour to cross one part of Indore to the other. This was mostly due to the pathetic condition of the roads. Mr Sanjay Prasad at the hotel made sure our needs were well taken care of – and we retired after dinner to much needed sleep.

We woke up early the next morning to catch our flight to Bangalore at 7.00 AM. It was a most exhilarating and memorable experience – this 8-day journey through the heart of India! The sights, smells, experiences and people we met along the way in the most amazing trip I had in a long time.

It is said travel widens the horizons of the mind – and I could experience first-hand why. In a little over a week’s time, I had been transported to another world altogether – one quite different from the fast pace and life-style of India’s IT capital Bangalore. One that allowed you to dream and relax, one that took you back many years through a magical journey of varying landscapes, histories, cultures and stories!

One that is truly and quite amazingly – the Heart of !ncredible !ndia.

 

This entry has been shortlisted for Holidify’s Travelogue Writing Contest in association with Linger. The content and pictures may not be used without prior permission of the author.

Submitted by: Dharamjit

The original post can be found here.

 

 


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