India is a land of love, and every Indian is familiar with the famous love stories of Heer-Ranjha, Laila-Majnu, Salim-Anarkali, Shah Jahan-Mumtaz and Devdas-Parvati. Sounds like a modified version of the pledge, doesn’t it? But there is another story of love that not many are familiar with. It is the story of Raja Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati. Moreover, this story comes straight from the heart of India—Madhya Pradesh. The story will unfold as we take a virtual tour of the ruined city of Mandu, which occupies an important place in the history of India.
Mandavgarh or Mandu is a place that has historical significance, beautiful landscapes, serene climate and architectural marvels. Hundreds of tourists come to this hill station every year to enjoy the weather, but overlook the other aspects of the city. Many also know it for its spooky fort, which, by the way, does not give any hint of spookiness in the daytime, but as it gets dark, you start getting the chills.
Mandu is located in Dhar district of Madhya Pradesh (MP), and was originally the capital city of the Parmar rulers. Later, Dilawar Khan, who was the Governer of Mandu, established the Ghuri dynasty and ruled Mandu until Allauddin Khilji snatched power from the Ghuris and established the Khilji dynasty and ruled Mandu for a long time. Bahadur Shah of Gujarat conquered Mandu from Mahmud II, the sixth Khilji ruler, and lost it to Humayun. Humayun lost the kingdom to Mallu Khan, an officer of the Khilji dynasty. Baz Bahadur came into picture when he attained power in 1555, but being uninterested in military and governance, he lost the battle in Sarangpur in 1561, and Mandu, subsequently, to Adham Khan, a leader of Akbar’s army. Baz Bahadur regained control of Mandu for a short period later when a coalition of three forces (including Baz Bahadur’s) defeated the Mughal attack on Khandesh. Akbar re-conquered Mandu and Baz Bahadur fled again, but finally surrendered and joined Akbar’s army. Mandu remained in Mughal hands for a long time until it was captured by the Marathas in 1732 under Peshwa Baji Rao I.
The reason behind so many invasions and the shifting of power in Mandu can probably be attributed to its location. With the Narmada river valley to the south and the Malwa plateau to the north acting as natural defences, Mandu commanded a place of strategic importance in military activity. For tourists, Mandu offers beautiful palaces and buildings and the ruins of other places along with scenic points.
The Old Brook and the Walls
Before entering Mandu, there is a small stream of water that flows from an unknown location and falls into the adjoining valley. As is the Indian custom, small food-carts selling nimbu sherbet and bhutta make their presence felt. The handful of locals pester you to buy these and someone definitely starts narrating the story of the brook, even if you do not want to listen, and in the end you end up paying him a small token of gratitude for his unneeded intrusion. According to the locals, the brook is 10,000 years old and it flows continuously. Well, normally I would not have believed that, but over the years I have come to realize that anything is possible. As you enter Mandu, its fortification catches your eye. The city has fortified walls even at the entrance, where there is not a visible building.
By the time we reach Mandu, it is evening and so we go directly to the sunset point. Sunset points are common to every hill station, but I mention this one especially because the effect of peace and calmness that the sunset at Mandu has on us is unique. There are only two structures marking this point—a pillar and a conical dome-like structure, and the view you get will definitely make nature-photographers hungry for more.
Jahaz Mahal, Hindola Mahal and Jal Mahal
The Jahaz Mahal (ship palace) is a palace built on a small strip of land between two water tanks, the Kapur and Munja tanks, hence the name Jahaz. It is built in the form of a ship and is known for its romantic beauty. It was probably built by the pleasure-loving Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din, son of Mohammed Khilji. It is said that Ghiyas-ud-din has a large harem, numbering thousands, and the Jahaz Mahal was home to his pleasure-seeking activities.
The Hindola Mahal (swinging palace) is another palace in the vicinity. It is built in such a way that its sloping walls give the impression that it is swinging. Beautiful arches adorn the inside of the palace. The design has some typical elements that point toward Hindu temple architecture. The Hindola Mahal has the royal palace on one side and an area which probably used to function as the ammunition cell. This place has an underground maze structure which must have been very helpful in confusing the enemy.
The Jal Mahal, as the name suggests, is located in the water of one of the two tanks mentioned earlier. The way to the palace has a series of paths that slope down towards the water body. The area of the tank itself is huge, but the amount of water is scanty. Mandu is facing the problem of water-shortage and hence water has to be pumped out from these age-old water bodies.
Jami Masjid, Hoshang Shah’s Tomb and Ashrafi Mahal
The Jami Masjid is one of the biggest mosques in India. There is a dome at the entrance that acts as the gateway to the mosque. The intricate work in this dome is a treat to look at. Once past the gateway, you enter an open space covered with lawn and get a view of the mosque. It has three domes and a series of pillars inside. An arch can be seen in the wall adjacent to an elevated throne-like structure. Construction of the mosque was started by Hoshangshah Ghauri and completed by Mahmud Khilji in the year 1454.
Adjacent to the mosque is Hoshang Shah’s Tomb, which is a fine piece of architecture. It is a huge marble structure and there are Persian inscriptions on the walls that tell the name of the architect and other information. Inside, the structure is a very cool place and according to a travel guide, water used to fall continuously from the ceiling 24/7. It stopped some years back when the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) performed a chemical wash on the inside. The tomb premises also have a long passageway on one side that acted as a place to rest. Strangely, in one corner of this passageway is a small room that has features of a dharamshala in it.
The Ashrafi Mahal or Madarasa was originally built as a college (madarasa) by Hoshang Shah. It had a quadrangular court and rows of magnificent cells and corridors and it faced the Jami Masjid. Later, one of its four corner-towers was converted into a seven storied Victory Tower. He blocked the madarasa and used it to erect his grand tomb, which lies ruined now but whose dome was originally loftier that those of the Masjid and Hoshang Shah’s tomb.
Rupmati Pavilion, Baz Bahadur’s Palace and Rewa Kund
Now we come to the love story of Rani Rupmati and Baz Bahadur. Rupmati was a singer in the king’s court and Baz Bahadur fell in love with this enchanting beauty. He asked her to accompany him to Mandu, to which she agreed on one condition. The story goes that Rupmati could not start her day without taking the blessings and darshan of the River Narmada and without a bath in her waters. So she told Baz Bahadur that she would accompany him if he could satisfy these two needs of hers and Baz Bahadur very well did.
The Rupmati Pavilion was originally designed as a watch-tower and is located on the precipice overlooking the Nimar Valley. It was later made into the living quarters of Rupmati as it offered a view of the River Narmada and Baz Bahadur’s Palace as well.
Baz Bahadur’s Palace is located on the hill-slope to the east of the Rewa Kund. Inscriptions say that the palace was built by Nasir-ud-din, but Baz Bahadur took a fancy for it because it was located close to the Rewa Kund, which Rupmati visited frequently.
Rewa is another name for the Narmada. The Rewa Kund is a reservoir of water where the water of Narmada used to come in those times. Rani Rupmati used to frequent this place for bathing. The kund also acted as a supply of water to Baz Bahadur’s palace and the Rupmati Pavilion, and hence is an engineering marvel because both these places were located higher than the water body and a water-lift was used to take the water there.
This is a shrine that houses a Shivling and was built by a governor of Akbar. A continuous stream of water flows from a lake situated above the shrine, onto the Shivling and into the valley later. The building has no architectural pretensions but the style is typical of the period of Akbar.
The Lohani Caves
Situated in close proximity to the sunset point, these caves were once used as an underground secret passageway. They are hidden from direct view as they are located in the rock face of the mountain, but the other end of these is located somewhere in the main city of Mandu. The way is closed now due to water filling up inside and the lack of light brings in fear of snakes and other animals in there.
Apart from all these places, the entire city of Mandu has some or the other ruins of various buildings every 50 meters or so. Apart from this, the climatic conditions provide you with a much needed respite from work. Plus, a two-day-one-night stay makes it perfect for an ideal weekend trip. The dal-baafle are a must try before you slump into your deep slumber at the end of the day.
l By Road: You can easily get cabs to Mandu from any major city of Madhya Pradesh.
l By Rail: The nearest major railway station is Ratlam, situated 125 kms from Mandu. Major trains like Mumbai Rajdhani, Pune-Jaipur Express and Pune-Indore Express halt at this station.
l By Air: The nearest airport is the Ahilyabai Holker Airport, Indore. Located 100 kms from Mandu, it is a domestic airport connected to major cities of India. The taxi fare from Indore to Mandu is around Rs 2000.
l Preferably, stay at the MP Tourism Hotels. There are two of them in Mandu, the Malwa Resort and the Malwa Retreat. These are not very expensive and offer great service. There are other private hotels available too.
By Mihir Bhanage > firstname.lastname@example.org