Veiled in Misteries
The Indian monsoon blankets the subcontinent for four months of the year but it bestows a unique kind of blessing on the ruins of Mandu. After months of a tormenting summer when the rains descend upon the sweltering rock, Mandu becomes enveloped in a mist which is thick with spirits that whisper tales of romance and betrayal from a time gone by. Perched atop the Vindhya mountains the city offers commanding views of the Malwa plateau and was therefore of strategic importance to the Ghuris, Khiljis, Mughals and the Marathas.
Starting from Indore on a muggy afternoon in a cab the 100 kms in between was primarily covered on the generic NH3. The lunch ingested at the quintessential roadside dhaba of jeera aloo, paneer masala, dal and rotis had its intended soporific effect and we woke to heavy rain pounding the car and the descending darkness of twilight. Nearing Mandu and once we quit the NH3, the road passed through dense forests and curved along tortuously till we reached the MPTDC resort at almost midnight. The rains had no plans to let up for the rest of the night and it was beginning to look like the trip would be a washout.
The morning however woke to soft cool clouds gathering the strong and unforgiving monuments of Mandu in a heart-melting embrace. Cutting through the thick and lingering condensation that had descended over the ruins, it felt as if history had suddenly come alive. The horizon was completely cloaked in a white haze and the city would only reveal her mysteries to us bit by bit. No wonder the Mughals retreated to Mandu in the Monsoons, for where else could one situate the legend of the romance of Rani Roopmati and Baz Bahadur.
As we walked along the nearly 45 km long walls of the fortifications looking onto the severely descending plateaus, one couldn’t help but wonder how many stories the walls had been witness to.
The deep spaces of the Jama Masjid stood out in strong relief against the blank white canvas of the fog and the endlessly repeating column bays of the Ashrafi Mahal created a visual vortex that threatened to suck you in and transport you into another time. I wondered, what mysteries of the afterlife were softly silhouetted inside Hoshang Shah’s tomb and was there wisdom to be found as one approached the soft white light that glowed at the end of the tunnel…
The sprawling Jahaz Mahal seemed to float in between several manmade lakes and complex but beautifully ornate channels that collected water appeared to decorate the landscape intermittently. The memories of around fifteen thousand queens and concubines and their servants, frolicking through the various spaces of the palace suddenly became tangible images when one glanced down at the vast unending grounds.
As the sun climbed high and the mist retired eventually it was time to leave behind the haunting mysteries of Mandu and reluctantly return to our prosaic lives.
I would recommend combining the trip to Mandu along with a visit to Maheshwar. One can live in the rooms at the Ahilyabai Holkar fort and palace, watch the Maheshwari weavers at work and enjoy a night on the banks of the Narmada River.
All photos © Ekta Idnany & Sahil Latheef