Mandu – Travel Guide to The City of Joy and Pleasure

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I seriously could not think of a better title! 😀 When I stood at the Mandu Fort and looked at a harem that housed thousands of women and so many beautifully designed swimming pools to enjoy in, I couldn’t stop thinking but “man did this king have any time to rule the city at all?” 😛 Mandu is filled with stories like that. Once the pleasure stories of the Sultanate die, the love story of Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati begins. Am telling you, Mandu is indeed the city of joy and pleasure. But now the joy is gone, the laughter has died down, the swimming pools have dried up and the fort is crumbling. Nevertheless, if you let out your imagination run wild, then you can see the town come up alive. A bit of history and all about the various places to visit in Mandu for you to relish in history.

Me at Mandu

History of Mandu Fort

Mandu is the recent colloquial name of the city. An inscription from the sixth century calls it Mandapa Durga. And then it turns into Mandav and turns into Mandu. Mandu is still registered as Mandavgad. Being in the central region, Mandu seems to have been easy access for the empires to fight over it and capture. It started with the Paramara Dynasty ruling around the Malwa region. But I am not gonna dwell much into Paramaras. Let us focus on the Khalji dynasty cos they are the ones who set up this “city of joy”. There are mostly two sets of ruins found in Mandu. One is built by the Khaljis. They ruled close to 70 to 100 years after which they were overthrown by the Shahs who were Sultanates from Gujarat. They built another set of monuments. Their rule went on up until Baz Bahadur Shah was looking after only Rani Roopmati and not Mandu. Then Mandu fell to Mughals who found Mandu beautifully seated between Vindhya hill range on one side and Narmada river flowing on another side. They used Mandu more like a place to rest. Mughals did not contribute much apart from adding mausoleums. After the Mughals, Mandu started to deteriorate.

jahaz mahal back
Backside of Jahaz Mahal

Drive to Mandu

Mandu is more like a small town. I was staying at Maheshwar and had hired a cab from Maheshwar itself. Mandu is about an hour away from Maheshwar, so I found it convenient to do this as a circuit. You can also drive down from Indore. Many air travel to Indore, hire a cab and proceed to Mandu from Indore. The highways down south of Madhya Pradesh around Indore was really good and hence no complaints. The landscape started to change with gehu (wheat) farms all around and the bustling town suddenly emerges with Jami Masjid welcoming you at a crowded spot. People pretty much live around the ruins and hawkers make business with tourist folks. When I got down and purchased the ticket to visit the monuments, there was a list of ASI guides with phone numbers available at the counter. There were only about 7 to 8 registered ASI guides. A guide promptly turned up upon calling and he quoted a high price, about 1.5K or 2K. Since I was already spending on a cab for that day, I decided to give the guide a pass. Which I regretted later. Cos Mandu is huge, really huge and the amount of history it holds is all huge. So don’t be a miser like me and hire that guide. MP Tourism had setup the audio guide that you can dial in and listen to, but it was not working in many places. While doing this math in my head, I bought a packet of the sweet and sour Mandu Ki Imli and started to munch on. There is no way you will miss spotting the baobab trees all around the region.

Read More about the Baobab trees of India and the famous Mandu ki Imli here – Mandu ki Imli

Mandu ki imli
Some fresh Mandu ki Imli

Tour around Mandu Fort – Royal Enclosure

Like I had mentioned before, there are two main sets of monuments. And the majority of the period being a Muslim state, Mandu fort architecture is heavily influenced by Islamic architecture. It is all domes and pillars, colored tiles and motifs. The only temple called Neelkanth also was converted into an Islamic structure by the Mughals. Nevertheless, you will come across some unique and interesting work when you observe Mandu fort architecture. I started with the Jami Masjid, so let me take you around the monuments built during the Khalji dynasty.

mandu fort map
Tourist map of Mandu Fort

Jami Masjid

Jami Masjid aka Jama Masjid is one of the biggest mosques in India. And no doubt, you will realize this the moment you enter the courtyard. Inspired by the great mosque of Damascus (the oldest mosque in the world), the architecture is stunning with its dome structures and grand entrances. The construction of the mosque was started by Hoshangshah Ghori and completed by Mahmud Khilji in 1454 AD. The jaali work is splendid and some of the works are still intact. The lengthy corridors around the mosque are symmetrical and make an excellent spot for photography. Walking past the corridor we come to the pulpit where the imam stands and gives the sermon. Pictures of Jami Masjid to speak more about it.

jami masjid mandu
Courtyard of Jami Masjid, Mandu

Tomb of Hoshang Shah

Just behind the Jami Masjid lies the tomb of Hoshang Shah. This tomb was constructed by himself and later was enhanced by Mahmud Khalji. This is believed to be the first marble structure in India. The tomb served as a divine pilgrimage place and many people came here to offer their prayers. One of them is the architect, Ustad Hamid, who got inspired by this tomb and constructed the Taj Mahal. The tomb was under renovation when I visited. The light through the jaali work was playing over the tomb. I paid my prayers as well and moved out.

tomb of hoshang shah
Marble tomb of Hoshang Shah

Ashrafi Mahal

Right opposite the Jami Masjid is the Ashrafi Mahal. There are three interesting stories for this mahal 🙂 A bit of a steep climb leads to the Ashrafi mahal. The first story says, Ashrafi served as an Islamic school, popularly addressed as Madrasa. This was built by Hoshang Shah. The open quadrangle served as a place to learn and then some corridors would have also had rooms around it, serving as a place to stay. The second story goes on to say, Mahmud Khilji later constructed his marble tomb here. He wanted it to be grander than anything else but guess what, it is all gone now. The description in front of the monument reads that there was a victory tower, minarets on all corners, many more domes around the corridor. Almost nothing is there apart from the raised platform. Of what little is left, you can see a few calligraphy and marble pillars.

ashrafi mahal
Steps to Ashrafi Mahal

The third story is the funniest. This was posted by the MPTourism board. That Ashrafi means gold coins. And Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji constructed it so that his queens can walk up and down the staircase to reduce weight. He was concerned that they were getting obese and offered a gold coin every time they walked up and down the staircase considered as an exercise!! Totally jobless rulers.

ashrafi mahal mandu
Calligraphy on the remaining walls

After these three sets of monuments which are in the central Mandu, you move to the royal corridor where all the main palaces are located. You need a vehicle and I did not see any auto in the area to take you around. I had one so I was good to go.

Taveli Mahal

The first monument you come across as you enter the royal enclosure is the Taveli Mahal. Now, this is an ASI Museum. You can see a few collectibles, carvings, statues, and paintings kept here. Not very impressive but a good collection. And in yesteryears, Taveli Mahal served as a stable and a rest house for the guards to sleep at.

taveli mahal
Taveli Mahal

Jahaz Mahal

One of the popular attractions of Mandu fort is the Jahaz Mahal aka the Ship Palace. It gets its name because it is like a ship floating on an ocean. The Jahaz Mahal stands in between two artificially built tanks, the Munja tank, and the Kapur tank. Jahaz Mahal was built by Ghiyas-ud-din Khalji who is also known as the pleasure-loving king. And you will notice it the moment you walk around Jahaz Mahal.

jahaz mahal
Jahaz Mahal aka Ship Palace of Mandu Fort

It is a two-storied structure with lawns sprawling in the front and the water in the tanks glisten away. I am sure Mandu forts would look more beautiful in monsoon. Stairs lead directly to a terrace with rooms that still have colored tiles. Jahaz Mahal was used as a harem by Ghiyas-ud-din-Khilji. And guess what, the harem is said to have accommodated nearly 15000 women! How!!!! And why!!!!! Ugghhh.. The palace is filled with swimming pools of all sizes. And they are patterned in floral designs with steps leading into it. There are also some natural filtering techniques in place that the water flows through a spiral aqueduct before reaching the water tanks or swimming pools. There is a swimming pool on the first floor, second floor, small, big and in all shapes. So imagine all these women of the harem swimming around and this guy enjoying! It is indeed the city of joy. He renamed Mandu as Shadiabad meaning City of Joy.

kapur talao
Kapur Talao in front of Jahaz Mahal
munj talao
Munj Talao with Jal Mahal

Climbing up the stairs of Jahaz Mahal gives a panoramic view of the Mandu fort. The talao (tanks) were not full. And there were some ruins inside the water tanks as well. They should probably be the Ujala Baodi and Andheri Baodi. I did not find a way to reach there. Honestly, it is a good place for birding as well.

ship palace mandu
Top floors of Jahaz Mahal

Hindola Mahal

Walking down the Jahaz Mahal is the Hindola Mahal. The architecture of the Hindola Mahal was beautiful. Hindola Mahal means Swinging Palace. And it is named so because the walls of the mahal are sloping majestically and it looks like the whole palace is swinging. Apparently, it is constructed this way for better acoustics. It could have been a music hall or served as an audience hall. The right side portion of the building was constructed at a later point of time and it was meant for the ladies of the palace to sit and watch. The arches inside the Hindola Mahal are majestic. I wish some of the colored tiles were still intact.

hindola mahal
Hindola Mahal, Mandu
hindola mahal arches
Majestic Arches of Hindola Mahal

Royal Palace and Champa Baodi

So apart from harem you need a palace right and so the royal palace also exists. This must have been a huge structure for what remains seems to form a considerable area. There are arches, rooms, maybe mosque (?), swimming pools and a bath. The Champa bawdi is present right before the entrance to the royal palace. It is said that there are passages from Champa boadi to a series of vaulted rooms beneath and thereby it keeps the whole palace cool above.

royal palace mandu
Ruins of Royal Palace Mandu
champa baodi mandu
Champa Baodi – the step well close to Royal Palace

Hamam

A bath attached to the royal palace. Constructed on terms of Turkish baths, you can see small water tanks running around and windows letting light to play through. So much thought process has gone into the construction.

hamam mandu
Lights seeping and the water tanks at the Hamam

Jal Mahal

Cos swimming pools are not enough 😉 So there is a whole palace constructed inside the Munj Talao. It has water all around and plenty of swimming pools inside as well. You can see the backside of Jahaz Mahal from here. It could have also been one of the ways to store water too. Cos water channels run all around. The crowd does not seem to be very interested in Jal Mahal. So if you are walking around solo just be cautious as who is around.

jal mahal mandu
The swimming pool at Jal Mahal mandu

With that the Royal enclosure of Mandu Fort comes to an end. Now we drive towards the love story of Baz Bahadur Shah and Rani Roopmati.

Love Story of Baz Bahadur Shah and Rani Roopmati

Talk about Mandu and the love story of Baz Bahadur Shah and Rani Roopmati is what comes to fore. Rani Roopmati was a shepherdess. Once while hunting, Baz Bahadur notices Roopmati singing melodiously and frolicking around with her friends. Baz Bahadur Shah also loves music and poetry and he quickly falls in love with Roopmati. He begs Roopmati to accompany him to Mandu. Roopmati has only one condition. That she wants to see her beloved River Narmada every day. It is said that everyday morning she sings songs in praise of River Narmada and only then has her breakfast. She wishes to continue this tradition and Baz Bahadur Shah agrees to do so. He builds an artificial tank called Rewa Kund which brings water from the Narmada and remains filled all the time. Not just that, Roopmati lives in a palace on a hilltop so that she gets to see Narmada river at a distance. Their marriage happens with much pomp and shows in both Hindu and Muslim tradition as she is a Hindu. They both spend their days in music, poetry, and love. She is also fond of horseback riding and most of the paintings depicting them stand as a piece of evidence.

nimar valley narmada
Nimar Valley View and Narmada river at distant

The love did not last long. The Mughals attacked. And it is said that Akbar’s foster brother Adam Khan attacked Mandu because he had heard about the beauty of Rani Rupmati and he wanted her. The battle of Sarangpur gets fierce and Baz Bahadur Shah flees the place. Fearing that Adam Khan might add her as another lady to his harem, Roopmati ends her life by consuming poison. Upset over her death and angry that his wish did not come true, Adam Khan goes on a killing spree of innocent people in the Malwa region. Akbar calls back Adham Khan and replaces him with another general. Baz Bahadur briefly recaptures Mandu but soon again loses it to Mughals.

Baz Bahadur Palace

Baz Bahadur Palace was actually constructed by Nasirud-Din Shah but Baz Bahadur loved this place for it was close to Rewa Kund that Rani Roopmati frequented. Be it Baz Bahadur palace or Rani Roopmati’s Pavilion, both are built in such a way that the acoustics reverberate around the palace. Cos both loved music and poetry and the music concerts were a frequent event in the palace. In fact, while I was visiting the palace a commoner was recording his song in one of the chambers and he mentioned that there is no need for any sound recording studio, this palace has all the capabilities of being one, including noise cancellation. I was amazed.

baz bahadur palace
Inside of Baz Bahadur Palace

The grand entrance leads to a huge courtyard in the middle. There are lengthy corridors around and private rooms. It has a swimming pool and a water reservoir too. If you walk around in the terrace of the palace you will be amazed to see the water channels connected in ways to collect rainwater.

nimar valley
Baz Bahadur Shah Palace seen from Roopmati Pavilion

Rani Roopmati Pavillion

This was probably the only structure in Mandu that was fully intact. It was originally used as a watchtower. However, Roopmati requested for a palace from where she could pay her respect to River Narmada every day. And so moved to this Pavilion which acquired the name after her. The Rani Roopmati Pavilion is uphill facing the Nimar Valley and from here you can see Baz Bahadur palace as well. The passageways inside the pavilion are narrow and eerie which is also said to have been built for better acoustics.

rani roopmati pavilion
Rani Roopmati Pavilion
roopmati pavilion corridor
The narrow passage to Rani Roopmati pavilion

Rewa Kund

The tank was built by Baz Bahadur for Rani Roopmati. This seems to have a perennial water source from the Narmada. People now consider this more of a pilgrimage site. You can see them taking a bath here.

Other Places of Interest

Apart from these two sets of monuments, there are many more mausoleums, artificial water tanks, and entry gates built around Mandu town. Most of it stands as a ruin and not maintained well that you cannot explore. And the ones you can are listed below,

Echo Point

A place from where probably army people used to communicate information. Stand here and shout out your lungs, the valley will echo right back to you. Do not feed the langurs around. There is also a mausoleum right next to it.

echo point mandu
Echo Point and Mausoleum next to it

Nilkanth Mahadev Temple

It was the end of the day and when the cab pulled up at this temple, it was a sigh of relief that I do not have to climb stairs anymore. And my driver chuckled, for I have to climb down a flight of stairs and then back up!!! From the start of the stairs, the Narmada valley view is beautiful. There existed a time when Nilakanth Mahadev temple stood here. But then when the Mughals came in, one of Akbar’s governor destroyed it and constructed a pleasure house over a temple! Yikesss.. So now an Islamic structure made of red stone stands in its place. But then Lord Shiva found His way to the palace. So in the Mughal architecture pleasure house stands Shiva Linga statue and pooja is done. Back to being a functional temple. The temple has a pond in front of it similar to the water storage structure found around Mandu.

narmada valley
Narmada Valley view at Neelakanth temple
nilkanth mahadev mandu
Nilkanth Mahadev Temple

With this my tour to Mandu was done. I seem to have missed the Kakra Koh waterfall and suicide point. And I was tired to visit anymore tombs. Few things to keep in mind,

  • Mandu fort is open from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm
  • The entrance ticket to Mandu fort is different at Jami Masjid and the Royal enclosure. And if I remember it was a small 10 or 5 INR kind.
  • I visited Mandu in December during the winter and all the above pics are from that time. Best time to visit would be from October to March to avoid the scorching sun.
  • I personally felt Mandu in monsoon is very pretty. I have not been there during that time, but few pics on the internet showed Mandu to be lush green during monsoon. Check out the pics from Madhya Pradesh Tourism site on Mandu in monsoon, it is splendid.
  • Like I said, Mandu has very few commute options, so better to have your own vehicle.
  • There is plenty of walking involved. Carry water, good walking shoes, hat, energy bars.
  • Lemon juice aka Nimbu sherbet is famous here and I drank plenty of it. Another unique stuff to the area is Mandu Ki Imli. Hawkers sell one more small greyish grainy stuff which they say good to make tea, helps to maintain weight, etc, but that was just some bogus seeds which did not taste any good.
  • You can easily spend a day in Mandu
river tern
River Tern and Egrets around the water tanks

Also read, How to spend a day at Maheshwar. Travel guide – By the Narmada ghat, Maheshwar

What to Eat in Mandu

So to have lunch we drove a little into the town away from the monuments. I wanted to have some dish famous for the area and my cab driver suggested that I have to have Dal Bafla or Dal Paniye. So we hopped around restaurants asking for it and we stopped at one which had Dal Bafla. Bafla is a combination of wheat flour with semolina (rava) and spices, steamed and roasted in ghee. Bafla is then generously dipped into dal and had for lunch. So this meal platter was yummy and I loaded myself with some more Baflas.

Dal bafla
Mandu Speciality – Lunch meal with Dal Bafla

Where to Stay at Mandu

You can halt at Indore and travel to Mandu. Or like I did, stay at Maheshwar and visit Mandu. Or there is MPT Malwa Retreat resort in Mandu that you can halt at.

How to Reach Mandu

The nearest airport to Mandu is at Indore. From Indore you can hire a vehicle and do Mandu as a day trip. Or you can board a bus from Indore to Mandu too. Indore is about 100km away from Mandu. The nearest railway station is at Ratlam.

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4 Comments

  1. Aarti Krishnakumar December 29, 2019
    • Chittra M December 29, 2019
  2. Niranjan R January 6, 2020

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