MY SOUL PULLED FOR A RE-VISIT!
I do not remember what age I am when the word Mandav comes into my mind. I do not know what it means nor 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! Not sure!
When I am studying in 8th standard, my friends invite me to join them to watch a movie they are planning to see over the weekend. With my parents’ permission, and armed with a list of do’s and don’ts, I go to watch the film with my friends. The film is a hindi film called Kinara. Beautiful film, it is! But what has left me almost stunned is Mandav, which I have considered a fancy flight of my imaginative mind, is actually not so!
It is the name of a tourist spot near Indore. I walk out of the cinema hall in a daze. My friends are raving about the film and I felt numb. A feeling that I can neither fathom, nor speak about. I replay the film again and again in my mind, and Mandav, where a good part of the film was shot, becomes my dream destination. I live 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. Travelling 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 increases with every vacation.
I complete my graduation from Kolkata and get married to the person, my parents chose soon after. I move to Mumbai. My heart leaps! Mumbai is closer to Indore, the city which leads me to my dream destination Mandav. My husband and his family are not particularly fond of travelling. Hence, my dream to visit Mandav remains a pipe dream in the many years that follow!
In 2006, I, however, cannot take it anymore and I decide to travel solo to Mandav. Thanks to the internet, planning for my solo travel is easy. Train tickets to Indore booked, hotel reservation at Mandav done, I board Avantika Express at Mumbai and embark on my journey to my dream destination.
Happiness and trepidation mixed, I experience 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 myself! Freedom for a week!
I reach Indore in the early morning. Now, I have no idea how to reach Mandav. A hired car, is an expensive option. Since, I am travelling on a small budget, I need to count my pennies. I go to the railway booking counter and asked the clerk how I can reach Mandav. He looks at his colleague, smiles in a sinister manner and tells me to take a share auto rickshaw 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 in his mind?
I quietly send out a prayer to my Spiritual Guru and hail the auto rickshaw to Dhar. I will not share the auto with anyone. I offer to pay him twice and voila, I am on my way to Dhar. Dressed in jeans, and a jacket, back pack on me and also a small suitcase, I reach Dhar and waited for my bus to arrive, which is another two hours to come.
The tea stall owner at the bus stand is a pleasant fellow who chats up with me, makes me a toast butter, to go with my tea and lets me sit on his bench. He, even offers to send his little boy, about 12 years old, to put me on the bus. He tells 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, may be impossible for me.
The tea stall owner and his little boy steal my heart with their simplicity and goodness. I instinctively know, I am going to spend my week with simple rustic folk, eager to please their guest. What a change it is from the corporate offices, where I have spent so much of my life!
As I travel with the village folk in the bus, I befriend a dudhwala carrying milk supply to Mandav, swearing that he would rather die than mix water with milk; an andawala who holds his ware, his prized booty, the supply of eggs, close to him every time the bus driver applies brakes or we run over a bump; a toothless old woman stealing glances at me through her ghunghat; a young boy, who speaks a smattering of English, to impress me! The simplicity of these folks touches me so much that it almost brings 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 bring a strange calm to my excited mind. I feel liberated like never before!
As we enter the village Mandav, I hop off in front of the hotel, where I have reserved my room, thanks to the bus driver, who stops his bus there just for me to get off.
The people already have made me feel a part of them! I already feel that I am no stranger to this part of the country! Simplicity and love have a very endearing quality universally. I make a call to my husband and inform him that I have reached my dream destination. I will go sightseeing the next morning, as I need to catch up on some rest. The bumpy roads leading to Mandav are giving me a slight backache which I need to rest.
Having freshened up and rested my back, I choose to sit in the lawns of the hotel and soak in the pleasant weather and the local atmosphere. The hotel is not occupied much apart from me, another family on the same floor, another solo traveller and a honeymooning couple. I book a car to take me sight-seeing during the next day. The solo traveller approaches me requesting if she can share the car I have booked, thus halving our expenses and also adding an element of safety. Not a bad deal! I agreed.
The next morning, I along with Preet, my newly found friend set out to see the tourist spots.
We first visit the Ujali Baodi, a mammoth step well where one has to climb down steps almost as much as a seven storey 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! Such a beautiful piece of ancient architecture. Two flights of steps on two sides of the well. Inside 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 grips me! I do not know why this fear! I, however, do not complete my journey to the bottom. I return back to the top. I overhear a guide telling another group of tourists that when the Mughal army killed the king, Baz Bahadur in the battle, and marches into the kingdom, many women jumped into the well to save themselves from the impending dishonour. Maybe that is what is chilling my bones as I climb down. A person, not often given to the emotion fear, I feel strange to succumb to this feeling. While I sit on the steps at the top, my friend Preet is back after her journey to the bottom of the step well and we continue 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 a ship anchored, 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. Made for the purpose of an assembly hall which contained three halls at the ground floor, one of which served as an entertainment centre.
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 side walls.
The plan of the structure is ‘T shaped’ with a 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 admitting light and air inside when the women folk 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.
Champa Baodi Hammam at Jahaz Mahal Ceiling of hammam
The Hammam was the bath house 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 merges into one after some distance and is connected to the bath. The impressive feature of this bath is the ceiling where star like openings have 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 smell like champa flower. The subterranean of this well is so constructed with 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.
Further on the other side of Munj Talao, are some structural ruins which is the Jal Mahal, a monsoon retreat of the king. From the splendour of the ruins, it can be, said that this was certainly one of the most luxurious retreats of the Sultan of Malwa.
By now, it is time to return back to hotel and grab a late lunch. The day, although began with the strange feeling of fear, for me ends with a strange sense of fulfilment. Visiting the palaces, I almost experience the luxury and carefree life of the women on the sixteenth century. Now for some rest and a leisured evening!
Lunch done, I take a nap and wake 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 step out to the balcony of my room, I see the view, and am dumbstruck. The hotel stands almost on the edge of a cliff overlooking a crevasse and I can see the deep valley, not far from me. For a city bred woman, it is no less a wondrous sight to experience, no less a wonder an experience to hear the sounds of silence and of nature around me. I inhale the air deeply, fill my lungs with oxygen and stand still, almost transfixed, enveloped in the wonderful experience. The sun will soon set and the valley will be enveloped in the velvety darkness!
I wear a shawl over my shoulders and decide to take a walk before it gets too dark. I love the nip in the air! I love 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 never have 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 do I feel that I am walking on the roads of an unfamiliar town. All these people, the roads and everything, I feel is mine! I belong here! Strange and perhaps, a discomforting feeling for others! But for me it feel very secure! Something I cannot explain!
The next morning, I wake up early, go for a brisk walk in the breaking dawn. On the way back, I treat myself to some freshly made, piping hot kachoris and jalebis. The aroma of the kachoris pull me towards them and in an instant, I have decided what I will eat for breakfast.
The car comes in by 9 am. I am ready at the reception. Preet joins me soon. And we start our next lap of sight-seeing. We go to Rani Rupmati’s mandap.
This structure, constructed on a precipice, originally, seems to have been a watch tower 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 close my eyes, in the stillness, I experience being transported to another era.
I start to hum the songs of the film, Kinara, to myself. I sit there for a very long time. I leave Preet to explore other parts of the palace. As the solemnness and quietude descends on me, I hear music lingering in the air that touches my face. Not a specific song, nor a specific raag, but the melodious notes of an alaap! Apparently, as the guide tells me later, Rani Rupmati used to sing seated in that Mandap and the valley would fill with melody. It was not an uncommon occurrence to have Rani Rupmati and Baz Bahdur indulge in a musical jugal bandi. That is a moment I experience “what is let out into the Universe remains there for aeons to come.”
The pavilions are known after Rani Rupmati, who, it appears used to come here for darshan of River Narmada, which could be sighted flowing down hill 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 is 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 ruins of the structure except a grand staircase and a walk on the roof. It is also rumoured 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 beckons me again and again. Mandav provides 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 plan to make a trip to Omkaleshwar and Maheshwar during the rest of my vacation. I will, however cover those experiences some day 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 pose this question to my Spiritual Guru. She closes her eyes in response to my question and asks me to do the same and re-live the experience. What she tells me after some time answers all my question. In one of my previous births, I was a Muslim singer in the court of Baz Bahadur and one of the ladies who jump into Ujali Baodi when the Mughals invaded the kingdom! That explains the feeling of terror I experience in the Ujali baodi
I come from a non-musical family. I neither have 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 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!