'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

'The City Of Joy'

Mandu is a walled town that lies atop a small plateau projecting south from the edge of the Vindhya hills. It can be seen in a daytrip from the city of Indore.

Once upon a time, the place was known as 'Shadiabad', the city of joy. There is indeed plenty of celebratory exhuberance in the local architecture, most of it the commisioned by Malwa sultans in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Jahaz Mahal, a long and grand edifice occupying a narrow sliver of land between two lakes (with several indoor bathing pools, now looking forlorn and empty); the adjoining Champa Baodi (where a thousand specially recruited 'amazons' vigilantly guarded the Sultan's ten-thousand strong harem - both numbers greatly exaggerated, of course!); the Hindola Mahal, perhaps unique in India in its use of flying buttresses (or a close approximation thereof); Hoshang Shah's tomb, a marble edifice that probably inspired the Taj Mahal and the 'Dharamshala', a many-pillared extension to this tomb, looking straight out of a south Indian temple; the 3-domed Jama Masjid, a very clean-cut sandstone edifice; the bombed out looking Asharfi Mahal(it was allegedly an overambitious 7-storey building, not quite in tune with the structural engineering knowhow of the times); the Nilkanth Mandir, located in a typically neat sandstone building conceived by the the great Mughal Akbar; the grand arches of the Dilli Gate,... the list goes on and on.

Subtle remnants of colored tilework (primarily a deep blue) cling on to the walls and archways of many of these buildings; these Persian-looking decorations evoke memories of the ruins of Bidar - although the Mandu sultans (to my knowledge), were not (Persian-inspired) Shias, as were the Barid Shahis of Bidar. Guess: in their heyday, parts of Mandu would have looked like Samarkand or Isfahan.

The landscapes are impressive as well, the deep gorge of Khakra-khoh, a lovely, idyllic lake, the views from the 'Rupmati pavilion' that overlooks the Narmada valley to the south - it is related, the legendary star-crossed queen would come to the ramparts to catch a glimpse of the sacred river in the distance (said to be visible from here on clear days)

For the traveler: Mandu is best visited in twilight, when the sandstone of many of the monuments (after this trip to MP, my favorite stone) glows a striking red.

But the biggest surprise of the place is not architectural at all, but botanical!

Way back in 1949-50, famous Mallu traveler/writer SK Pottekkat, on a tour of Africa wrote: "'Baobab' trees, with their hugely swollen bellies, seemed to brood over the bush like ghostly sentinels" (elsewhere, he also likened them to pregnant women, but that is not of interest here!). Mandu is perhaps the only place in India where one sees Baobabs, in their dozens (wonder who imported them here; elsewhere, I have seen a single specimen somewhere in Pune camp and a few along the Bombay-Ahmedabad railway line). And in a darkening twilight, these trees, grossly obese, with gnarled and leafless branches, do look suitably ghostly, as they loom over ruined tombs and walls....


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