Mandu, set picturesquely at the edge of the Vindya range, overlooking the Narmada river was once known as Shadiabad, the ‘Citadel of Joy’. It was the pleasure resort of the rulers of Malwa and echoes with love tales of poet prince Baz Bahadur and Rani Rupmati.
Built at a cool height of over 600m (2,000 ft.) on the southwestern edge of the Malwa Plateau, with sweeping views of the Nimar Plains below, Mandu was once the largest fortified city on earth, and playpen to some of central India’s most powerful rulers. Initially christened by the Malwa sultans as the “City of Joy,” the medieval capital inspired its rulers to celebrate the most pleasurable of pastimes—one of Mandu’s most famous palaces was built solely to house some 15,000 concubines, and it is said that the Mughal emperor Humayun was so mesmerized by Mandu’s sanguine beauty that he developed an opium habit during his stay here. Today the exotic ghost city—still one of the most atmospheric destinations in India—draws but a handful of tourists, which makes the excursion here all the more rewarding. It’s just 2 hours away from the industrial hub of Indore, yet Mandu, even more so than Orchha, is rural India at its best: a place of enduring beauty, both natural and man-made, with panoramic views. It’s the perfect antidote to the well-traveled North India circuits. You can visit Mandu as a rather long day trip out of Indore, but for those willing to sacrifice luxury for serenity, it’s worth spending a night or two here to revel in silence, fresh air, and wide-open space.
After passing through the narrow gates of the fortress and continuing for some distance,
you’ll arrive in “downtown” Mandu (a collection of shops and stalls in the vicinity
of the Central Group of monuments). As soon as you emerge from your car or
bus, you’ll be approached by a local guide, who will offer his services with a nervous
but easygoing disposition. Even if your guide—and there are only a couple in
Mandu—is not a certified expert, this is one place where it can be fun to have someone
show you around and enrich your experience with a version of history that overdoes
the myth, romance, and fantasy of the place. However, do agree on a price
upfront and establish that he speaks passable English. The fee should be Rs 200 to Rs
400 ($4.55–$9.10) depending on guide and hours. All monuments are open from
8am to 6pm.
If you don’t plan to spend the night in Mandu, start your tour immediately with
15th-century Jama Masjid . Said to have been inspired by the mosque in Damascus,
this colossal colonnaded structure bears some Hindu influences, such as the carvings
of lotus flowers and decorative bells. Adjacent the mosque is the mausoleum of
Hoshang Shah, the first white marble tomb in India, said to have inspired those in
Agra; it’s ultimately missable. The Royal Enclave (Rs 100/$2.30; daily
8am–6pm) is dominated by enormous Jahaz Mahal, commonly known as the “ship
palace.” Built between two artificial lakes, it certainly was intended to be the ultimate
stone pleasure cruiser, where the sultan Ghiyas Shah kept his 15,000 courtesans and
an additional 1,000 Amazonians from Turkey and Abyssinia to guard them. Behind
the ship palace is Hindola Mahal; its oddly sloping buttress walls have given it the
nickname “Swing Palace.”
Mandu’s main road stretches southward, through open fields dotted with ruins and
a few village houses, and continues into the Rewa Kund group of monuments, where
the passionate romance between Maharaja Baz Bahadur, the last independent sultan
of Malwa, and the beautiful Hindu shepherdess, Rupmati, is preserved in striking
stone constructions. Apparently smitten by Rupmati’s glorious singing voice, Baz built
the Rupmati Pavilion (Rs 100/$2.30) so that she could see her village in the
Narmada Valley below, but things went awry when the Mughal emperor Akbar came
to hear of her legendary beauty and voice and wanted to take her home as a souvenir.
After a fierce battle in which Baz was defeated, his beloved committed suicide. The
view from the pavilion, which stands on the edge of a sheer precipice rising 365m
(1,168 ft.) from the valley floor, is still sublime. On the way back from the pavilion,
stop at Baz Bahadur’s Palace (Rs 100/$2.30), where the acoustics enjoyed by the
musically inclined king remain quite astonishing, even if some of the restoration work
is a bit ham-fisted.
The 400 ft. long and 50ft wide double storey pleasure palace built between two lakes, resembles a ship. This remarkable edifice in stone is said to have been built by Sultan Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji for his large harem of 15000 women.
Hoshang Shah’s Tomb
The beautiful tomb is one of the finest specimens of Afghan architecture and the first marble structure of the country.
It is patterned on the great mosque of Damascus and is another great example of Afghan architecture in India.
Asharfi Mahal or the ‘place of gold coins'
It was built by Mahamud Shah Khiliji and was conceived as an academic institution. In the same complex he built a seven storeyed victory tower to celebrate his victory over Rana Kumbha of Mewar.
It was built by Baz Bahadur for his queen Rupmati, on the southern crest of a hill, overlooking the Nimar valley. The pavilion commands a panoramic view of the meandering Narmada river, especially on full moon night.
The ‘swinging palace’ gets the name from its leaning walls that resemble a swing. It combines immense proportions with simplicity of design. Other attractions include, Jami Masjid, Rewa Kund, Baz Bahadur’s Palace, Nilkantha etc.
Mandu Distance Guide