Maheshwar and Mandu: Two Gems of Madhya Pradesh
Hello after a long break, again! It has been a busy but an exciting month for me here in Scotland. Having now successfully progressed into the second year of my PhD I am back at my alternate passion: travelling (and blogging about it). While, I travel here and plan my next blogs, I am not yet finished with writing about my travels back home in India. Today I want to take you to these two unbelievably soulful places in the heart of India: Madhya Pradesh.
I grew up, for a small part of my very early life, in Madhya Pradesh. I must have been about 5 or so but I still have vivid images of the place, especially these two: Mandu and Maheshwar. Nearly 20 years later, one day I had a sudden urge to relive these historical towns once more. Both these places are 3 hour journey away from Indore in the central state of Madhya Pradesh. So I planned my journey keeping Indore as base with some flexibility to when and where I would go.
I usually travel solo but not always. On this occasion, I was travelling with a friend. On arrival in Indore early morning, after an eventful incident (which is a long story), we checked in the accommodation I had booked through AirBnB. After some brainstorming, we decided to head out to Maheshwar and return by night. We had some quick breakfast and left for Maheshwar in the local bus.
The Holkar dynasty
The capital of Holkar dynasty of Maratha empire, Maheshwar retains its glory in the form of its picturesque temple/fort town on the banks of Narmada. The moment you set foot in Maheshwar, its mellow vibes seeping through its ancient alleys and the remnants of what once was a fort make a lasting impression on you. You walk through the marketplace and up the hill through the grand old entrance gate and into almost a different world. The incredible view of the beautiful temples spread at the base of the fort and the swollen but calm Narmada beyond simply lifts you up with joy.
Narmada and the fort
A short clip of sounds on the Narmada ghat
By the time we reached here it was already afternoon. We walked through the temple courtyard and onto the Narmada ghats. Sat quietly listening to the sounds. The mellifluous crashing of waves on the steps of ghats, the clinking of heavy chains, the shrieking of gulls, prayers of devotees and the infinite calmness in between. It was such a blissful experience that we just did not want to leave. But we had earlier decided to return to Indore.
Devotees singing bhajan on the Narmada ghat
So we went up the steps again, to the cozy little cafe by the entrance gate in the fort. The place was quiet so we got into talking with the young lad who served us some coffee. He was a local weaver’s son and worked there to support his family. He offered to bring some samples of the famous Maheshwari sarees for us to buy since we would be leaving in an hour. We chatted for a while. Turned out, the Holkar family, after dissolution of their monarchy post-Independence, had converted the place into a resort. We decided to take sneak peak and we effing loved it! It was an insanely thrilling idea to stay in the dark and cold rooms built in the f****ng rampart wall of a fort!!!
We looked at each other. We had a “change-of-plans” look in our eyes with a big idiotic smile! Of course we decided to skip returning to Indore and instead stay right here at Maheshwar fort’s resort. This was we could get a morning experience of Narmada and we could hunt for more Maheshwari sarees in the town as well. It turned out to be a blissful and very interesting experience. Often, impromptu decisions make up for great experiences when travelling in a new place. This was a good example of that.
Maheshwari silk sarees
In the morning, after another leisurely walk by the river, we decided to go look for some nice Maheshwari silk sarees in the town. The Maheshwari sarees are made from traditional fabric and are native to this town. The legend is that the famous queen Ahilyābai Holkar, had the first saree made through skilled workers from around the region for gifting the royals. Adorned with the characteristic brick and diamond patterns the Maheshwari sarees were originally made of pure silk. However, nowadays, there are cotton versions as well. Obviously, these sarees are cheaper here than in a big city like Indore. It was fun to navigate through the narrow alleys in search of that famous weaver we heard of earlier. Content with the bargain haul, we hurried to catch the bus for the day’s destination: Mandu.
Travelling to Mandu in the local bus listening to choicest songs 😀
Few centuries before the Holkars’, there used to be an extravagantly rich muslim kingdom in the Mālwā region of Madhya Pradesh. Mandu was an important city, at times the capital of this Mālwā kingdom. Less than 50 kilometres away from Maheshwar the ruins of Mandu tell a tale of profligate kings and their lascivious lifestyle. Mandu was abandoned some 400 years ago and now the only things that remain are the sporadic mud houses of the tribal who settled here among the ruins and their legends.
Mandu’s beauty is hard to explain in words. Mandu is a feeling. A strong sense of enchantment yet a glimmer of melancholia persists as you walk through the ruins one after the other. Be it the delicate architecture of the Jahaj Mahal (Ship Palace) which held the King’s harem or the creative architecture of the Hindola Mahal which served as King’s courtyard you can’t ignore this feeling. There’s a lot to see on this 10 kilometre long plateau and one entire day isn’t truly enough.
We strolled through the ancient Jama Masjid, visited the tomb of Hoshang Shah (the first ruler of Mandu), explored the ruins around Jahaj and Hindola Mahal where there are the step wells and the fountains. We also visited the Dilli Darwajā (Delhi Gate) which faces north (hence the name) and walked down the path to reach the tar road. It was time to catch the us and watch sun set over Malwā from the bus window as we returned to Indore, exhausted but happy.
Indore, served as the capital of Holkar dynasty until it was shifted by Ahilyābai to Maheshwar. There exists a huge royal palace in the city…or what remains of it now. It remains closed sans the museum on the ground floor. If this sad reality wasn’t enough, we visited another gem of a place: Shinde Chhatri. Adorned with extremely beautiful artwork in wood, this too is a neglected and derelict place. Apparently, many famous bollywood songs are shot on the premises. We could only sigh. Visit to Indore isn’t complete without visiting the famous Chhappan Dukan (street food street).