Travel in Mandu and what you need to know
Lost in the far reaches of Mahendra Pradesh this little town could keep you entertained for weeks. Mandu was once the centre of a civilisation of Afghan rulers who set up shop here in 1401. The sands of time turned this once thriving epicentre of Mogul rule into the sleepy village it is today.
Astonishingly this place sees few visitors even though the countryside is strewn with monuments and the 25 square kilometre plateau is both dramatic and visually stunning. Punctuated by small tribal villages, this is a destination its easy to lose track of time in.
Since many of the places of interest are spread out so when you pull in to town it is not at all apparent that there is very much here. This town remains underrated by so many travellers So I am writing my guide on Travel in Mandu. I want to change that and give this incredible place the attention it so deserves. What’s more, I want to help my readers make the most out of their time as it would be almost a crime to miss out on all the delights this place has to offer.
Mandu – the unsung jewel of the Mogul empire.
For history buffs, I would recommend a documentary about the history of the mogul empire. It covers the incredible influence this family had on the face of northern India and will help you gain a better understanding of what you are looking at.
Many of of the magnificent examples of Muslim architecture that you see today was commissioned by the Moguls such as Fatehpur Sikri, the Taj Mahal, Delhi’s Red Fort and of cause Mandu. The documentary is a little dry and goes on for two and a half hours. But it is both concise and fascinating and helps those interested in history to fit the pieces of the Mogul Puzzle together.
Despite the town’s miniature size, there is plenty to keep the intrepid backpacker from rushing off. To make it all easy to understand and digestible, I have broken the three key things that would appeal to tourists down into separate sections. So now let us take a look at what this enchanting corner of the universe has to offer.
Number 1 – Visiting the historical wonders.
It is the main reason most people come here for as there is a significant number of world heritage listed monuments, mosques, palaces and tombs dotted around the countryside for many kilometres. It would take several days to see them all so is a wonderland for any history buff since often you will have it all to yourselves unless it is the weekend or public holiday when there are many domestic tourists. Foreigners are a comparatively rare sight here at any time.
There are four main groups of ruins you have to pay to enter, and these are the biggest and most grand of cause. But many are free and fun to discover and stroll around on your own. Some make a journey rather than a destination as you have to walk through picture-perfect villages and rolling farmland to reach your destination.
The principal paid sights are the royal enclave. It consists of three palaces, a mosque, a well, and a Turkish bath. It sits right in the middle of the village the bus stand only a short walk away. It is 200 rupees entrance and is pretty much always crowded with local tourists as they only pay 5 rupees to get in.
The royal enclave hosts the very impressive Jahaz mahal, for me the stand out monument. It is very grand, and the small water tank at the back has a public footpath that runs around it, the views from the end are quite impressive.
The village group is again very close to the centre of town. It consists of a mosque, a tomb and a palace. It is 200 rupees entrance and is well worth it as the Jama Masjid is quite grand.
The Rewa Kund group lays 4 km outside of town. While you walk or bike it, there are many historical ruins along the way that are all free. This will take a long time to stop in all of the other sights as well. So budget that into your itinerary. The end site is not very big, but the views of the surrounding countryside are charming. Again it is 200 rupees entrance for foreigners.
Number 2 – country walks in Mandu
The surrounding countryside is very dramatic. There are many traditional villages to hike to and many kilometres of forest and scrubland to explore. There is also a local Haat ( market ) that is very similar to what you would find in other tribal parts of the state. The local Adivasis (tribal people) come every Saturday from far and wide to trade whatever it is they have. It can be an enthralling experience for any traveller as normally to see such a market one has to travel much further of the tourist track.
You will also notice the Baobab trees that have sprung up in the area. This is normally associated with Madagascar, and I have not the first idea of how they got there, but they are both numerous and spectacular. The roads to many of the villages are often just muddy country track so make sure you wear the appropriate footwear. You can spend a good couple of days walking around the countryside and taking it all in. I found the inhabitants of the villages to be very friendly and welcoming, and this all adds to its appeal.
In the centre of the village is a Jain temple and devotees come from all over to pray here. Although it lacks the ornate carvings usually associated with Jains found elsewhere, this colourful little temple is a stark contrast to the otherwise Muslim architecture. It houses a small museum and quarters for the pilgrims to sleep in, foreigners are welcome to sleep as well. But I would just assume they are full as they have been anytime I have asked, and it is very popular with devotees.
Interestingly most of the local people are not Muslim or Jain. Most are Hindus, and the Adivasis people have primarily animistic views on the creation of the universe. That makes it is a mixing pot of religions, and so it is a pleasure to absorb as much as possible from this cultural kaleidoscope.
Eating and sleeping in Mandu.
Finding a place to stay here is not easy as most of the accommodation is far overpriced as its geared towards domestic tourists and very few foreigners make their way to this town. There are options, but they are not signposted, and I don’t think they even have names. One I know off is on the road to The Rewa Kund group from the bus station about 1.5 km walking. There is only one road so you can’t get lost. It is essentially someone’s home which has built something like a garden shed for foreign tourists to rest their heads in.
It is a real, local experience and the hosts cook every night for their guests. Expect vegetable curry, chapati and rice every night. Another time I stayed in Mandu, I was offered a room in someone’s garden for a couple of hundred rupees. If you want to try, this goes into one of the big local Dhabbas near the bus stand and ask around or go looking. You will probably be lucky.
You might be lucky in Hotel Gurukripa Villas. Villas they are not but are reasonably priced at 800 to 2000 rupees. You won’t get anything cheaper if you want an actual hotel and this place is often full if you wish to book in advance use www.booking.com.Most rooms in Mandu start at 2000 then upwards but my method works just fine. I have never spent more than 400 rupees on a place to sleep, and they are there you just have to look.
Eating here is not much more comfortable as there is nothing geared towards foreign tourists. There are some tasty Dhabbas near the bus station, and the government hotel serves ok food and late into the night. It also serves beer if that is what you are looking for and will probably be your only option.
Getting there and away.
Getting to and from Mandu is not easy, there are no railways, and the local bus is the only way. There are four daily busses to Indore (7.15 am 9 am 1.30 pm and 3 pm) or go to Dhar and connect. There is one direct bus to Ujjain at 6 am. Local busses tend to be tiny and overcrowded, but the advantage you have is Mandu is either the first or last stop. Just think about where your bag is in relation to you. There Are many busses to Dhar that then connects to Dhamond where you can change to Maheshwar or Omkareshwar.
Staying in Indore.
If you arrive by train from Indore and I think many travellers do. You may have to spend the night then that’s no problem. Indore is a typical Indian city meaning food ranging from Mcdonalds and a chai latte to top-notch high-quality Indian dishes are available everywhere. If it is Indian food your after I found Hotel Apna right across from the bus stand to be excellent, but if you have had just too much local food and need something with no spice, check out Mr beans! www.mrbeans.in I had chicken and mushroom pie chips and gravy, and I found it to be just magical after weeks of vegetables and chappati.
If you have just spent a week or two in the area odds are you could do with some of that yourself. Stay in one of the hotels around the train station or bus stand there is many to choose from, but not all accept foreigners. I stayed in Hotel Nallem that was perfectly comfortable for the night and is close to Hotel Apna. So if you are tired and just want to rest, this will do just nicely. Rooms are about 800 to 1000 rupees.
Indore does not have many attractions of its own but if you have to stay a night, take the morning in Lal Bagh Palace. It is a large stately home that gives an air of its former grandeur. It feels like a place where one day the residence just moved out and nothing changed again ever. I really enjoyed walking around and thought it was well worth the 250 rupees I spent getting in. It is about 50 rupees from the railway station in an auto, and you don’t need to pay for waiting to time as you can just walk out to the road and get another.
Summary of my post on Travel in Mandu.
I gave Mandu its own post as it is not very popular amongst foreign tourists and I can’t for the life of me work out why. I want to change that as it is one of India’s hidden jewels. It is somewhere you can spend a few days soaking in the culture, architecture and the natural splendour of the area. This village has a lot to offer anyone who takes the time to come here. Please let me know if I can help with anything else in the comments section and let me know how was your experience in this fabulous corner of the country.
India can fulfil whatever it is you are looking for from your dream trip. For more information on why go to India and what to do check out my post. It would be such a shame to miss out on Mandu, and it holds the prospect of making a trip unique to you. Until the next time, my fellow intrepid travellers, happy trails.
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