The Road to Mandu
“The elevated plateau is a scene of the most enchanting variety. Contrasting with undulating tracts shaded by trees, are dark pools nestling in the hollows and larger lakes glistening in the sunshine, while rocky ravines alternate with sloping swards, the entire effect being almost unreal in its beauty. And to complete the illusion, a thousand feet below are spread vast plains of the Naramada, the delicate opalescent tints of which…provide an entrancing background to the whole. On many of the prominent positions within the broken surface of this magic landscape…crowning the heights, are arcaded pavilions and pillared kiosks, turrets and cupolas.” – Percy Brown
The roads of India demand our immediate attention; both for the sake of safety and for pleasure. Buses and motorcycles, cars and trucks cruise the often narrow streets at a pace that is sometimes alarming, and constantly cacophonous. Herds of sheep and goats, camel carts and the occasional wandering cow or water buffalo claim their right of way on these roads too. But while the roads we travel can at times be congested, the route often follows lesser travelled routes connecting small villages, and we are granted the pleasure of taking in the eclectic and varied scenery at a leisurely pace. Tunnels of banyan and acacia give way to verdant fields of chickpea, wheat, and corn. Bright temples and crumbling forts dot the landscape, as pink and purple saris sway their way down the road, and boys in bell bottoms and broken flip flops wave to us as we pass. It is easy, and indeed prudent, to be absorbed in the immediate as we ride through a continuous parade of colour and noise, history and humanity. The difficulty lies in our ability to zoom out, to observe the big picture; to gain a greater sense of where we are in this country, and the geographical and historical factors that have made this place what it is today.
As we approached our final destination: the town of Mandu located at the top of the Mandu plateau, a steep gorge dropped off to our left, exposing an expansive and lush ravine as far as the eye could see, and revealing the enormity and beauty of the Deccan Plateau: the plateau that we’ve been riding over since the beginning of this tour and the geological feature that dominates the landscape of most of central and southern India. A sliver of landed jutting up from the Deccan, the Mandu Plateau makes for a dramatic vantage point of this massive feature which was formed by thousands of years of volcanic eruptions occurring millions of years ago, and which today covers 8 states and extends as far north as the Gangetic plains, and culminates along the southern coast at the Ghats which fringe the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea.
The natural barriers of the steep gorges surrounding Mandu provide the town with a significant natural defence, and as such allowed Mandu to become a city of remarkable splendour, with sprawling palaces, elegant mosques and impressive forts, all guarded by a series of stone turrets and gates. While the massive Jami Masjid mosque is still used today, there are several others lesser mosques that dot the town, along with the palaces and forts all of which are currently in a delightful state of decay: the original structures remain, but hundreds of years of decay have left their mark. Perhaps more exciting than the state of the structures is their sheer numbers; every corner of the town is marked with a crumbling building, be it an old shrine or a tomb, a public hall or a bastion.
Tomorrow we will begin our day with an epic descent into the plains below. It promises to be a thrilling ride, through a postcard worthy landscape. But while we’ll be sure to have our senses tuned into all that is happening around us, we will be all the more aware of some of the features that have shaped this country’s geography and its history.