Almost 15 years ago, Shreelata, my dance teacher, and her husband, Suresh, traveled around the world for 27 months! Their adventure was our inspiration! Suresh once told Madhu that the harder a place is to get to, the better it is. His words have rung true for many small towns that we’ve visited over the past 3 months. But it has never been as true as it has been for Mandu!
From Indore, Mandu is less than 100kms away. When we enquired at the MP Tourism desk and at the hotel desk, they both said that we could get private buses to there from a place called Gangwal. So today morning, we got to the bus stand around 9am. I was a little disappointed to see that the buses parked there were actually old, battered, mini-buses. As our auto driver pulled up to one of them and enquired about which one would go to Mandu, about 10 men surrounded the auto, all yelling at the same time. They pointed to a bus ahead, saying that it would take us to Mandu, directly or so they claimed!
We got into the bus recommended by everyone around (!) and waited for it to leave. Just like the collectivos in Mexico, these wait for the bus to be reasonably filled before taking off. While waiting, Madhu brought us tea and yummy poha from a nearby stall. The bus started at around 10am and I estimated that we would be in Mandu by 12:30pm – just in time for lunch! Or so I wished!
The bus stopped every few minutes to pick more passengers until there were some hanging out of the door. This was irritating enough, but we knew something was seriously wrong when the bus took left at a junction where a sign pointed Mandu to be in the other direction. The bus stopped in a town called Dhar and one of the same guys who had pointed this bus to be Mandu-bound (he was the ticket collector), told us quite sheepishly that the bus wouldn’t go any further and that we should quickly board another bus, which was stationed close by and which would definitely take us to Mandu. I was SO annoyed! We were both fuming but knew we had no options but to alight and board the other bus. One of the guys helped us pick our bags from the bus’ trunk and guided us towards the other bus, which turned out to be in an even worse condition. Here the trunk was already full, so they loaded our bags to the top of the bus. Madhu and I were appalled; we tried explaining that we had breakable stuff (laptops!) in the bags and that they shouldn’t be traveling atop a battered bus, which probably has no shock absorbers to talk of. But we were told that there was no other option and also assured that ‘nothing will happen’! We gave up and boarded the bus. It was already noon. From here, Mandu is just 25kms away. So again, foolishly, I estimated that we would be in Mandu by 1pm¦.
Compared to this bus, the previous one was a ‘super-fast’. This one stopped for anyone who flagged it down. We went thru many small villages, stopping every few minutes and also at a gas station to refuel and at a village bus stand for at least 10 minutes! I couldn’t believe we were stuck in this hell-hole! We realized that we should have hired an auto for the ride to Mandu. But at that time anger and annoyance hadn’t let us think clearly; we’d been herded helplessly from one bus to the next. Believe it or not we got to Mandu at 2pm – it had taken us a total of 4 hrs to cover less than 100kms!
Founded as a fortress retreat in the 10th century by Raja Bhoj of Bhopal, Mandu sits prettily atop a plateau. The bus climbed about 5kms uphill and passed thru 3 arched, stone gates before entering the fort. This entrance is at the northern end of the fort and the road from here leads south to the village chowk; it is the main lifeline of Mandu. Right on this road is MP Tourism’s Malwa Retreat and seeing that it’s just about a kilometer from the chowk, we decided that it would be the right place to stay. We checked in, ate at the onsite cafeteria and spent the afternoon recuperating¦
In the evening we walked out to the village chowk for tea and snacks. It’s really a very small village. There was hardly anybody around except for the people manning the stores and tea stalls. And there didn’t seem to be any other tourists than us. We later learnt that most tourists come between July and Dec when it’s either raining, making the surroundings even greener than it already is, or in winter when the weather is much cooler. Technically, Jan is also part of the winter season, but it is considerably warmer. I didn’t mind this too much; was glad to break out of those darned jackets and sweaters.
On our way back we hired 2 bicycles (24-hr return) as some of the sights are a little spread out and the guidebooks had recommended cycling as the best way to get around. I got a pink one with a basket (albeit torn and twisted) attached to the front! We parked them in front of our hotel for the night. Tomorrow we hope to wake up early and cover as much as possible before the heat starts to bear down. After the 2-day journey from Bhopal, Mandu better live up to its expectations!