Madhya Pradesh’s Mandu embraces modernity with its marquee cultural festival

Seemingly out of nowhere, the road began to climb a steep incline – a clear indicator that Mandu was not far away.

We were en route to this ancient walled city in Madhya Pradesh for the state’s annual major cultural festival, this time held between December 30, 2021 and January 3, 2022. Mandu is nearly 100 kilometers north of southwest of Indore, about a two and a half hour drive from Indore across a surprisingly even and flat expanse of lush green plateau dotted with agricultural crops and crops. However, as one approaches the town, the Vindhya Range (or Vindhyachal) rears its ugly head – and the road to it has many hairpin bends on which a number of broken and arched doors (or darwazas) still occupy an important place.

The walkways are among the first signs that Mandu still lives and breathes history. Books indicate that it flourished as early as the 6th century AD, reaching its peak in the 10th and 11th centuries under the rule of the Paramaras. Although today all that can be seen are the ruins of what, at one time, must have been glorious and strategically functional monuments. By some estimates, nearly 3,000 ruins are scattered across the countryside, including around 700 temples that have been razed by successive invaders. Whether these numbers are historically accurate is another matter altogether.

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Amidst all the antiquity, the Mandu Festival 2022 has provided a refreshing dose of modernity with its curated experiences. The first new thing for me was the glamping site, located opposite Chhappan Mahal, under a lovely grove of trees with a picturesque view of a large lake and a huge, beautifully old banyan tree. I was pleasantly surprised to find the tent reserved for me equipped with all the necessary equipment for a most comfortable stay (including perfectly functional toilets, a continuous supply of hot water and eminently warm blankets). And by the time I left, I had fallen in love with the soft yellow glow of the globular balloon lamps that lit up the interiors, so much that I wanted to take one home as a souvenir.

Also Read: Mandu Festival 2021: A City Comes of Age

A view of the glamping site from above

Inside the glamping tent

Other events on the festival route also created a fascinating mix of new and old. A hot air balloon flight on the morning of December 31, 2021 revealed more reasons from the sky above to continue visiting Mandu and its surroundings (for example, the many dry forest trails that criss-cross the Vindhyachal range). A nighttime laser light and sound show, featuring the voice of actor Ashutosh Rana, in the Hindola Mahal at the historically significant premises of the Jahaz Mahal transformed the area with a rainbow of colors against a backdrop of narration of Mandu’s story. Likewise, the music district – at Echo Point, near the Dai Ka Mahal, which once housed midwives – was animated on the evening of the 31st by a kavi sammelan which saw moving performances, mostly centered on hasya kavita (comical poetry), from poets such as Sandeep Sharma, Parth Naveen, Lokesh Jadiya, among others. A short distance away on the same evening, the Rewa Kund, a must stop for those completing the Narmada Parikrama, saw a Narmada aarti, the first of its kind, performed by priests to the accompaniment of chants and musical instruments old (harmonium, dholaks) and new (electronic drums/octapad). An arts and crafts district featured thought-provoking multimedia compositions (paintings and installations included) by contemporary local artists, while a nearby market offered traditional handicrafts such as bagh prints – hand-printed, woodcuts, relief prints originating from Bagh in Dhar District in Madhya Pradesh.

At the inauguration of the Cultural Quarter at the Mandu Festival 2022

A view of the green Vindhyachal valley and countryside from a hot air balloon

The credit for organizing the multitude of attractions goes to E-Factor Entertainment, an event management company that has been selecting and arranging Mandu Culture Festival experiences for three years now. Jai Thakore, co-founder and COO of E-Factor, described their motivations for taking the lead in organizing and managing the festival. “Mandu has such a rich and vibrant history and heritage that it deserves to be a destination in its own right. We want to see it thrive – people should see it as more than just a stopover en route to places like Maheshwar,” Thakore told us. “Experiences such as glamping and hot air balloon rides are now trending – and we want to offer them and use them to attract more people from other states to put Mandu on the map. of India and to bring it forward into the 21st century. In fact, we intend to keep and rent around 20 tents at the glamping grounds until June 30, 2022, with the aim of attracting more travelers and enthusiasts after the festival ends,” he said. -he adds. Thakore also expressed hope that they would be able to resolve the friction and animosity among the locals, resulting from their lack of participation in such an extravaganza, in due course. A storytelling session in progress at the Chhappan Mahal

Getting There

By the road: Mandu is 97 kilometers by road from Indore. A taxi ride takes approximately two to three hours.

By rail: Mhow (officially Dr. Ambedkar Nagar) is the nearest railhead, about 28 kilometers from Mandu. Mhow is connected to major junctions such as Indore and Khandwa by meter gauge railway lines.

When to visit: While the Mandu Festival, usually held at the start of every year, provides a whirlwind experience of the city’s heritage and history, Mandu is best visited during the monsoon when the dry streams overflow and the place becomes several shades greener. A visit to Jahaz Mahal is a must during the monsoon, when the man-made lakes fill to the brim and the palace lives up to its name, resembling a ship floating on flooded waters.

Darcy J. Skinner