Saturday, 27 December 2014

Malcum Kothi at Nalcha near Mandu MP

If you act like wannabe Indiana Jones, then you do get chances to act out like the real Indiana Jones. You are running against time. The sun is about to go down in a few minutes and you need to get to this kothi or mahal you have chanced to read about, few kilometres away from Mandu on the road to Dhar.

While reading up on Mandu, you came across this fantastic google e-book ‘History of Mandu, The Ancient Capital of Malwa’ written by an unidentified author who goes by the name 'A Bombay Subaltern' originally published in 1844. In addition to Mandu, the book had accounts of Ajanta and some other places. As the book had gone out of print, His Highness the Raja of Dhar had paid for the publication of the part pertaining to Mandu. The second edition came out in 1879. University of Michigan has a copy of the second edition and whose digital version you came across.

G. Yazdani who later wrote ‘Mandu - The City of Joy’ pays tribute to the book in his preface - The author has given an extremely vivacious account of his journey to Mandu, in which place it is as difficult to forget him as to forget Washington Irving in the Alhambra. Yes, from what little you have read, the book has lots of humour with facts - the way you want a book to be.

Nalcha - Malcum Kothi with the Ruined Pavilion on the Right
The book starts from the village Nalcha. The author says Nalcha is the base for travellers who want to go visit Mandu. Here in Nalcha, the travellers to Mandu would stock up on supplies and hire a guide.  Nalcha used to be the residence of Vice-Regents of Mandu on several occasions. Ruined buildings and especially this palace you are looking for are some of the vestiges that have survived from those times.

An Overgrown Dome in Nalcha Village
After visiting Mandu, on the way back to Indore, you stop at Nalcha village. You see more ruined domed structures here. You ask the locals if there is a Mahal or Kothi in the village. There sure is. You are directed to just outside the village. There is an ASI sign off the Dhar road. A dirt track leads into the fields and beyond to the kothi. Camera battery had already died, so grabbing the Tab you hurry down the path before the sun goes down.

The Indiana Jones Way
Walking through darkening shadows on a dirt track as it snakes around with fields on both sides, it seems nothing has changed in this part of the country. Maybe there were more mango trees and a tank as noted by Bombay Subaltern then. Otherwise this could be 1880s. The track on both sides is bound by trees and bushes so that the only way you can see is up ahead.

Just few minutes ago after a long day at Mandu, you were tired and were already thinking of the hotel room. But suddenly, there is an inexplicable spring in your feet. Its a familiar pattern - just the thought of discovering something relatively unknown, pumps endorphins in your blood stream and feeling tired is the last thing on the mind.

Malcum Kothi - The First View
You hurriedly push along asking for directions from couple of people you run into on the way, negotiating turns; and this is when you finally see what you have been looking for. In the distance you can see a structure that is unmistakably what you are looking for.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Moment
And then the tractor comes barrelling down at you.  There is no escape. The pathway is just wide enough for the tractor to scrape through. To boot, the tractor is carrying a seed drill in the back with its ends overhanging. You try to run back looking for an opening in the bushes to squeeze in and let the tractor pass. There is none. Finally, you jump in the middle, wave and shout at the driver to stop the tractor. For a moment the thought did come that after selling tractors a good part of your life, it would be ironic to be mowed down by one! The tractor stops and you untangle.

Malcum Kothi in Nalcha Village
Few steps more and the Kothi emerges in full view. The structure is much more substantial and imposing than you had visualized. The setting is kind of charming. It is apparent that it was designed to be an outhouse or a retreat away from the confines and intrigues of Mandu. The idea could have been to use the mahal as an offsite for strategy sessions or simply to kick back in the country side.

Malcolm Kothi basks in setting sun
And here in front of the south wall with a tree as neighbour, ASI here has installed the sign proclaiming - Malcum Kothi (sic). The sign further says that the Palace was constructed during the reign of  Mandu Sultan Nadir Shah Khilji (1505-1510). There were beautiful gardens all around and originally it was called Nadir Shah Mahal. In 1565 Akbar used it as a resthouse. During Jahangir’s time it was called Tuk-e-Jahangir. In 1818, the political agent of Malwa, Sir John Malcolm, who loved the mahal, moved in and lived here until 1830. And hence the building got its current name Malcum Kothi!

You associate big palaces and forts with the emperors where the connection with the emperor is limited to, say, where the throne sat or some personal quarters. But here in the middle of nothing, in this small building the connection with the past sultans and emperors is so stark and complete. The feeling that Akbar, Jahangir, Malcolm walked through these doors is that much more intimate and stirring.

All of a sudden everything goes quite except the wind. You are in the zone - time and place when your mind and everything else goes silent in the company of a monument. You are transported back into the sepia tinted past. The monument rejoices in the golden rays of the setting sun. This is a beautiful moment. You are just so lucky to experience such moments quite often these days.

Malcum Kothi in Nalcha Village - South Western View 
The Kothi here and its antecedents reminds you of Dilkusha in Delhi’s Mehrauli Archaeological Park which Sir Thomas Metcalfe had converted into his residence. Metcalfe bought the 16th century tomb of Quli Khan (the tomb again had Akbar connection like here at Nalcha!), extended it, created gardens and water bodies all around under the shadow of Qutb Minar and named it Dilkusha.  Sir Malcolm did something similar here too - He fitted up the mahal to serve as a bunglow during his stay in Nalcha.

Malcum Kothi is a rectangular building with four arched doorways in the facing southern wall. There are two circular windows on either side of the wall. On the right, in the rear, you can see a ruined pavilion with the dome gone. As you circle around the building you realise the southern wall you first saw is actually the rear of the kothi.

The main entrance is from the North though the entrance has now been walled off. The building is seemingly made of some kind of red rock called balua. Outside, chajjas can be seen all around the building. You did not get a chance to peep inside the building.

Surviving Pavilion on North West Corner

Remains of the Day
In the north side, that is, the front of the kothi, the view gets better. Two pavilions were built at each corner. While the one in South-west survive with the dome intact, the other pavilion is almost lost - casualty in the last 170 years or so. The pavilions were probably connected to the main building by covered passages. Inside, the central apartment is square and has three hanging lamps. The lamps were supposed to be a legacy of Sir John Malcolm. Bombay Subaltern says there were two halls and six more apartments inside. Some rooms are reported to be diamond shaped.

The North Wall with the Original Main Entrance
Stairs led to the top which had two rooms and a bathroom. You don’t see any stairs or any rooms on top though the parapet walls are pretty high with chajjas all around the four sides. Going through the notes in the back of the book, the rooms on the top were burnt down accidentally while trying to shoot down a pigeon!

Water Tanks between the Chattris
Malcolm Kothi - North West View
In between the pavilions there are water tanks or fountains. Just like Mandu, here too, a building is not complete without its own water tanks. Stretching to the North and East were the well laid out gardens and big tanks thus completing the picture of a summer home.

Subaltern says that the top of the kothi provided a breathtaking view with mango groves and occasional tamarind trees. In front of the kothi was a big tank. The tank had ruined walls and towers. Now, you don’t see anything except flat fields. Probably the tank has silted up now. On the right, Subaltern says, was an extensive tank called the Nalganga. The tank was square and had masonry steps. There was an island in the centre. On the banks were several buildings with domes rising above the tamarind and banyan trees. The buildings could be zenana and a palace. This place is now actually getting exciting and would need a couple of hours to explore next time you are here.   

Built heritage in India springs surprises every day. If you had not come across the mention of Nalcha Kothi, there is no way you would have found this little surprise hidden among the fields so close to Mandu. Those were the times. And again, as always, finding yourself back in those times for a few moments leaves you happy and elated. You want Indiana Jones moments to keep happening. Now you live for them.

Getting There: On the way to Mandu from Dhar, Nalcha is about 20 kms before Mandu on the state highway. Spend an hour here. And then stop over at Kakda Kho with its ravine and footprints, Jali Mahal and Andha & Andhi ka Mahal before finally entering Alamgir Gate, the first of many gates into Mandu.

Reference: History of Mandu - Ancient Capital of Malwa by A Bombay Subaltern