Friday, 29 May 2015

Love Boat of Mandu - Jahaz Mahal

First look at Jahaz Mahal and you are convinced that the steps you see on the eastern facade are a later addition on a preexisting ramp or cascade. The ramp probably was a medieval water slide from which Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji (different from the Khilji dynasty that ruled Delhi) along with his reported fifteen thousand harem inmates splashed down into the Kapur Talao below. Mandu was the laboratory where Sultans first devised their water sports. The Mughals probably usurped the water sports and brought them to their palaces in Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, and Delhi. 

When summers get scorching, we head to the nearest water park, while the Malwa Sultans headed to Mandu. The Jahaz Mahal complex was Mandu Sultan's Waterworld. Every conceivable water architectural feature can be found here - fountains, cisterns, baths, hammams, aqueducts, water channels and baolis (step wells). It seems the buildings here were just incidental.

Mandu - The Ship Like Jahaz Mahal
As you enter the ticketed complex, two big water tanks can be seen on either side. On the left is the Munj Talao and on the right is the Kapur Talao or Camphor Tank. Munj Talao is possibly named after the Parmar King Munj, a contemporary of Raja Bhoj. And, it is here that you see the most invigorating and refreshing building in a town that is dotted with largely sombre monuments. The two-storeyed Jahaz Mahal looks like a berthed luxury cruise ship about to sail into the seas. With pavilions on the top, three projecting balconies over the talao and open terraces, this truly was the Love Boat. Aboard, there were all kinds of amenities to make this pleasure ride a truly memorable one. 

A Terrace-top bath on Jahaj Mahal with Kapur Talao in the background
The complex is one big spa and the royalty was spoilt for choice. If not in mood to swim in Kapur Talao, the Sultan could just soak himself on the terrace-top bath on the Jahaz Mahal while a couple of consorts worked up an aromatic lather, and all this while the Sultan would take in the delightful expanse of water of the artificial tanks on both sides. Beautifully designed water channels brought water from the water-lift. Below on the lower level there is another larger cistern with landing creatively designed to resemble a mini baoli. 

A Cistern on the lower level of Jahaz Mahal

On the top, Jahaz Mahal has pavilions on all four sides. After his bath or swim, the Sultan would sit under one of the pavilions as the consorts dried him with silk towels and helped him into silk robes, while others sang and played music for him. Wine would flow, as cool breeze soothed the Sultan after a long hot day. It is believed that Ghiyas himself did not drink. Peace reigned during his long years at the helm. He had one thousand female guards - five hundred Turkish females in men’s clothes would stand on the right and five hundred Abyssinian females would stand on the left - all uniformed, armed and dangerous. As evening darkened, lighted lamps would be let adrift on the water. Floating lamps, wafting music and heady wine would all combine to create a magical evening.

The Dark and Cool Labyrinth of Champa Baoli
Don’t worry, there were cool options for the hot afternoons also. Next to the Hindola Mahal, among the ruins of the palaces is the Champa Baoli, probably named for its sweet water that smells like the flowers of Champak Tree. Here, there are underground passages and vaulted rooms. To you it seemed like a bhoolbhulaiya where you had a hard time getting out while trying to not hit your head on the low ceiling. A passage leads to the base of the baoli which you could not find and is perhaps restricted. The royalty would descend here into the tehkhana during the hot languorous afternoons.

The Star like Slits on the roof of Hammam Dome - Mandu
This is not all. The architects really knew how to please their masters. Walking further into the ruined palace area beyond the baoli brings you to the most fascinating and creative architectural feature of the complex. This is the Hammam or hot bath. The domed roof has slits and holes cut in the shape of stars. The hammam was probably made use of during cold monsoon evenings or when the Sultan was in a romantic mood. On a moonlit night, the star shaped patterns would fall below giving the notion of a celestial bath among the stars and moon. Now this is definitely creative and romantic!

Munj Talao with Jahaj Mahal in background - View from Jal Mahal
Beyond the Jahaz Mahal on the western fringe of Munj Talao is the Jal Mahal. On the lower level again there are cisterns built for leisure. Climbing up you are greeted by Munj Talao stretching into the east with the ship like Jahaz Mahal rising on the horizon.

Kapur Talao - View from the Pavilion on top of Jahaj Mahal
The construction of the Jahaz Mahal and other related bathing paraphernalia is accredited to Ghiyas-ud-din Khilji (1469-1500) and probably his son Nasir-ud-din Khilji (1500-1510). As per medieval tradition, the impatient son duly poisoned his aging father and ascended the throne. Some accounts say Nasir-ud-din once survived drowning in a reservoir while intoxicated but soon died unhappy while others say he did drown. It is apparent that the father-son duo loved their baths. Jahangir, later in his memoirs noted his abhorrence for Nasir’s actions in killing his father. Jahangir had his grave dug and bones thrown into Narmada. To probably pre-empt any such eventuality in his own case, Jahangir went medieval on his own son Khusrau and blinded him. The games Sultans and Emperors play!

While going through Yazdani’s book on Mandu, your assumption is proved right. Emperor Jahangir added the steps on top of a cascade in Jahaz Mahal. The water from top would cascade down through the channels into Kapur Talao. In the company of Nur Jahan, the sweetness of air and pleasantness of verdant surroundings drove Jahangir ecstatic. During monsoons when the two talaos are filled to the brim and misty rain descends in waves over the talao, the setting of Jahaz Mahal becomes joyously exhilarating. The Jahaz Palace is a cruise that you don’t want to miss. You know this time you will come back in the rains.

Getting There: The nearest railway station is Indore, at a distance of 65 kms from Mandu. Private buses ply between Indore and Mandu regularly but a private vehicle is the best option for sightseeing. Best time to visit is during the monsoons; when the water bodies get filled up, bringing Jahaz Mahal alive, like a ship about to set sail on calm waters. 


Mandu - The City of Joy by G Yazdani

Mandu by DR Patil published by ASI

Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri: Memoirs of Jahangir

The post also appears in Youth for Heritage Foundation emagazine -

Related Mandu links on this Blog:

Malcum Kothi at Nalcha Mandu

Mandav - A Walk in Ancient Mandu

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Tripping on the Trains – Serendipity in Guntakal and Chippagiri

Karnataka has the best looking railway stations and bus stands in the country. You were already impressed with the bus stands – colourful, clean, quiet, and no smell. Buses drive into their bays on time while announcements are made over the PA system. Helpful personnel guide you to your bus going to Davangere or Bagalkot. In UP, you can smell the bus stands and stations a mile away which helps you to zero in without asking for directions. Because of the missing crowds, stench, grime and diesel fumes, the downside in Karnataka is that you have to ask your auto driver again, who has just dropped you, to be assured that this funky looking landscaped building is actually the functional bus stand. 

You were warned! Karntaka Bus Stands are really clourful - Bijapur Bus Stand

The Super Clean Hubli Railway Station

You are on your third leg of inter-state travel. After Maharashtra and Karnataka, you are taking the Amravati Express from Hubli to Kacheguda Hyderabad. Hubli Railway Station like the rest of them looks and gleams like an airport. The station building, platforms and overbridges are spotless and modern. You arrive at your platform to see an army of women wiping every window and every inch of your coach. You have never seen this happen in a train before. Outside on the granite floored platforms, passengers watch the huge LCD TV screens lounging on modern looking steel chairs. Unbelievably, yes this is the same country and same Indian Railways.

17226 Amaravati Express at Hubli Station

Amaravati Express ready to leave Hubli

While booking tickets you just felt lucky to get a confirmed seat. You did not wonder why the train would take 16 hours to cover 620 kms and arrive in Kacheguda early next morning. At 1330 we chug out of Hubli. 

Annigeri Railway Station

Gadag Railway Station

Kalyani known as Musukina Bhavi at Manikeshwara Temple at Lakkundi, Gadag

A succession of stations come – Annigeri which was in news few years ago when a mass burial site was unearthed; Gadag where you went crazy temple hopping in Lakkundi & Laxmeshwar and subject for several future posts; Koppal where you could see the fort towering over the town and which you will definitely like to climb next. And then, Hospet - you love Hospet, a city which provides the launch pad to Hampi. The word Hampi fills you up with fondness and love; you have been lucky to visit Hampi so many times and still you have not had fill of the ruined Vijaynagar Empire. You need another week in Hampi before you can say you have now seen and experienced and climbed every hill here in Hampi. Next comes Bellary, a town in news for the wrong reasons; you need to visit the much heard about Bellary Fort and if lucky some prehistoric megalithic sites too.

Koppal Railway Station

While all this is happening, you wonder why you are the only one in your train bogie. So you walk to where the bunch of TTEs is sitting. The TTEs explain to you that few bogies of this train will be decoupled in Guntakal AP while we wait for about four hours waiting for the train coming from Bangalore before we continue our onward journey to Hyderabad. Okay so that explains the 16 hours!

Hospet Railway Station

Achyutaraya Temple in Hampi

Apparently, Guntakal in Anantpur district of Andhra Pradesh is a major junction where trains on Mumbai-Chennai, Margao-Vijaywada and Bengaluru-Guntakal lines intersect. Your train 17226 Amaravati Express runs from Hubli to Vijaywada. In Guntakal, few bogies are taken out, made to wait for four hours and then attached to 17604 Kacheguda Express that runs from Yesvantpur Bengaluru to Kacheguda.

Bellary Railway Station

FOUR HOURS of being cooped up in a stationary bogie! Your mind starts racing. One part says you have already been running for the past ten days, so forget it and get some rest. While the other, more sensible part says, let us go out in the town for an adventure. Google and friends chip in with some tidbits. You will not have much of daylight time to explore. The train reaches Guntakal at 1835. You will hardly have an hour of twilight to see what you can. Reconfirming from the TTEs and the net, you are sure that yes, you DO have four hours in Guntakal - you don’t want to be marooned in the middle of nowhere. The failsafe plan is ready. Lets rock n roll!

Guntakal Railway Station

Even before the train comes to a halt you are wheeling towards the exit where the parcel office is. On the way you see your train leaving – you just hope you are not making a mistake. The suitcase is deposited in the parcel van. Outside, you grab a vada pao. Adventures need a filled up tank. Now is the hard part – negotiating with an autorickshaw. Thankfully, the place is organized and the uniformed autowallas seem reasonable. You announce you have couple of hours to see the town and go visit Chippagiri about ten kms north-west. Deal is made and you are off. The plan is working like a Swiss watch.

Our Lady of Health Shrine Church in Guntakal AP
On the way to Chippagiri you swing by a Church called Our Lady of Health Shrine. In the golden light the church looks pretty. The name seemed novel. You don’t have time to inquire about the origin of name. You gotta run.

The sun is going down. You ask the auto rickshaw driver to step on it. Moving away from the town, on the bumpy road as your middle aged bones rattle, you wonder why you put yourself through all this when you could have just lounged on the station platform with a book; or on other days, just doing your day job to come back to hotel and chill in front of the TV. Why all this running - what are you looking for? Have you become a travel junkie? You have been thinking about this a lot these days. And the answer is hard to come by. Was there this latent wish all your life that makes you want to take off to see the world every few days? You still remember your school days when you and a friend would catch any random DTC bus to just go see where all it took us. Is it Forrest Gumpesque kind of a deal where all you want to do is run? And like Forrest Gump, one day you will just want to come back home. No easy answers here. But one thing you are sure of is that right now you are having the time of your life. The more you travel and see, the more you want to travel and see – a virtuous circle. Your wish seems to have been granted wings and now is the time to fly and run and drive. One of these days you will wake up old and with broken wings. Time is already running out. The meaning is already becoming clearer – Keep Running.
Related Link

Your reverie is broken as you drive into Chippagiri. No photos were available on the net. All you know is that there are some temples in the village. You don’t know what to expect - maybe all the place has is a few modern temples. We drive into the village square and wow, you have hit the target blind eyed. There are temples all around!

Chippagiri Village Square, Guntakal

The Towering Dhwajsthamb in Chippagiri

It is evening and time for people to hang out in the square. For a moment it seems you have stepped back into time and into the Vijanagar Empire. Trains and cities and the world are far away. Here it is just the quite murmur of village life. It is surreal. Kids go running, while the old men look at this guy who has suddenly driven into their world and is shuffling around with a camera. You wished you could just sit here with them without talking and just nodding and smiling. Okay, you have begun to experience serendipity now.

Wheeling and Dealing in Chippagiri, Guntakal AP

Prima facie, it seems the village grew around the temples. Looking at the architecture of temples and the stone used, it seems you have been transported back to Hampi. Chippagiri is a miniature Hampi - same grey granite and same temple architecture.

The Tall Four Pillared Canopy at Chippagiri

Images on Canopy Pillars

However Chippagiri has something grand that you did not see in Hampi. There are two very tall Dvajastambhs in the village square. Taking advantage of their height, the electricity department has installed lights on them. Between the two stambhs there is a very tall four pillared canopy. This is the tallest canopy you have seen in Vijaynagar area. So the local architect introduced some new architectural elements here. A covered chariot is parked as it waits to carry the Lord.

Sri Lakshmi Chenna Kesava Temple in Chippagiri Guntakal

Eroded Images on Shikhar

Sunset at Chippagiri

On the eastern edge of the square is the west facing Sri Lakshmi Chenna Kesava Temple – Chennakesav means Beautiful Lord Vishnu. The temple is standard Hampi construction - granite base and gopurum made of brick with stucco images. The stucco images are largely eroded. 

The Mahamandap

The square mahamandap is built in the centre with a circumambulatory path all around within the temple enclosure. Minor mandaps with deities are built all around the mahamandap. The granite pillars carry the usual Hampi relief iconography.

Sri Bhogeswara Swamy Temple in Chippagiri

Relief Images on Enclosure Walls

Coming out you enter the Sri Bhogeswara Swamy Temple in the west dedicated to Lord Shiv. Now this temple has been largely restored with the gopuram painted over. Images on the shikhar are painted in different colours. The enclosure walls are interestingly crenellated with relief images. Here too secondary shrines embellish the complex.

Bhogeswara Swamy Temple with Three Nandis

Naga Stones

This is how we hang out in Cheppagiri - Looking East

Another interesting feature is the presence of three Nandis just outside the girbhgriha - not sure if they are extant or were brought in later. Outside there are the standard Nag Stones. You come out of the temple looking out to the village square.

 Chippagiri Fort - The Jain Temple possibly 

 Chippagiri Fort - A bastion silhouette can be seen in the distance 

Children of Chippagiri 

It is almost dark now. Lights are burning bright in the village square. Just beyond the village in the fading light you can see the hill with a Fort, Jain Temple and Gunpowder Magazine. You will come back some day to climb the hill. Finally you focus your attention on the kids who showed you around. You joke with them, take some photos and then bid them goodbye.

Chippagiri was reported to be a part of Chalukya Kingdom when King Taila ruled. Later the area formed part of the mighty Vijaynagar Empire. The low fortified hill overlooking the village had some prehistoric settlements and some paintings can be seen.

Anjaneya Swamy Temple at Guntakal

Anjaneya Swamy Temple at Guntakal
It is time to go see a temple in Guntakal town. In the Kasapuram area, there is a lit up temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman called Anjaneya Swamy Temple. The temple looks modern unless it is totally restored. You pay obeisance to Hanumanji and spend a few quite moments before walking back to your autorickshaw.

Guntakal Railway Station

Chennai Express at Guntakal Railway Station - Meenamma missed boarding it

Night has fallen. Nights in small towns are inky dark and deafeningly quite. They are soothing and unnerving at the same time. You drive back to Guntakal Railway Station. The lights make it look inviting. Now that you notice, the station is as good looking as the Karnataka ones. The platforms look like mall plazas. Chennai Express waits at one of the platforms. You check, but no; Meenamma aint on it.

Soon the Kacheguda Express arrives from Bangalore. Your orphaned bogie finds a foster home in a new family of bogies and you reclaim your berth. It has been a perfect evening. So far most of your travels were planned, in what, maybe a day in advance. Today you planned in real time in a running train and while usually a car or auto waited as you hopped and skipped; today a train waited on you. These few hours were serendipitous.  

Kacheguda Railway Station at Dawn

Machilipatnam Here I Come!

Kacheguda station looks beautiful in the early morning light. Few more hours and you will be hitting the beaches in Machilipatnam. It does not get better than this. In the meantime as the serendipity streak continues, you intend to keep running.

Getting There – Guntakal in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh is about 50 kms from Bellary across the border in Karnataka. Guntakal is a major railway junction having connectivity with Hubli, Bangalore, Hyderabad and Vijaywada. Chippagiri is about 10 kms north-west of Guntakal. You can hire an autorickshaw from Guntakal railway station to visit Chippagiri to see a slice of Hampi in AP!