This beautifully illustrated travel guide to the districts of Ratlam, Mandsaur and Neemuch –tucked along the borders of western Malwa in Madhya Pradesh –is an invitation to bypass traditional tourist itinerates for a chance to get lost in the by lanes of history and discover treasures from India's past.
Learn how Ratlam is so much more than a busy railway junction: visit the beautiful 11th century temple in Bilpank, drive to Sailana, home to a stunning Cactus Garden, pray at at the Hussain Tekri Shrine, or buy the purest gold in the region. In Mandsaur district, explore a gallery of prehistoric art at Chaturbhujnath Nala, be awed by a 4.6 –tonne shivalinga at Pashupatinath Temple, or gaze upon the timeless expanses of the Gandhi Sagar Dam and Wildlife Sanctuary. Form Neemuch, visit the feudal, fortified township of Rampura and the intricately carved temple of Khor, stroll past poppy fields in bloom, or wander into lovingly preserved havelis.
Indeed, from sculpture of ethereal beauty to natural vistas of tranuquil charm, Ratlam, Mandsaur and Neemuch offer a whole new world of delightful discovery. With over 120 stunning photographs and an up –to –date practical information section, the Ratlam, Mandasaur and Neemuch: Travel Guide will be an invaluable companion for the intrepid tourist and the armchair traveller.
The malwa plateu in central India is bounded by two great mountain ranges: the Vindhyas on its south, and the Aravallis on its north and north-west. On its east is the Bundelkhand plateu. This ancient, roughly rectangular topographical landmark stretches from the cities of Chanderi and Bhopal on its eastern borders all the way to Chittaurgarh and Dhar on its west.
Distinguish by its rich black soil, the plateu is mainely composed of a vast spread of basaltic rock, which forms great rolling dawns, dotted over with the flat –topped hills peculiar to [this] geological formation' (Imperial Gazetteer). It is the this combination of agricultural fertility and geographical variety that makes driving through the Malwa a real pleasure.
The district of Ratlam, Mandsaur and Neemuch, arranged one above the other in the western Malwa, have broad, smooth four –lane highways that tear through a chequer board countryside, and narrow tarred roads that rise and fall, rollercoaster –like, through undulating terrain. Visitors are as likely to zoom past fields of green chana and golden wheat as they are to crawl behind a caravan gangly, pale yellow camels, or weave in and out of the shadows of hills so steep and flat-topped that it seems they could only have been created as scaffolding for grand medieval fortifications.
And, indeed, for much of their medival history many of Malwa's route, along which armies marched from Delhi to the Deccan'. Ironically, however, through the Malwa plateau was fought over by empires for centuries (see box an history of the Malwa), much of it is relatively obscure today. Of course, the temples of Ujjain and the palaces of Indore, the serene lakes of Bhopal and the weaving by –lanes of Chandri have found a palace in tourist circuits. Districts like Ratlam, Mandsaur and Neemuch remain, unfortunately, diversion from popular tourist itineraries.
In the 6th century AD, the Malwa plateau was ruled by the Hunas, and one of the earliest inscriptions here tells of the victory of Mandasaur's ruler. Yashodharam, over the Huna chief, Mihirakula
From the 10th to the early 13th century, the Paramaras dominated the Malwa, establishing capital cities in both Ujjain and Dhar, and building prolifically. Indeed, paramara forts and temples abound here, and Paramara sculpture is still discovered throughout the Malwa.
Of the Mughals, it was Akbar who, in 1562, waged a decisive battle for the Malwa, which was thereafter ruled by a succession of worthy governors, including Akbar's son Murad, Nizam –ul –Mulk, the future Nizam of Hyderabad and Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh of Jaipur. In Mid 18th century as the Mughal empire teetered towards collapse, both the Marathas and the British swooped speedily into the Malwa, which became 'a vast battlefield where Maratha, Muhammadan and Europeon struggled incessantly'.
Eventually, the foreign colonising power triumphed In 1818, a treaty signed in Mandsaur made Malwa part of the British Raj, and so it remained until India gained independence in 1947.
This is not, however, for lack of connectivity (see Box). For those who care to explore them, these districts are a mind –expanding pleasure. There is no fixed route here, and the adventures traveller may easily find herself traversing centuries of cultural and aesthetic diversity in a day.
Within hours we were travelling from 11th century Paramara temples of intricately carved stone, looked after by solitary priests, to crowded shrines where powerful mother goddess are propitiated with offerings of goats and Kadaknath hens, distinguished by their pitch black feathers and popular for their dark, flavourful meat.
As we gazed fascinated at at the many roads unrolling before us, the landscape would here mould itself to frame Buddhist chaityas carved into hillsides, and there contain tens of thousands of men and women walking towards a Muslim pilgrimage in a former princely state. Altighthly, we found ourselves in a temple compound, the breeze carrying a harmonium's plaintive melody over village fields; or perhaps walking along a hidden stream, its banks painted with primeval art, the air couched in deep silence; or listening to an amateur archaeologist recite poetry over a cup of tea; or staring into the startled eyes of a nilgai on our way towards a meal of freshly caught fish from a deep blue reservoir.
From soaring ageless cacti to medieval havelis, from the laughter of children scampering over medieval ruins to the hush of a vasi library founded by a learned king, from ripe fields of wheat to open scrubland, treasures of art, of history of human skill and sensibility are strewn with careless grandeur across the hilly terrain of western Malwa. They only await the adventurous traveller.
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