Mandu Festival – Marrying Heritage, Adventure & Culture


2019 ended with a bang at Mandu Festival. The last week of the year is special, most people are in holiday mode. The winters in North India help you to get in a laid-back mode while enjoying rich food and hot tea. I was missing winters in hot and humid Goa, so I jumped on the opportunity to spend some days in the winter while enjoying all that Mandu Festival promised.

Hot Air Balloon - Mandu
Hot Air Balloon – Mandu

Mandu Festival: Heritage, Adventure & Culture

Mandu in my mind is a laid-back small hill town sprinkled with heritage ruins and water bodies everywhere. The festival promised to infuse the soul in the place. A couple of years back I attended a similar festival on the banks of Krishna River at Amaravati. I still remember my hour-long hot air balloon ride and para-motoring. I was looking forward to repeating this adventure.

Colorful Decorations at Mandu Festival
Colorful Decorations at Mandu Festival

Music and art were what I wanted to soak in. There was no plan of going anywhere else but then surprises are an essential part of any trip. The Bagh Caves trip happened in a jiffy.

Sharing some of my cherished moments from the festival.

Narmada Arti @ Mandu Festival

AI landed in Mandu at dusk. Across the campsite, the golden sun was melting into the waters of the lake. The trees were beautifully decorated with dream catchers and colorful threads. I looked at the activities and attending Narmada Arti at Reva Kund was the best way to start the festival. Watching an Arti at a river is always a pleasure be it Ganga Arti at Kashi or Sarayu Arti at Ayodhya.

Narmada Arti at Reva Kund
Narmada Arti at Reva Kund

This was the end of December, around 8 PM and a man wearing just a cotton dhoti was standing in the freezing cold water of Reva Kund. As the Arti progressed, he floated in the Kund holding at the tall Diyas of Arti, Conch Shell, coconut, and flowers, with his legs folded in a yogic posture. It was watching a real Sadhak.

After the Arti, I spoke to him and discovered he is a teacher in a nearby village and performs this Sadhna at a 64 Yogini temple there. Now I had to visit this temple and I did it at the end of my trip.

Hot Air Ballooning over Mandu

Hot air ballooning was my prime motivation to visit Mandu Festival. It turned out to be more adventurous than we planned it to be. Early morning, way before the sun got up, we drove to the ground behind the ancient Ram Temple in Mandu. 5 giant Balloons were being fired up to take us up in the air. My balloon had 10 people including our pilot, whose calmness we would appreciate soon enough.

Hot Air Ballooning
Hot Air Ballooning

We first sighted the lovely monuments on the edges of water bodies in Mandu. As we flew more, we saw the lovely landscape of valleys and rough mountains. The sun played hide and seek and the haze gave it a mystical look. We kept flying observing as part of a medley being played in the skies with 5 colorful balloons over a green carpet punctuated with valleys, rivers, fields, and what to me looked like caves. We would go down enough to be able to converse with the people below, who were initially scared and then amused.

Mandu Landscape
Mandu Landscape

We saw a couple of balloons landing after 40-45 minutes of flying. Our pilot was not in a hurry and we were not complaining. We kept flying for almost 2 hours and could not find a flat surface to land.

Landing in the fields

There were fields below us, but landing on fields would mean spoiling the crop. We flew till the time we had gas to keep us afloat in the air. Ultimately, we had to land in a field, right on the bank of a river.

View from Hot Air Balloon
View from Hot Air Balloon

We created quite a spectacle as we landed, with villagers from all the villages around gathered to see a giant balloon landing. Our first question after landing was – Where are we? How far are we from Mandu? It almost felt like an alien landing in an unknown place.

Hot Air Balloon Landing
Hot Air Balloon Landing

I was worried about the crop we spoiled, but no one mentioned it. A young 9th standard girl Sushila More displaying amazing leadership led us to the closest road. It took us a couple of hours to get back to our campsite. This would remain a memorable experience for a long time.

Read more: Adventure activities at Amaravati Hot Air Ballooning over Krishna River

Video: Mandu as seen from Hot Air Balloon Ride

Do watch this video clip to get a glimpse of how Mandu looks from atop a Balloon Ride. The landscape of the region, the heritage structures, lush green fields, gently flowing riverbeds, and villages amidst the mountains and valleys were enchanting and hard to describe, the best is to view it yourself.

Musical Concerts @ Mandu Festival

Concert Venue at Mandu Festival
Concert Venue at the festival

All three evenings that I was at the festival, I sat back and enjoyed concerts by the Indian Ocean, Prem Joshua, and Navraj Hans. With a heritage monument as a backdrop to the stage and chill in the air, it was a perfect venue to listen to live music. The Indian Ocean playing ‘Ma Reva’ just after we attended the Narmada Arti was like another Arti from the stage. Prem Joshua enthralled me with his Shakti chants like – Sarv Mangal Mangaley.

I sat for the Navraj Hans concert only to hear Punjabi, my home language. However, he impressed me with the way he engaged with everyone present there and also included his online fanbase at the moment. A rare artist who not only acknowledged each member of his team but never forgot his wife sitting in the audience. What energy he created on stage!

On the first day, a fashion show where the local girls showcased the local weaves provided a prelude to the concert.

Artists Corner

Gond paintings by Shyam Family
Gond paintings by Shyam Family

A small lakeside corner displayed paintings from various participating artists. I loved the Gond paintings which are visual stories of the Gond tribes. Some of them are stories of deities they worship, and others just show everyday life in the jungles of central India.


The area was full of Mandana geometric patterns done with white on Gerua or rust-red color. These are typical ritual paintings done on the floor like Rangoli or Kolam for auspicious occasions like weddings.

The paintings by art students were equally interesting. It was heartening to know that many of these paintings were sold during the festival. If the festival becomes a platform to showcase local talent, it has served its purpose.

Yoga Under the Sky

Yoga at Mandu Festival
Yoga practice

For the first time in my life, I did Yoga under the morning sky with clouds busy painting it. On a monument that is probably being used for the first time after centuries, we twisted and turned with our friendly yoga instructor.

64 Yogini Temple – Mandu

64 Yogini Temple - Jirapur,near Mandu
The 64 Yogini Temple at Jirapur, near Mandu

64 Yogini temples are few and I am yet to visit one. So, I was keen to see this 64-yogini temple that is still practiced as most others that I have read about are defunct. I landed in Jirapur village and on the banks of a huge lake this tiny temple stands.

64 Yogini Temple Tank
64 Yogini Temple Tank

Long walls on either side of the sanctum are embedded with remains of an ancient stone temple. These are broken Murtis, fragments of Shivalingas, pieces of ceiling, and pillars. They only tell you that once there was a glorious temple here. The orange color on these pieces indicates constant worship. The sanctum is small and in the Pindi Rupa. In the few minutes that I spent at the 64 Yogini temple, I could see many devotees visiting the temple. I was told that there is a huge crowd that visits every Tuesday as the full name of the temple is 64 Yogini 52 Bhairav temple.

Decorated trees at Mandu Festival
Decorated trees

The event menu had heritage walks including an Instagram walk, a hop on hop off bus tour, and rural tours. A colorful food court celebrated the local food and I can not tell you how the Jalebi feels in the biting cold.

Overall, the festival had something for visitors of all kinds of interests. Be it heritage, art, culture, music, culinary, spiritual, adventure, and sports. Next year, do check it out for your year-end holiday. Keep an eye on their website.

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  1. Such a beautiful place, being a fan of architecture the like how Jahaz Mahal was built on the water and one can never see how!!
    And i am kind of jealous that got to attend Indian Ocean.


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