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 helps you to get in a laid-back mode while enjoying the 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 winters while enjoying all that Mandu Festival promised.
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 had 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.
Music and art were what I wanted to soak in. There was no plan of going anywhere else but then surprised are an essential part of any trip. 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.
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.
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.
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 wold 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.
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.
I was worried about the crop we spoilt, 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.
Musical Concerts @ Mandu 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 including 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.
A small lakeside corner displayed paintings from various participating artists. I loved the Gond paintings that are visual stories of the Gond tribes. Some of them are stories of deities they worship, others just showing 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.
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
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 temples are few and I am yet to visit one. So, I was keen to see this 64-yogini temple that is still practicing 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.
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. 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.
The event menu had heritage walks including an Instagram walk, a hop on hop off bus tours and rural tours. A colorful food court celebrated the local food and I can not tell you how the Jalebi feels in biting cold.
Overall, the festival had something for all kinds of interest – 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.