Heading out of Mandav (Mandu for the locals) after 3 days of choicest photography options I chose to travel to Maheshwar a town located approximately 45 kms from Mandav. The distance however took me a good 120 minutes to cover given the hilly terrain and multiple stops for scenic photography captures.
Maheshwar as a town is well advanced with all necessary luxuries that a person may need with a religious touch that transports the mind and soul into trance. The sheer sight of the Narmada river soothes the nerves and makes the mind wander. One thing that starkly stood out in this leg of my solo trip was the power of the diverse gender. The Narmada is worshiped in its feminine form. The power of Narmada comes to light when you climb up the stairs of the Ahilya Fort (another feminine power) and when you reach the spot thats easily 40 to 50 meters high. The locals have marked the spot where the river had entered the fort. She is equal in match to the benevolent queen of Maheshwar – Ahilya Bai Holkar (31 May 1725 – 13 August 1795). The stories of her courage, commitment and non-partisan techniques of ruling her kingdom are still discussed openly. The audacity of her decisions can put to shame some of our current leaders in popular politics.
After a beautiful experience on the banks of the Narmada, I decided it was time to explore the local market and walk the streets of the town. Packed my camera kit and glanced one last time at the dark waters of the river. Vivid reflections on the water made the sight magnificent enough for it to cast an image in my mind forever. I walked down the busy streets of Maheshwar dodging an autorickshaw (tuk-tuk) every 10 meters, bikes with more than 2 riders at times, men carrying heavy loads of veggies and local foodgrain back home, mothers with reluctant children tugging along, an odd child tugging his mom into one of the sweet stores with an ambitious pursuance of convincing his mother to give in and buy a box of freshly prepared hot local delicacies. Brightly lit shops selling local Maheshwari Saarees and fabric all along the busy streets present a feast to the eyes. Happy shopkeepers (on spotting my backpack and camera tripod hanging from it) kept calling me in to take a look at some of their work on display.
I stepped into one of the shops which was displaying beautiful Maheshwari sarees , the fine weaving and finish of the saarees made me want to pick up one for my mom. the vibrant colors and mix of silk could make a saaree cost anywhere between, Rs.2000 to Rs. 25000 (USD 40 to USD 400 approx) or even more at times. Realizing my backpack was packed to the brim with tripods and accessories I put down the saaree and with it the temptation to buy one and walked away with a smile and a promise to the shopkeeper that I would buy one when I visit with my mom.
On the way out I was recommended a few eating places in Maheshwar that were highly recommended for the quality of the food. A big believer of tasting all types of food and a fan of local cuisines I took the bait and started walking towards one of the highly recommended local vegetarian joints – ‘Guru Krupa Bhojanalay‘ (a bhojanalay is a restaurant that serves lip smacking local cuisine without the promise of plush interiors. Most of them dont even have menu cards)
This place stunned me the moment I walked in as it was more like a small niche between two decently sized shops. I was guided to my seating place : a one chair-one table arrangement. I stuffed my backpack under the table making me slightly uncomfortable. A warmly smiling, turbaned gentleman named ParmeetSingh appeared from behind a dusty curtain that separated the makeshift kitchen from the dining area. He wished me time and poured me a glass full of water. I smiled back at him and finished it in quick gulps. The walk from the river to this place had made me thirsty and hungry equally. The fragrance of freshly prepared wheat rotis (Indian flat bread) filled the area and the waiters started serving delicious pure vegetarian local Indian food that lived up to its expectation and made my walk worth every ounce of energy I had spent. This place has been in existence since the early 1900s and passed on to its current owners through family inheritance.
The next day I decided to pay a visit to the Maheshwar Saaree handlooms and also another restaurant known for its ambiance and food – The Laboos Cafe (atop the Ahilya fort). After an early morning photography session at the river, I readied to go back out again to explore the sites. As I climbed towards the top of the Ahilya fort I could see the Narmada river flowing majestically from one end to the other till it merged with the green forest covered mountains in the distance. I kept walking till I was stopped in my steps by a synchronous click-clack sound coming out of an ancient wooden window.
I peeped in to see close to 10 wooden handlooms which were being worked on by local women. These looms take approximately 15 days to make one six yard saaree. Following instructions carefully they create a perfectly symmetric pattern with beautiful colored threads of cotton and silk. Quick pictures and I walked towards Laboos Cafe.
The Laboos Cafe is a part of the fort and offers delicious food and decent basic accommodation. Highly recommended if you like to stay in the fort and experience the ambiance. The food at the cafe was delicious and prepared with lot of care. However, the service could have been definitely a few notches better. If you have time at hand this place is the best place to be as no one really will ask you to leave. One more thing, they require an hours notice to prepare lunch/dinner. Overall good ambiance, food but service leaves the experience slightly asking.
That overall marked the end of my trip to Madhya Pradesh as I packed my bags and left for Indore to board my bus home.
Places to See:
- Ahilya Fort
- Narmada Ghat
- Handlooms in the fort
- Various other Ghats along the Narmada
- Kashi Vishweshwar temple
Places to Eat:
- Gurukripa Bhojanalay
- Laboos Cafe
- Narmada Retreat (MP Tourism)
Reach out to me with your questions in case you need more information.