2019 ended with a bang at the Mandu Festival. The last week of the year is special, most people are in vacation mode. In the winters in northern India you can sit back and relax and enjoy the rich food and hot tea. I missed the winters in hot and humid Goa and took the opportunity to spend a few days in the winter while enjoying everything the Mandu Festival promised.
In my eyes, Mandu is a relaxed little mountain town that is littered with ruins and water everywhere. The festival promised to draw the soul into the place. A few years ago I had attended a similar festival on the banks of the Krishna River in 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 get involved with. There was no plan to go anywhere, but then surprises are an essential part of any trip. The Bagh Cave trip was a snap.
Share some of my cherished moments from the festival.
Narmada Arti @ Mandu Festival
I landed in Mandu at dusk. On the other side of the campsite, the golden sun melted with the water of the lake. The trees were beautifully decorated with dream catchers and colorful threads. I looked at the activities and participating in Narmada Arti at Reva Kund was the best way to start the festival. It is always a pleasure to see an Arti on a river, be it Ganga Arti in Kashi or Sarayu Arti in Ayodhya.
This was at the end of December, around 8 p.m., and a man with a cotton dhoti was standing in the freezing water of Reva Kund. As the arti made progress, he floated in the Kund and held the high diyas of arti, conch shell, coconut and flowers, his legs folded in a yogic posture. It was a real sadhak.
After Arti, I spoke to him and discovered that he is a teacher in a nearby village and is performing this Sadhna in a 64 Yogini temple there. Now I had to visit this temple and I did it at the end of my trip.
Hot air balloon flight over Mandu
Hot air ballooning was my main motivation to attend the Mandu Festival. It turned out to be more adventurous than we had planned. In the early morning, long before the sun rose, we drove to the ground behind the old Ram temple in Mandu. 5 huge balloons were fired to blow us up. My balloon had 10 people, including our pilot, whose rest we would soon appreciate.
We first sighted the beautiful monuments on the edges of the waters in Mandu. As we flew on we saw the beautiful landscape of valleys and rugged mountains. The sun played hide and seek and the haze gave him a mystical look. We flew on and watched a medley with 5 colorful balloons being played over a green carpet of valleys, rivers, fields and caves in the sky. We would go down enough to talk to the people among us who were initially afraid and then enjoyed themselves.
After a 40-45 minute flight we saw a few balloons landing. Our pilot was in no hurry and we didn’t complain. We flew for almost 2 hours and couldn’t find a flat surface to land on.
Landing in the fields
There were fields below us, but landing on fields would mean spoiling the harvest. We flew until we had gasoline to stay in the air. Ultimately, we had to land in a field right on the bank of a river.
When we landed, we created quite a spectacle where villagers from all surrounding villages gathered to see a giant balloon landing. Our first question after landing was – where are we? How far are we from Mandu? It felt almost like a strange landing in an unknown place.
I was worried about the harvest we had spoiled, but no one mentioned it. A young 9th standard girl, Sushila More, gave an amazing tour and took us to the next street. It took us a couple of hours to get back to our campsite. This would remain an unforgettable experience for a long time.
Read more: Adventure activities in the Amaravati hot air balloon over the Krishna river
Musical concerts @ Mandu Festival
On all three evenings I was at the festival, I sat back and enjoyed concerts with Prem Joshua and Navraj Hans from the Indian Ocean. With a cultural monument as a backdrop for the stage and relaxing in the air, it was the perfect place to listen to live music. The Indian Ocean that played ‘Ma Reva’ shortly after we visited the Narmada Arti was like another Arti off the stage. Prem Joshua inspired me with his Shakti chants like – Sarv Mangal Mangaley.
I only sat for the Navraj Hans concert to hear Punjabi, my mother tongue. However, he impressed me with the way he dealt with everyone present and with his online fan base at the moment. A rare artist who not only appreciated every member of his team, but also never forgot that his wife was in the audience. What energy he created on stage!
On the first day, a fashion show, at which the local girls presented the local weaving mills, started the concert.
A small lake corner showed paintings by various participating artists. I loved the gond images, which are visual stories of the gond tribes. Some of them tell of deities they worship, others only show everyday life in the jungle of central India.
The area was full of geometric mandana patterns made with white on gerua or rusty paint. These are typical ritual images on the floor like Rangoli or Kolam for auspicious occasions such as weddings.
Paintings by art students were equally interesting. It was encouraging to know that many of these paintings were sold during the festival. When the festival becomes a platform for presenting local talent, it has served its purpose.
Open air yoga
For the first time in my life, I did yoga under the morning sky with clouds busy painting it. On a monument that is likely to be used for the first time after centuries, we turned and turned with our friendly yoga teacher.
64 Yogini Temples – Mandu
There are only 64 Yogini temples and I have to visit one more. I really wanted to see this 64 yogini temple that is still practiced since most of the others I’ve read about no longer exist. I landed in Jirapur and this tiny temple stands on the bank of a huge lake.
Long walls with the remains of an old stone temple are embedded on both sides of the sanctuary. These are broken murtis, fragments of shivalingas, ceiling pieces and pillars. They only tell you that there was once a magnificent 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 in the 64 Yogini Temple, I could see many devotees visiting the temple. I have been told that there is a large crowd every Tuesday since the full name of the temple is 64 Yogini 52 Bhairav Temple.
The event menu featured cultural heritage walks, including an Instagram walk, hop-on hop-off bus tours, and land tours. A colorful food court celebrated the local food and I can’t tell you what the Jalebi feels like in the biting cold.
Overall, the festival had something for all types of interest – heritage, art, culture, music, culinary, spiritual, adventure, and sports. Try it out next year for your year-end vacation. Keep an eye on hers website,
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