Mandhu it some more
Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
115Trip End Mar 21, 2008
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We had hoped to sleep in today following our sleepless bus ride the previous night and an early start the day before. However, a major drama is unfolding right outside our room. Two Danish girls had ordered breakfast a long time ago and it still isn't here. "How much longer?" they demand. "Oh, only five minutes, sir" replies the boy uncertainly. This continues every five minutes as the breakfast is inexplicably delayed. Finally, once everyone is awake, the breakfast arrives, just as the girls have left to catch their bus.
So we venture out on our one-speed rental bikes to explore the famous ruins of Mandhu. Actually, to call them ruins isn't really fair because they are all in pretty good shape for their age. The first one is called Jaheez Mahal, or 'Swinging Palace'. It sounds a bit like a nightclub but it is called that because the palace appears to be swinging between the artificial lakes on either side of it. It was also the home to the Sultan's massive harem, so perhaps the name is appropriate after all. Mandhu is very notoriety. There are probably 10 white people in town today, so we have the whole huge Palace grounds to ourselves. We wander around, without much appreciation for what we are looking at but just enjoying the chance to explore such a cool place in absolute quiet. As we are leaving a bus full of tourists arrives so, again, our timing is perfect.
From Jaheez Mahal we cycle down the hill, through the centuries-old stone arch that serves as the town border. We pass tiny ramshackle huts with grubby but smiling children standing out front while their mothers sweep garbage into a little pile or smooth out a cow pat for future use as roof insulation. Everyone greets us with enormous "Namastes" and wave at us even as we cycle into the distance. In the middle of this extremely rural, remote setting, miles from any town or city, is, of all things, a helicopter pad, painted on the side of the road. Right next to the helipad is a deserted children's park containing one set of swings and two enormous, life-sized model dinosaurs. India is a country full of surprises, so seeing a huge T-Rex and Stegosaurus in the middle of nowhere, next to a helipad, just seems par for the course.
Later in the evening we return to the hotel after another dinner at our favourite restaurant. The owner of the hotel is sitting by himself outside, next to a small fire, working his way through a bottle of whiskey and he beckons us to come and sit with him. Until a week ago he was the mayor of Mandhu but every five years the position rotates between a townsperson and a tribal person. Initially we suspect that he may be depressed by his change in career but it becomes apparent that he is actually celebrating.
"There is much bureaucracy in Indian politics", he says wistfully. "Because I am mayor, the government says I cannot develop my land or make additions to my hotel". He points at two enormous plastic paddle boats shapes like ducks that are sitting on the lawn. "I used to rent these to tourists on the lake but the locals said 'why can the mayor have that business?' so I had to stop. I had a restaurant here in the hotel but people were always coming over to talk politics and I lost money." As he plows further through the bottle, he becomes more and more unintelligible, so we make our excuses and leave him by his fire.