After passing through the narrow gates of the fortress and continuing for some distance, you'll arrive in "downtown" Mandu (a collection of shops and stalls in the vicinity of the Central Group of monuments). As soon as you emerge from your car or bus, you'll no doubt be approached by a local guide who will offer his services. Even if your guide -- and there are only a couple in Mandu -- is not a certified expert, this is one place where it can be fun to have someone show you around and enrich your experience with a version of history that overdoes the myth, romance, and fantasy. Establish that he speaks passable English, and agree on a price upfront; expect to pay up to Rs 500 for the day. Monuments are open from 8am to 6pm.

If you don't plan to spend the night in Mandu, start your tour immediately with 15th-century Jama Masjid. Said to have been inspired by the mosque in Damascus, this colossal colonnaded structure bears some Hindu influences, such as the carvings of lotus flowers and decorative bells. Adjacent to the mosque is the mausoleum of Hoshang Shah, the first white marble tomb in India, said to have inspired those in Agra; it's ultimately missable. The Royal Enclave (Rs 100; daily 8am-6pm) is dominated by enormous Jahaz Mahal, commonly known as the "ship palace." Built between two artificial lakes, it certainly was intended to be the ultimate stone pleasure cruiser, where the sultan Ghiyas Shah kept his 15,000 courtesans and an additional 1,000 Amazonians from Turkey and Abyssinia to guard them. Behind the ship palace is Hindola Mahal; its oddly sloping buttress walls have given it the nickname "Swing Palace."

Mandu's main road stretches southward, through open fields dotted with ruins and a few village houses, and continues into the Rewa Kund group of monuments, where the passionate romance between Maharaja Baz Bahadur, the last independent sultan of Malwa, and the beautiful Hindu shepherdess, Rupmati, is preserved in striking stone constructions. Apparently smitten by Rupmati's glorious singing voice, Baz built the Rupmati Pavilion (Rs 100) so that she could see her village in the Narmada Valley below, but things went awry when the Mughal emperor Akbar came to hear of her legendary beauty and voice and wanted to take her home as a souvenir. After a fierce battle in which Baz was defeated, his beloved committed suicide. The view from the pavilion, which stands on the edge of a sheer precipice rising 365m (1,197 ft.) from the valley floor, is still sublime. On the way back from the pavilion, stop at Baz Bahadur's Palace (Rs 100), where the acoustics enjoyed by the musically inclined king remain quite astonishing, even if some of the restoration work is a bit ham-handed.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.