DAY 132: Our whirlwind tour of the Agra area continued the following day. We again grabbed our driver and tour guide, piled into the Toyota Innova (a vehicle of choice here in India) and drove the 40 km to the ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri.
Of course in India… 40 km = 60+ minutes of driving time.
At least this vehicle had working seat belts (unlike most of the Uber cars we’ve traveled in so far)! I just wish we’d remembered to bring ear plugs to block out much of the car horns/honking. I think drivers must be subjected to moving violation tickets if they don’t honk their horn every 60 seconds!
Fatehpur Sikri is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great walled city, founded in 1569 by Akbar the Great – the 3rd Mughal Emperor. Akbar was the grandfather of Shah Jahan who was the builder of Taj Mahal (see the previous post for more of the history). With just under 4 miles of red sandstone walls protecting the city, it was the capital of the Mughal empire for fourteen years. It’s importance lies in that the walls and palaces inside are some of the best remaining examples of Mughal archetecture.
In addition to the walled city the Royal area contains several palaces, including one each dedicated to his favorite Muslim wife, his favorite Christian wife, and his favorite Hindu wife.
Entering the main Royal compound from a side entrance, in the background one can see the top of the impressive 54 m main entrance called the Buland Darwaza (Gate of Magnificence). More to come on this later.
Adjacent to the treasury and game area (containing a life-sized Parcheesi game board), the Royal meeting hall was located towards the center of the palace. Inside the structure – seen below – the Emperor and his ministers would meet to discuss the business of an empire.
The structure featured below is called the Panch Mahal, a five tiered palace structure with a dome on top. It was said that Akbar would ascend this structure every morning in order to meet the sun and to be available for viewing by his subjects. Many suspect the lower areas were separated by screens and sub-dividers; all the better for Akbar to play hide-and-seek with his concubines!
The Panch Mahal was immediately adjacent to the Emperor’s sleeping chambers and adjacent to an ornamental pool on which Royal musicians could perform.
What is difficult to see on all the above photos is the exquisite detailing of much of the sandstone columns and walls. I have added a few closer up photos. Many of the motifs combine both Islamic and Hindu aspects. For instance, the zig-zag lines follow in the Islamic tradition and there are elephant trunks represent Hindu components.
Fatephur Sikri is also know for the individual palaces to Akbra’s three favorite wives. The Muslim and Christian wives had very nice – but smaller – palaces. However, the Hindu wife was his favorite and her place dwarfed the other two and included both a summer and winter living area.
The Royal area also contained the Jamal Mosque (still active of course) and the Tomb of Salim Chishtie – a Sufi Saint.
In a nutshell, this tomb was created by Akbar for Salim Chishtie because Salim had prayed for a male heir for the Mughal Emperor. Sure enough, a male heir was born. Akbar was so pleased that he built this city – now called Fatehpur Sikri – around the Sufi* man, and named the male heir Salim also in reverence.
*As far as I can determine, Sufi or Sufism originated within the matrix of Islam, and is “a way of life in which a deeper life is discovered and lived”. The concept of recognizing the materialistic world we live in and working to look past that in ones attempt to find meaningfulness and well-being. If this intrigues you, please click here for the sufism.org website.
The tomb also acts as a shrine for people travel to the area, asking for blessings from then Saint and seeking fulfillment of their wishes. These pilgrims would tie a piece of string on one of the marble inlays that adorn the tomb. No photos of the inside were taken out of respect for the visiting and praying pilgrims.
The last major site is the Buland Darwaza, the main gate in which to enter the complex from the South. This “Gate of Magnificence” was built by Akbar to celebrate a great military victory.
Standing 54 m above the ground this large edifice is quite a site to see. And standing outside the entrance and looking outward one can see the city below. Notice the weather was particularly nice on the day we visited.
Jeni and I really enjoyed the city but the kiddos were getting a little bored walking around, especially after the fairly long travel time. We packed back into the car and our driver whisked us back to the comforts of our hotel in Agra. Next on the Bepkos’ travel list? Heading to Jaipur for four days!