Although I didn’t entirely understand the tour guide because of my lack of Hindi skills, I still had a wonderful time exploring Fatehpur Sikri. Fatehpur Sikri is a capital of the Mughal empire built by the emperor Akbar in the late 1500s. It was in use for around 15 years and was abandoned because of the lack of water sources.
|Approaching Fatehpur Sikri|
When I imagined what Fatehpur Sikri would look like, I thought of an abandoned city in the desert with buildings in ruins. I certainly wasn’t expecting people to be living all around the walls of the city with hawkers and scammers running rampant. As I was in India and near a major city, I have no idea why I was expecting that there would be no one around, but this was far from the case.
There is a whole infrastructure surrounding tourism at Fatehpur Sikri. There are “guides” who take tourists from the parking lot to the city. There are actual guides who give tours of the city. There are people selling knick-knacks. There were even people with baskets of guavas selling fruit outside the entrance.
Since we didn’t have a good idea of what to see inside, we hired a guide to take us from the parking area to Fatehpur Sikri and show us around the city.
|Courtyard of the Jama Masjid. The domes on the walls used to house candles to light up the courtyard.|
Our first visit was to the Jama Masjid complex, including a mosque and courtyard. We walked around the courtyard and saw the mosque along with an area containing many graves. In many of the alcoves, there were people sitting on the ground with small marble boxes and other knickknacks for sale. The guide tried fairly aggressively to get us to buy souvenirs, but I had no space in my luggage and was more concerned about seeing the city.
|Entrance to the Jama Masjid mosque|
After we refused to buy souvenirs and asked to go inside Fatehpur Sikri instead, the guide told us that he would not be entering the city with us. Although our agreement had been that he would show us around the city, he ended up leaving after we paid him almost the full amount we had originally agreed upon.
We bought tickets and entered Fatehpur Sikri where we found another guide to lead us through the city. This guide was far better; I imagine he was actually a guide whereas the “guide” we had found outside was most likely just a random person trying to make a living.
We started our tour by seeing a couple of palaces that used to be occupied by women in the palace. Maryam’s house is a building that was supposedly occupied by emperor Akbar’s mother, Hamida Banu Begum. Interestingly, there are Hindu gods carved as decorations in this building.
|In front of the Panch Mahal|
We saw several other buildings belonging to Akbar’s harem before arriving at one of the most famous structures in Fatehpur Sikri, the Panch Mahal. The Panch Mahal is a five-story pavilion, in which the number of columns decreases with each story from 84 on the bottom story to only four at the top. The total number of columns in the structure is 176. The purpose of the pavilion was to allow air flow and alleviate the heat. It is a common element of Persian architecture.
|Akbar’s seat in the Diwan-i-Khas|
Another famous structure in Fatehpur Sikri is Diwan-i-Khas, the hall of private audiences where Akbar sat with his ministers to dispense justice. According to our guide, the column under Akbar’s seat in the middle of the hall contains carvings from Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism, indicating that Akbar was the one unified ruler for all religions and the one person who could thus decide justice.
Next, we saw a building which was supposedly a residence for a couple of Akbar’s queens. I loved the intricate carving and detail on this building. The patterns were quite impressive.
One of the famous views in Fatehpur Sikri is that of the Anup Talao in front of the Panch Mahal. The Anup Talao is the basin filled with water that contains a platform in the middle for Akbar to sit with his queens. This was the space reserved for entertainment, where dancers and other performers would give performances for Akbar and his queens. At some point, the pool of water was apparently filled with gold and silver coins.
|Part of Jodha Bai’s palace|
The last part of our tour was Jodha Bai’s palace. A Hindu queen resided here, and as such , there is a temple in the complex. There are also two residential quarters in the palace, a summer palace and a winter palace. The summer palace sits next to an artificial lake, which helped keep the palace cool.
Fatehpur Sikri is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and after visiting it, it’s not difficult to see why it’s worth preserving. Since it was only used for a few years after construction was finished, most of the monuments are in remarkably good shape and are certainly not the ruins I was expecting. My visit there was a definite highlight of my trip to India, and I encourage anyone who goes to Agra to make a trip there!
Would you like to go to Fatehpur Sikri?