In this blog, we share our experience of visiting the grand Mughal capital of Fatehpur and Sikri, a short distance from Agra. The place had been high on our bucket list since the childhood history lesson days and we weren’t disappointed.
We’ll keep this short and focus on our perspective rather than the historical facts (and myths). Those are better experienced in person, as we did with an insightful guided tour organized by Mr. Abdul Muqtadir, owner and founder of Afhsa Tours.
How to reach Fatehpur
The place is at around an hour’s drive from Agra and easily reachable. Once you reach the entrance of the historic capital of Akbar, be ready to be swarmed by an army of guides/touts who will try to sell everything from their services to souvenirs and parking space. It’s a bummer to be honest, and can put you off. Just ignore and remember why you decided to visit in the first place.
From the official parking space, you need to take a government authorized bus which takes you to the entrance of the Fatehpur complex. You have to buy a ticket, show it to the security guard and then enter through the grand entrance.
How’s it like?
Opulence is an understatement. Every piece of architecture, every artefact, every detail at emperor Akbar’s capital is built around themes of cultural diversity, religious inclusion and extreme wealth.
Sharing below some of the most extravagant pieces of architecture.
The lotus throne
This was the throne used by emperor Akbar while conducting meetings with his elite group of ministers. He would be seated at the center, while his advisors (Bribal being the most famous) would take up the seats on the corners.
The architecture and carvings on the pillar supporting Akbar’s throne is a fusion of Hindu, Muslim, Jain and Buddhist symbols. This symbolized secularism, that the emperor’s decisions and the rule of law was equal and above all religious believes.
The palace is supported completely on pillars and overlooks the Yamuna river. There are no walls, making the place bright and airy throughout the day. Due to it’s height, the palace is oriented in such a fashion that it is not impacted by the changing direction of winds throughout the year.
Headless stone carvings
The entire palace complex is dotted with exquisite sone carvings. What catches your attention is that the creatures in many of these paintings are head-less, the rest of the painting being completely intact.
The explanation behind this mystery is that the eyes of creatures on these carvings were depicted by embedding precious diamonds. When the British looted the palace, they found it easier to break off the entire pieces of stone heads rather than carve out individual diamonds.
For someone with the grandeur of Akbar, king and queen size bed’s wouldn’t suffice. His bed was “emperor size”, with an elevated sleeping platform and a window for a headboard.
The bedroom is architectured in such a fashion that it felt cool and comfortable during a 40 degree Celsius summer afternoon. For winters, a bonfire was lit under the bed, keeping it warm and cozy for the emperor. Heated mattresses, anyone?
The diwan-i-khas complex, or the meeting place for special dignitaries is a grand complex with a central courtyard surrounded by rooms used for various purposes. Needless to say again, the architecture is awe-inspiring.
For the artistic readers
There area couple of semi-legible paintings which are believed to be of Akbar and one of his officials. There are various interpretations of who is believed to be in those pictures. We believe it’s Akbar himself in the first one. What’s your opinion? Let us know in the comments.
We only wish that these were restored and better preserved by the Archeological Survey of India.
Dargah of Saint Salim Chishti
And finally, no visit to Fatehpur Sikri is complete without offering your prayers at the tomb of Sufi Saint Salim Chishti. It is believed that Akbar’s eldest son was born only after the emperor sought blessings for a male heir from saint Salim Chishti. In the saint’s honor, Akbar christened his son Salim, who was later known as emperor Jahangir.
The tomb is the only white marble structure in the sea of red-stone capital complex. It houses the graves of the saint and his family members. You can easily draw parallels with the Taj Mahal’s architecture.
The place has a quiet, meditative calmness about it. You can relax for a while in the fragrant marble courtyards to rejuvenate yourself. We were fortunate to have the experience of listening to Sufi saints praising the lord by performing popular bollywood tracks like Khwaja-mere-khwaja.
Finally, you end the tour by clicking a picture under the grand buland darwaza. At 54 meters from the ground, it is one of the highest arched gateways in the world and acts as an old entrance to the complex.
A word about our guide
With places like Fatehpur Sikri, there’s history in every stone and in every sight. You can only experience and appreciate the marvels of the place if you understand the history, the stories and the myths behind it. Therefore, visiting with a knowledgeable guide is a no-brainer.
We were lucky enough to find a gem of a person in Abdul Muqtadir as our guide. He’s an official guide with the Archeological survey of India and a local. He explains the intricacies of capital complex in great detail, sharing both the established facts and the believed myths, without taking sides. Fluent in both Hindi and English, he also conducts planned tours in other popular north Indian destinations like Delhi, Jaipur and Agra.
Do get in touch with him if you plan to visit. You won’t be disappointed. Highly recommended. You can check out his website (Afsha tours) or get in touch with him over phone/WhatsApp.
Hope you liked the blog. Do whare your feedback and experiences in the comment below.