Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fathepur Sikri.

At Fathepur Sikri, the 5 story Panch Mahal in the background.


It's mid afternoon on September 30th. So far, I've spent the day visiting the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and shopping. I'm getting tired, I'm quickly beginning to reach sensory overload and am ready to call it a day......

But per my itinerary, I had one more place to go to - Fathepur Sikri.

To appreciate Fathepur Sikri, you really do need to understand a bit of its background.

Fathepur Sikri was constructed by the great Moghul Emperor, Akbar (1556-1605). The story goes as follows. After years of having no son and heir, Akbar made pilgrimages to many holy men so that they would pray for a son. Sheikh Salim Chishti, a Sufi saint from the village of Sikri, told the emperor that he would have three sons, and when the prophecy was fulfilled in 1570, Akbar was so impressed that he resolved to build an entirely new capital there in honour of the saint. During the following 14 years a new city appeared on the hill where the sheikh lived - "Fatehpur" (town of victory) added to the name of the old village, "Sikri".

Construction of the new ceremonial capital, with its elaborate palaces, formal courtyards, reflecting pools, harems, tombs and a great mosque, commenced in 1571. Fifteen years after the contsructins was completed, it was realized that there was a lack of an adequate water supply and the pristine complex was abandoned.

Birj dropped Hamid and I off at the bus park that's located just a few kilometres from Fathepur Sikri. From there, we boarded one of the shuttles for the short ride to the entrance gate.

As we waited on the bus, enterprising Indian kids would come up to the bus windows and try and make a deal. I don't know where they learn their negotiation skills from but they can be a tough and perisistent lot to try and do any bargaining with!
There are two main complexes to Fathepur Sikri - the Royal Palace and the Jami Masjid and each has its own distinct set of structures.

We started our tour at the Royal Palace. As you pass the entrance gate, you enter into a grass covered courtyard.


The main building, in the courtyard, is the Diwan-I-Am or Hall of Public Audience. It is here that Akbar, among other activities, heard petitions of the general public.
In contrast to the Hall of Public Audience, there is also the Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience where Akbar held private court with trusted officials and clerics.

Diwan-i-Khas located at the far right.

Closer view of the Diwan-i-Khas.

The Diwan-i-Khas is renowed for its interior which is composed of a vaulted ceiling held up by a single red sandstone pillar - as ornately carved as any pillar I have ever seen!
Atop the pillar is a circular throne for Akbar and four walkways. Legend as it that anyone who was lucky to be invited to sit next to Akbar had to crawl his way along one of the walkways.

Circular throne and walkways atop the pillar.


Close up views of the sandstone pillar in Diwan-i-Khas.

Next, it was on to Daulat Khana and Astrologer's Seat. Daulat Khana means "treasury." and may have been a government office where the accounts were kept. A domed pavillion, the fancifully-named Astrologer's Seat, fronts the southeast corner.


Me, standing by the Astrologer's Seat.


Next stop. Jodh Bai’s Palace. Jodh Bai was the Hindu wife of Akbar and the mother of Jahangir who would inherit the throne from Akhar. This large palace is a blend of Muslim and Hindu architecture.
The detail work of the stone carving inside the palace is simply stunning.

View of carved wall.

View of pillar and ceiling.

Close up of carved wall panels.




Back outside, it was on to the Rosewater Pool. Akbar's wives would sit on the platform located in the middle of the pool and enjoy the fragant smell of flowers.
It was then off to Jami Masjid - a separate complex of buildings located about a 5 minute walk from the Royal Palace complex. Up the stairs, remove your shoes and cross the threshold of the Triumphal Gate....

....and you enter into another massive courtyard.

The Triumphal Gate as viewed from the courtyard.

The white marble structure is the tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti.

I can't remember what this building was but the interior was magnificent - more sandstone carving and white marble inlay.





Unlike the Royal Palace complex which exists solely as a tourist site, the Jami Masjid complex is open to locals - Muslims go there to pray and the place is teeming with vendors selling all sorts of trinkets. Hamid and I did a quick walk through of several of the buildings in the complex and then made a beeline for tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti.
There was a crush of people pushing to get inside. Before I knew it, I was swept up in it. At some point, Hamid grabbed one of the free plastic caps that they pass out to visitors and plopped it on my uncovered head. Inside was a room that housed the actual tomb which was covered with all sorts of offerings. Hamid handed me a black plastic bag. Inside the bag were rose petals. He told me to scatter the petals on the tomb.....which I dutifully did at the same time walking around the tomb.


Close up view of wall inlaid with semi-precious stones.
View of the courtyard through a latticed window.
Soon I was back at the entrance where I removed my cap and met back up with Hamid outside. We exited the Triumphal Gate and I took one last photo before we headed back to the bus.
I had no idea what to expect with Fathepur Sikri and it turned out to be a wonderful surprise. There was so much to see and I wish I had done a bit more research before I arrived but even without all that, I enjoyed my visit. I arrived to Fathepur Sikri already exhausted from a great day of sightseeing and I left with more lasting memories of my trip to Agra.