Thursday, June 22, 2017

Akbar's City. Fatehpur Sikri.


On my 2007 trip to Agra, one of the places I fell in love with was Fatehpur Sikri.  On that day, it was blisteringly hot.  I remember having to dart from one place to another, on my tip toes, to avoid having to fully plant my feet down on the super hot stone pavement.  I had warned the girls that we might have to do the same today.    I came to Fathepur Sikri after I had been to the Taj Mahal and Red Fort and the architecture of Fatehpur Sikri could not have been more different and yet just as beautiful in its own way.  I had a really good guide that day.   I remember him explaining to me about how the emperor had built palaces for each of his three wives, reflecting their religious backgrounds - Hindu, Islam, and Christian.  I remember him taking me to Diwan-i-Khas and pointing out the massive center pillar.  I remember paying my respects at the mosque.  I had high hopes that the girls would have a similar if not better experience but sadly it did not turn out that way.

Fatehpur Sikri was was founded in 1569 by the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great, the grandfather of Shah Jahan, the emperor who built the Taj.  Fatehpur Sikri took the next fifteen years to be built.  It is a walled city with royal palaces, harem, courts, a mosque, private quarters and other utility buildings.  Originally, Akbar named the city Fatehabad, with Fateh, a word of Arabic origin in Persian, meaning "victorious." It was later renamed Fatehpur Sikri.

Dinesh had given us an hour for lunch and that was plenty of time.  After wrapping our meal, we left the restaurant and met back up with him at the car.  It was off to Fatehpur Sikri!

My impressions of Agra, after my last visit, was that it was not a pretty city.  In fact, I always said it was an ugly city.  Just a lot of jumbled run down buildings.  I don't recall ever seeing a park.  I know there are nice hotels here but I've never seen them.  Park?  No.  My first impressions of Agra are still valid.  There's no charm to the place.  Thankfully, it has those incredible Mughal era landmarks.

We hadn't driven far from the restaurant when Dinesh pulled the car over and turned off the engine.  We had no clue what was happening though he was on his cellphone and so he was obviously in contact with someone.  A few minutes later, a young man approached the car.  Turns out that he was our guide for Agra.  He introduced himself as Saeed.  Unlike Dinesh, Saeed's English was pretty much perfect and he seemed to be a bit shy and reserved but hopefully, he'll warm up to us.  From Agra, it's not a very long ride to Fatehpur Sikri and this being the low season, traffic was not bad at all.




As we neared Fatehpur Sikri, Dinesh parked the car and we all got out.  Saeed then hailed down a large tuk-tuk to take us the rest of the way.  I don't remember riding in a tuk-tuk on my last visit here.  I was grateful for the tuk-tuk as my ankle is still not swollen.  I am hobbling along fine but I welcome any chance to not have to walk on it.



Saeed and Ayşe in the tuk-tuk.

The tuk-tuk driver deposited us off at the bottom of a hill.  I guess the vehicle did not have enough power to take us all the way up.  Oh well.  I just slowly limped my way up the hill.  At the top were all the souvenir and food vendors, situated across from yet another hill.  This one though would take us up to the actual entrance to Fatehpur Sikri.  As we got out of the tuk-tuk, we were introduced to yet another guide - Rihan.  He would be our local guide to take us around Fatehpur Sikri itself.  Very, very friendly fella.  So were all the street ragamuffin boys who quickly spotted three potential targets.  These kids were very persistent.  They wanted to know where were from, where we were going, did we need this, that or the other.  Chantale, being the sociable one in our group, got stuck with them as I had pretty much shaken them off of me.  I had no idea what they were up to but I was not interested.

We followed Rihan and Saeed on the path up to the entrance gate leading inside Fatehpur Sikri.  I don't remember coming this way in 2007. 

Rihan and Saeed.

At the entrance, we took off our shoes and then entered through the gates.  I was shocked by the sight that greeted me.  The central plaza area was filled with makeshift vendor stalls, covered with cheap plastic tarps held up by bamboo poles.  It looked awfully messy.  According to Rihan, there was some sort of a celebration taking place here but it was odd.  Sadly, the presence of all the messiness does not make for a pretty picture.



We stood in the shade of one of the covered walkways.  There were people laying around everywhere.  It was as if they were camping out here.  This is suppose to be an important historic site not to mention UNESCO World Heritage so people, what the ???  Sleep somewhere else!!  I do not remember any of this from my 2007 trip.  I recall a place that was spotlessly clean.  Today, it's like a hellhole.


While Rihan set about doing his duties of a guide, explaining the history of Fatehpur Sikri to us, I leaned against one of the pillars to take the weight off of my ankle and to take a few photos.  Don't ask me why but the moment I stepped inside Fatehpur Sikri, I decided to just take photos with my cellphone rather than using my dSLR.  Perhaps, I had already made up my mind that with all the mess around us, the photos weren't going to come out nice anyway.  Nothing like lowering your own standards beforehand.  Very sad.






As we made our way past the tombstones, I spotted a young kid on a bicycle.  He was towing a cart filled with more kids.  I pointed out the sight to Chantale.  Of course, she ran towards them to get the shot. 


I stayed put where I was but here's one of the three shots I took.  There were a cute bunch of kids....just having some fun!





We followed Rihan to an area behind the tombstones.  I can't remember what he was pointing out.  My ankle was starting to throb so I held back on walking as much as I could.  It really did limit what I could see.  I pointed out the exquisite carved marble windows to Ayşe so she too could admire the intricacy of the carving.  She remembered that this is an Islamic site so she came dressed appropriately.  She donned her headscarf and posed for the photo.  I told her, jokingly, that she looked very Muslim.  She nodded and said, "of course".


All the other ickiness aside, I still love the red sandstone architecture here.





Rihan asked for my cellphone and took the shot below.  Very touristy thing to do.  Had I taken the shot, I would've centered the building in the middle of the star.  My symmetric eye has issues when things are not properly centered or aligned.  That's the OCD part of me 😁


Off to one side of the plaza area stands a very distinctive looking building; it is the only one constructed of white marble.  The building is the tomb of Salim Chishti, a Sufi saint that Akbar respected.  Akbar that the tome built for him.  Inside is Chishti's cenotaph.  Visitors need to enter with their heads covered.  You can pick up a basket of rose petals and as you circumvent the cenotaph, walking in a clockwise direction, you can scatter the petals over the cenotaph.  I let the gals do this as I had already done so before.




While I waited for the girls to return, I took a couple photos of Jama Masjid (aka Friday Mosque) which was actually built in 1648 by Akbar's grandson, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and dedicated to his loving daughter, Jahanara Begum.  Looking at the architecture of the mosque, it reminded me of the ones I visited in Uzbekistan.  You can see the influences in the design.  I guess it's not surprising given that Babar, the founder of the Mughal empire, descended from Timur, the founder of the Timurid empire which ruled in Uzbekistan.  Timur's artistic eye can be seen in every one of the magnificent buildings in Samarkand, his capital city.



It didn't take long for the girls to pay their respects.  After that, our visit to Fatehpur Sikri was over.  What?  What about the Royal Complex with its palaces, pools and Diwan-i-Khas with its beautiful center pillar?  I don't know if we didn't go because we were running up against closing time or because that section was closed for renovation.  I was too frazzled to ask the questions at the time but I figured out later that we left Fatehpur Sikri early so we could make it to another site before closing.  So, we didn't get to see as much of Fatehpur Sikri as I hoped we would.  Sadly, what we saw today really does not do justice to the place.

As we made our way back towards the entrance gate which was now our exit gate, we passed by a group of young adults sitting on some steps.  They shouted out that they wanted a photo of us.  Oh....here we go again.  This time I decided that instead of them taking photos of us, we would do a selfie.  So I got down on the lowest step and held up the phone and snapped a photo.   As you can see, I was more concerned about getting all their (some not so happy) faces in, rather than my own!




On our way out, we picked up our shoes and headed back down the hill.  For me, hobbling downhill is even harder than going up hill so I took really small baby steps.  Everyone will just have to wait for me.  At the bottom of the hill, the ever so persistent group of ragamuffin boys were waiting for us.  They remembered each of us very clearly - reciting back to us answers that we had given to them.  I just brushed them off and so did Chantale.  Rihan jumped in and spoke to them sternly.  That finally did the trick.  The three of us plus Saeed got back into the tuk-tuk while Rihan rode on his motorcycle.  Back at the car, Dinesh was waiting for us.  We tipped Rihan for his time and said our thank you's and goodbyes.

We have one last place to go to before we can call it a day.  This wasn't in our itinerary but considering where and what it is, I cannot complain. In fact, I'm thrilled!