Now that I am off cloud 9 after my visit to the Taj Mahal, I can think once more about a place I visited the day before – Fatehpur Sikri. Try spell-checking that baby!
Both these wonderful places are in Agra and if the Taj didn’t hog all the limelight, Fatehpur Sikri would be much more famous. If it was a person, it would be the jaw-dropping redhead soon unbelievably overshadowed by the birth of a glamorous blonde younger sister.
In real life, Fatehpur would cut the backs out of all Taj’s dresses and burn her hair with the curling iron.
What is even more amazing is that both these beauties live in the – how can I put it? – dump that is Agra, a 3-5 hour drive south of Delhi.
I thought the traffic in Mumbai was bad but in Agra, which is just a fraction of its size, it’s 100 times worse plus when you are in a jam you are in it with donkeys, bullocks, cows, monkeys, trucks, cars, bikes and tuk-tuks. I counted 12 people in one of these tiny motorised rickshaws in one standstill.
We tried to fit three in one back in Mumbai and had to give up and get a taxi!
Anyway, my friend Michael who has spent a lot of time in India told me about Fatehpur Sikri and it’s just as well because it’s 40km on the other side of Agra from Delhi, so not exactly on the way to anything.
My guide, Sanjay (he of the despairing “Mumtaj!”), was delighted that I wanted to go there as just like the Taj it has a pretty good story behind it too.
So, Akbar, the grandfather of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal, built this royal palace on a somewhat out-of-the-way spot to thank the saint who lived there for helping him have a son, a job he was otherwise struggling with.
(This son, by the way, turned out to be a hopeless lush who drank 24 bottles of wine a day, according to Sanjay. When Akbar gave his boy the hard word about his boozing, he turned to his father and said, “God gave me two lips, Pops, one for tasting wine and one for tasting women,” which just goes to prove that kids have always been spoilt and ungrateful.)
Anyway, Akbar used the best of Persian and Indian architecture and workmanship to build this most amazing red stone palace, on a hill looking out over his enemies in all directions but almost the moment it was finished, in 1585, he had to abandon it.
No water! Bit of an oversight.
And with a boozehound for a son he probably didn’t want to stick around if wine was all there was to drink.
So Fatehpur Sikri was left as a ghost city, with no guests staying in its beautiful arched rooms, no king and queen sleeping in its raised super-king-size bed, no dancers in it’s dancing school, no beautiful girls playing on its human parchese board, no private audiences in it’s small court, or public ones in its large court, nobody anywhere doing anything.
But the place is to this day in perfect nick.
Like a smaller, more accessible version of the Forbidden City in Beijing, it’s a beautiful monument to how life once was in a galaxy far, far away.
We visited in the late afternoon – it closes at 5.30 and we were leaving just before then – which is a great time to go because the light is just gorgeous, not only on the red brick but on the surrounding countryside.
Sanjay and I walked back down the hill to the car park instead of taking the bus so we could commune with the goat world and walk in Akbar’s shoes. Not that they probably ever touched the ground.
And his son must have been permanently legless so I guess he was carried everywhere too!
But my flip flops and I kicked up the dust most spiritedly, stopping only to admire the tomb Akbar built for his favourite elephant whom he used to squash people to death when his court found them guilty.
(With his foot, not by sitting on them. Well, you would have asked too.)