Fatehpur Sikri can be considered as a city that time forgot. An emperor built an impressive city and wrote a new poetry with the stones and one day suddenly abandons it for some inexplicable reason. I wanted to visit this deserted city from the years. I wandered in India here and there, but never reached to Fatehpur Sikri. I had seen Taj Mahal once in the childhood, but Fatehpur Sikri always lured me from a distance. The reason behind this was its closeness to Delhi. I always thought that I could reach there anytime. The same situation is with Khajuraho also. Anyway, Khajuraho is still far, but one day I found myself in Agra. I got three days leaves and it seemed a perfect time to visit Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. Thus on a fine day of December, we visited Fatehpur Sikri to complete another trip of my life.
Fatehpur Sikri is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This site basically has three distinct complexes. First, The Mosque Complex at the highest level, comprises a Dargah (Tomb) of Shiekh Salim Chisti with Jami Mosque and a lofty gateway known as Buland Darwaja; second, The Royal Complex consists the royal enclosures of the palaces, the harems and official buildings of Emperor Akbar and the third one, The Public Complex, at the lowest level, comprises Panch Mahal, Khwabgah, Anup Talao, Diwan-i-Aam etc. This post is about the Mosque Complex i.e. Jami Mosque, Salim Chisti’s Tomb and Buland Darwaja.
How To Reach Fatehpur Sikri? Fatehpur Sikri is a small town in Agra district of Uttar Pradesh, at a distance of 39 kms from Agra. It is just 3 kms off from the Agra-Jaipur-Bikaner National Highway 11. Jaipur is approx. 210 kms away from Fatehpur Sikri.
There is no airport in Fatehpur Sikri. Nearest Airport in Agra is not serving by any scheduled operator these days. However, there are regular scheduled flights to Jaipur from various parts of the country. Delhi Airport, 230 kms away, is the best option for international traveler. There are plenty of scheduled flights connecting Delhi to the rest of the world.
If you are coming from Jaipur to Agra, then you can stop en-route to visit Fatehpur Sikri, But if you are travelling from Delhi or from any other place, then best way to reach Fatehpur Sikri is to travel via Agra. Fatehpur Sikri is worth-visiting for a single day only. No need to spend a night there. There are various ways to reach Fatehpur Sikri from Agra:
1. Reserved Cabs/Taxis: Your hotel can easily arrange you a reserved cab. Our hotel in Taj Ganj area of Agra quoted us Rs.800 full day price for a tourist cab to Fatehpur Sikri. But, I had an option of a public bus. So, I declined that offer.
2. Trains: Forget them. Buses are more frequent and efficient than the trains. But, if you really want to travel by the train, do it only for an experience and catch 08:00 AM train (Kota Passenger, Fare Rs. 8) from Agra Fort Railway Station (close to Agra Fort near Bijali Ghar) to reach Fatehpur Sikri and in the afternoon, catch 03:55 PM train (Again Kota Passenger, Fare Rs. 8) for the return journey. Fatehpur Sikri has a small train station and train takes approx. one hour to reach Fatehpur Sikri. Train can be overcrowded or may be delayed during the foggy weather.
3. Public Buses: Best, efficient and cheapest way to reach Fatehpur Sikri. Public buses are available from Idgah Bus Stand in Agra to Fatehpur Sikri at every hour during day time. The bus also takes one hour to reach there and fare is Rs.32 per person for single journey. Bus Stand in Fatehpur Sikri is near to the Buland Darwaja, so you can easily walk towards the Buland Darwaja after leaving the bus.
How to reach Idgah Bus Stand from Taj Ganj? Maximum tourists prefer to stay in Taj Ganj area during their visit to Agra. To reach Idgah Bus Stand from Taj Ganj, you can get a reserved auto-rickshaw (tuk-tuk) in not more than Rs.60-70. Alternatively, you can catch a shared auto-rickshaw from Auto Stand (populalry known as Adde in Taj Ganj) to Bijali Ghar in Rs. 5 per person. At Bijli Ghar, cross the round circle to reach the other side of the road. From there, another shared auto-rickshaw will take you to Idgah Bus Stand in Rs.10. Idgah Bus Stand is approx. one kilometer before the Agra Cantt Railway Station.
From Agra to Fatehpur Sikri: We reached Idgah Bus Stand around 09:45 AM and right after entering inside the bus terminus, we saw a UPSRTC bus going to Fatehpur Sikri. Lot of seats were vacant and we also occupied two seats. Within ten minutes, all seats were occupied and bus started at its scheduled time at 10:00 AM. Majority of passengers in the bus were either tourists or devotees going to the Shrine of Sheikh Salim Chisti as it was Thursday. The one hour journey from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri is truly enjoyable. Highway is very good, in excellent condition and passes in the middle of lush green fields, those were full of yellow flowers of mustard. It is an immensely rich agricultural zone and landscape looks flat as far as you can see with small villages in the middle of fields or along the highway. Finally, we reached Fatehpur Sikri at 11.00 AM. The main bus stand is inside the market, 300 meters ahead, but we left the bus on a link road going towards Buland Darwaja, because this road seemed less crowded in comparison to the road going from the middle of the crowded market, near bus stop.
At Fatehpur Sikri: We alighted from the bus and moved towards the Buland Darwaja. And with our first step on that road, our struggle also started. Road was very good, no steep climb, weather was pleasant and we were also in jolly mood along with other tourists..then why that struggle? It was because of the omnipresent touts, or so-called guides. It felt like a gang of guides attacked on us. From a children of 10 years to a man of 50 years, there was hundreds of guides or touts, at each step. But nobody was official. They all are the local people of Fatehpur Sikri, who declare themselves as the tourist guides. and their rates,they started from Rs. 50, but as I declined to hire and moved on, the rate was slowly decreasing and finally came at Rs.5 !
We denied the first one, then second came, denied him then third one appeared and this went on till We reached near the stairs to the Buland Darwaja. We thought at least now we could walk around in the peace, but we were not lucky enough. Another group of touts appeared on the stairs and then again the same scene repeated. And what they promised, they promised us that if we hire them at the cost of Rs. 5 or Rs. 10, we would not required to buy a ticket (cost Rs. 20 each person) to enter in the Royal Enclosures and they would show me all the areas of the fort starting from Buland Darwaja to the end at Agra Gate. But the truth is, except Jama Mosque Complex, no touts are allowed to enter in the Royal Enclosures and you have to buy your tickets at any cost. Otherwise, if caught, you will be subjected to a hefty fine. Those touts will show you the area of Jama Mosque and then they will fly away from the scene. My suggestion, Just ignore them.
Our visit started from Buland Darwaja: Ignoring all the touts, we moved towards Buland Darwaja and saw a big baoli (tank) on the left of the Buland Darwaja. We descended several stairs and found a octagonal shaped step well or baoli surrounded with some columns at the edges. The column capitals display intricate, muqarnas-like patterns. This tank is also known as divers tank, as sometimes you can find local boys diving into the tank from the columns and edges, but water is very dirty and polluted.
Buland Darwaja: From divers’ tank, we again moved back towards the Buland Darwaja. This gigantic gateway is really a building in itself and considered as the greatest architectural monument of entire Akbar’s reign. It was however not a part of the original plan of Fatehpur Sikri. It was built later on, outside the Jami Mosque premises to commemorate the victory of Emperor Akbar over Gujarat and even dwarfs the mosque itself with its giant proportions. It rises to 40 meters and is topped by pillars and chhatris. Carved verses of Quran can be easily seen on this gate. Earlier, tourists were allowed to climb on the top of the gate through the stairs, but it is no more allowed.
Beyond this triumphal gateway is the large courtyard of Jami Mosque. Prior to enter in the mosque complex, we had to remove our shoes. There were no official shoe stands, but many people sitting there can take care of your shoes for some money (Typically Rs. 5 for two pairs). We removed our shoes and went inside the mosque premises.
Jama (Jami) Mosque: The grandest and finest building of Fatehpur Sikri is also considered as one of the most impressive of its kind in the world. There are two entrances, approached by broad flight of steps. One is from Buland Darwaja, through which we entered and other one is through The King’s Gate (Badshahi Darwaja), that provides a passage between Royal Enclosures and Mosque premises. Akbar used to enter in the courtyard by this eastern King’s gate from his palace. For nearly a decade after it was built, Akbar took an active interest in the functioning of the mosque, even to the extent of sweeping the floors and leading the prayers himself. With the exception of the marble-clad tomb of Salim Chishti, the complex is rendered in red sandstone, with some yellow sandstone accents.
Sheikh Salim Chisti’s Tomb: The white marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti occupies a prominent position in the court. It is one of the most significant Sufi shrines in the region and considers as a very sacred place among Hindus as well as Muslims. Every Thursday, thousands of local people visit this shrine to offer their prayer to this great saint.
The main tomb building is enclosed by delicate marble screens (jalis) on all sides, and the tomb is located in the center of the main hall, which has a single semi-circular dome. It is on these screens (jalis) that the faithful tying their threads seeking the fulfillment of their wishes. The marble building is beautifully carved, and has an ivory-like appearance.
The whole atmosphere near the Dargah looked divine with hundreds of men and women thronged their for the prayers. We also prayed in the Dargah and offered the rose flowers on the tomb. Nidhi tied a thread on one of the marble screen near the tomb. Please note that before entering in the Dargah, you have to cover your head either by a cap or other piece of cloth. You can also get a round cap free of cost just at the entrance gate of Dargah, but do not forget to return it when you come outside.
Outside the Dargah, you can often see some people with the musical instruments. They are the qawwal singers, who make the day special with their devotional songs, known as qawwalis.
Other Prominent Buildings in the Mosque Premises: Other prominent buildings of mosque complex include the houses of Abul Fazl and Faizi, The stone cutter’s mosque, Tomb of Bale Mian and Nawab Islam Khan’s Tomb, but there is nothing architecturally interesting in these buildings.
The King’s Gate (Badshahi Darwaja) : The King’s Gate connects the Jama Mosque courtyard with the Royal Enclosures. Akbar used to enter in the mosque complex via this gate only.
Before going outside the mosque complex through this gate, we had to collect our shoes from Buland Darwaja. We carried the shoes in hand as it was not allowed in mosque complex and moved out towards the royal enclosures through the King’s Gate. Our next target was the visit of The Royal Complex and The Public Complex of Fatehpur Sikri that comprises of Royal Palace, Harem and other official buildings. I will explain the royal enclosure of Fatehpur Sikri in my next blog post.
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