During my trip to India, I visited the city of Fatehpur Sikri on my way to Agra. In the 16th century, this city was the capital of the Islamic Mughal empire (not to be confused with the Mongol empire). It only had this title for a brief period of time, because after 15 years the new capital was abandoned. The result: a ghost capital where no one lives anymore. Now, that was the background story that got me interested in visiting this place. Looking back on the visit, I really enjoyed exploring this unique historical place. However, there were a couple of things that were very annoying. In this blog post, I will paint a picture of what you can expect during your visit to Fathepur Sikri.
Urbex in India?
Before you think that Fatehpur Sikri is the perfect spot for urban exploring (=urbex) in India, let me stop you right there. No, Fatehpur Sikri is more an open-air heritage site than an urbex location. This temple complex has been on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1986 and it is in incredibly good shape. There is no sign of decline or decay. The red sandstone temples and monuments are a great example of Mughal architecture.
History of Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri is the story of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great. This emperor had no heir ready, despite his many brides and a big harem of women. For advice, he visited the local Sufi saint Salim Christi. Christi made a prediction: Akbar was going to have three sons. And a year later the prediction came true; a son was born. And after that, more sons followed. To thank the saint, Akbar chose the village of Sikri (the home of Salim Christi) for his new capital. In 1571 he started building the ‘City of Victory’ (translation: Fatehpur). Akbar was known for his tolerance towards Muslims, Hindus, and Christians. Unfortunately, his new capital was only inhabited for 14 years. According to the stories, there was a shortage of drinking water and the city was soon abandoned.
Things to do Fatehpur Sikri: explore the red palaces
Fatehpur Sikri consists of two parts: the palaces and the mosque. Let’s start with the red sandstone palaces. These are located in the closed-off section. You have to buy a ticket to enter. The most beautiful palace is the Panch Mahal, the palace of the royal ladies with five stories of columns and a shape that reminded me of a cake. The Birbal Bhavan is also worth a visit. This is a massive red palace with beautiful carvings around the windows. However for me, the Dirwan I Khas was the absolute highlight. This small four-sided palace was the private audience hall that was used for the visits of kings and ambassadors. Especially the interior is interesting to see.
Jama Masjid: big, bigger, biggest
What attracts most tourists to visit Fatehpur Sikri is the Jama Masjid, the Friday Mosque. This is one of the first buildings in Fatehpur Sikri, built in 1571. The Jama Masjid is a special site. It is one of the biggest mosques in India, but it also has the highest city gate in the world: the Buland Darwaza. This 54-meter high gateway was built to commemorate the victory over Gujarat in 1572. Inside the walls of the mosque, Akbar the Great built a white tomb for the saint Salim Christi, marked by the white marble square in front of it. I have read that today local women, who want to have children, come here in the hope that their wishes will also be granted just like Akbar.
WHat i didn’t like about Fathepur Sikri
The Jama Masjid in the busiest place of Fatehpur Sikri, and this is something you will notice. As a tourist, you are continuously being approached by young vendors, touts, Madrasa students, fake guides, and beggars. They will ask for rupees, foreign coins (for example Euros), or your entrance ticket to make a postcard of it. This last one is not true. It is a scam: they will sell your used ticket to the guards at the palace and they will use to trick the tourists. At a ticket control, they switch the tickets and tell you that your ticket is not valid. At the spot, you have to pay for a new ticket and the guard earns extra money. Luckily, we did not experience this.
The worst thing was that all the people who want something from you, are also incredibly demanding and pushy. A simple ‘no, thank you’ won’t cut it. They will keep harassing you. Inside the Fatehpur Sikri palace premise, this is not the case. The palaces are under the control of the ASI (Archeological Survey of India Officials). You have to pay about 7 euros to get in, but once inside you will not be bothered. Apart from the occasional selfie request, there is no hassle. But when you want to visit the Jama Masjid my advice is: ignore everyone who tries to talk to you. How unpleasant that might feel.
No control at Jama Masjid
Despite the crowds and the obnoxious touts, I still think the Jama Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri is beautiful. The grand courtyards and the entrance gates reminded me of the mosques and the madrassas I saw in Uzbekistan. If the local organization had better control over the madness at the Jama Masjid, it would have been much nicer to visit it. Now tourists are scammed or feel annoyed or harassed by the locals.
WHat else to know before visiting Fatehpur Sikri
- There is a governmental shuttle bus that brings you to the entrance of the old city. A bus ticket is 10 rupees per person and you pay on the bus. Caution: it can be really busy at the bus and people are not afraid to push to get inside. Also a little warning for the parking lot: you have to walk from the parking lot to the spot where the shuttle bus leaves and you will come across aggressive touts. Also here, a simple no is not enough.
- The entrance fee for the palaces is 550 rupees per person. You buy the tickets at the counter near the palaces.
- Always keep your entrance ticket with you. Do not give it to the young boys who ask for it. They say they will use it for a postcard, but that is not true. Also, watch the guards at the palaces. They might want to check your ticket, do not let them swop it for a fake one.
- You can also stay overnight in the city of Fatehpur Sikri and continue the next day to Agra. There are plenty of options available at OYO Hotels, India’s leading hotel chain.
This blog post describes my personal experience visiting Fatehpur Sikri.
Would you want to visit Fatehpur Sikri after reading about my experiences?
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