Fatehpur Sikri : One with the grand entrances

Date of the trip: 30th Nov 2019

Read this post to see how you can plan an exciting long weekend loop road-trip from Delhi to Bharatpur to Agra with a half day trip to Fatehpur sikri.

The great king Akhbar had sought the blessing of the Saint Sheikh Salim of Sikri while wishing for a son. To honour the birth of his son Jahangir, he made the mausoleum for the saint. It’s often recognised by the all time famous Buland darwaza, the gateway to Jama masjid, situated in the same compound as the mausoleum. Akhbar later constructed the red stone walled city and family palace and courtrooms next to it and called it Fatehpur sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri was one of the first planned city of the Mughals. Akbar chose to construct this capital on the natural features of the terrain of this area. Terraces on receding level were used for three main complexes:

The ‘Mosque complex’ at the highest level comprising of :

  • Jami Masjid,
  • Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti
  • Buland Darwajah.

The ‘Royal complex’ on the lower level comprising of:

  • Raniwas (each small palace is dedicated to each of Akbar’s wives and is unique to itself and respectful of their respective religion)
  • Mahal-i-ilahi
  • Shahi Bazaar
  • Meena Bazaar
  • Baithak and the gardens.

The ‘Public complex’ at the lowest level comprised of:

  • Panch Mahal
  • Khawabghah
  • Shahi kutub khana
  • Ibaadat khana
  • Deewaan-i-aam

Once inside the palace premises, just let your imagination travel centuries ago with guides narration in the backdrop (or the write-up on the information board).

The center island in Anup Talao where the famous royal musician Tansen used to perform and Emperor Akbar used to sit at the top floor of Khwabgah just in front of it.

Akhbar is famous in Indian history as a tolerant and wise king (with a lot off help from his navratnas off course!). One of his many revolutions was ‘Din – i -illahi’. He was a strong believer of giving equal status to all religions that he saw in India which was as religiously diverse then as it is now (even though he himself was an Islamic invader on a Hindu dominated land). He even suggested an ideology which was a blend of all major religions of his kingdom (Din – I – illahi) which was unfortunately turned down. This ideology is very beautifully depicted in his Deewan – e- khas (the meeting room of the highest officials of his courtroom). This was the most memorable part of the palace for me.

For more history lessons check this out.

Deewan – e – khas where the central pillar is carved intricately according to the ideology of din – i -illahi. It has symbols from all major religions of the time and the sitting area of officials for discussions on confidential matters of the state.

Out of the palace premises from the other end, across the road is the mausoleum of Salim Chisti, currently run by saints family. They run charity and schools with the money they collect from tourism. Shoes have to be kept out next to the stairs and a fee of Rs10 per pair has to be paid on return. Beyond the massive beautiful gate is the courtyard with the red stone Jama masjid and white marble mausoleum of the Saint with family graves to one side. Akhbar had come to the Saint to wish for a child and apparently Jahangir was born soon. since then there is a lot of faith attached to this mausoleum and is regarded as one one of the most sacred alongside the mausoleum of Ajmer, Rajasthan. All who come here have sensitive wishes and prayers in their hearts (most popularly related to child birth and fertility) which they can meditate on while tying the red blessed thread inside the mausoleum wall and while donating a chaddar (decorative cloth) over his grave (readily sold around the family graves with costs starting from rs2000 to rs8000 and is sold per couple). I am not a believer and find it very hard to be convinced of the stories and superstitions of this place. But I do believe in what my mother says, ‘never mess with people’s faith and hopes, that might be the only thing they are living on’ – so, I step back.

A delicate beautiful structure made with white marble, Salim Chishti’s mesoleum and a red bold gate of Jama masjid beyond it.

Last stop, or the exit point is the great and mighty Buland darwaza (Doorway of victory). It boasts to be the highest gateway in the whole world and is an excellent example of mughal architecture. It is decorated with the inscriptions of the conquest of Akhbar in in Gujrat and his victory stories as well as sayings from different religious books like quran and bible. The artwork along the archway is extraordinary and the scale of the gate is unimaginable especially if you think of the effort made by the architects, artists and labors of mughal era.

A gate so mighty, it takes a LOT of effort to get it into one frame. Under the scaffolding yet as ‘buland’ as it can be, the famous, Buland darwazza

And this is how you can reach it:

By train: This city is well connected by train with train station just a kilometer away from the old city entrance

By flight: Although Agra has an airport, no flights land there as it’s mainly an air-force station. Making New Delhi the nearest airport.There are many options on Delhi airport to hire a taxi. Some hotels in Agra & Bharatpur send taxis to the airport to pick up their guests.

By road: There are many state buses which run from neighboring cities like Agra and Bharatpur. A half an hour road drive from Bharatpur or a 45 mins drive from Agra would get you to the ancient capital of the mughal empire on the border of the state of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, Fatehpur sikri. 

From the road towards the walled city, the silhouette of the fortified ghost city looks very impressive. When coming, the most likely entrance to Fatehpur Sikri is through Agra Gate (although there is a lesser-used rear gate). Vehicles are required to park in the designated car park near the entrance.

Winter haze covering the ‘chatriz’ of Buland darwazza as seen from the royal complex of Fatehpur Sikri

Weather reports:

I would suggest to avoid this site in summers as the red stone tends to heat up and the only shade around is in the palace structures. 

Rest of the year should be good to visit. Monsoon tends to be low in crowd index.

The domes at the corners of the palace walls. One of the best looking features of Persian/Mughal architecture.

Essential information:

Open time: 6AM to 6PM

The mosque complex is closed during prayer times everyday and full day on Fridays.

Ticket cost for Indians: Rs45

Ticket cost for a Foreigner: Rs550

There is no camera fee. Videography is chargable. Fatehpur Sikri is made up of two different parts — the mosque and palace complex — surrounded by a fortification wall. Visitors require a ticket for the palace complex but not the mosque. Tickets can be purchased at the entry to the palace complex or online here.

What to wear: While seeing the royal complex anything is fine. The usual what you would wear for the weather. But for the mosque complex its mandatory to cover your head, shoulders and knees. Specially if your planning to enter the mausoleum.

Corner minarets of the mosque complex.

Guides fees: Guides chase all visitors as soon as they get off at the parking lot showing their IDs and suggesting deals. They tell tales and and try to convince the visitors to hire them and should be taken in good humour to avoid aggressive encounters. The economy of the city is mainly based on tourism and that should be kept in mind while negotiating the rates. Hiring them is a two face situation. On one side we are giving employment to a local but on the other hand we are encouraging the over pushy behaviour of these men. We took the whole package from the guide near parking lot for which we paid Rs650 for the group of 5 through Fatehpur palace complex as well as the mausoleum. We took a guide from near the parking lot but the official ones are actually near the ticket counter. Lesson learnt much much later, always go for the official ones they are educated professionally about the site and are not money oriented. (If you have hired one in your recent visits let me know the fees they charge in the comments below!) They have good information and I would highly recommend hiring one at least for the first trip.

A corridor going towards Jama masjid

Transport inside the monument premises:

I barely remember this palace from school days but was still overwhelmed by all the developments since then. I remembered that we could take our van till the entrance of the palace premises which is on top of a hill. But now visitors need to park their vehicles at a designated tourist vehicle parking and hop on Agra tourism bus from ‘Gulistan tourist complex’ next to the parking lot rather than hiking till up. Inclination is not very steep and an average person can hike up easily, bus is just a time saver and is easy to get one for Rs10 per head per trip. Find the site map here.

Agra tourism buses which ferry the visitors up and down from the car park.

Food/ Shopping/ Accommodation around the park:

The area where tourism bus parks near the car parking lot is called ‘Gullistan tourist complex’, visitors can stop at ‘Cafe coffee day outlets’ for some coffee and snacks. Washrooms are also available here.

The complex has souvenir shops which display a remarkable collection of stonework and showpieces. Bargaining and haggling is part of business so don’t shy away. Some shopkeeper may follow you around like the one who followed us. Keep calm and be firm with the refusals if you are not interested. Or easier is to pay a visit to his store, and don’t pickup anything!

Most people who visit including us stay in Bharatpur or Agra. There are very few places to stay here and there is no valuable review of any place. Gulistan tourist complex has a hotel of its own.

Money matters : All payments in the monument and tourist complex are primarily cash only. I saw a couple of digital payment stickers in some shops – worth trying Google Pay. Card payments are discouraged except in ‘Cafe Coffee Day’ which were happy to take card payments.

Grand entrance to the Mosque complex.

Is Fatehpur Sikri worth it?

It’s absolutely worth the detour, if you are around Agra or Bharatpur. Or travelling between Rajasthan and Uttar pradesh. Infact there is no point in missing this excellent piece of art if you are visiting Agra (it’s less than an hour away really!). Many would call it the next best thing after you visit the Taj Mahal. There are just a couple of things to keep in mind. There will be guides waiting for your car to enter Agra gate, and start chasing you to hire them. It’s part of their job and they will do everything to convince you. Keep stern on your amount and terms without being aggressive. The situation can turn ugly if its not handled calmly. They are the main reason that tourism in this city has gone down. Best would be if you hire an officially trained guide from the ticket office. We had hired one from the parking lot and I felt he was not really interested in showing us around the palace much but rather was keen to rush us to the mosque part where his counterpart would try and convince us to pay up for various blessings and donations. He skipped most of the part in the palace complex and took a straight route towards the mosque complex. The pushy (and may be fake) guides are most active around  the mosque complex in particular, it is overrun with hawkers, beggars, pickpockets, and touts as it is free to enter. It’s a bit unfortunate that this part of Fatehpur Sikri is not well kept at all. The upkeep and state of the mosque courtyard as well as the stairs outside of Buland darwaza was disappointing and left me a bit bittersweet. It is an absolutely fascinating place to be, but it would be a better visit if only it was better maintained.Also, another reason for the downfall in tourist numbers. Another idea would be to visit early in the morning. Like around 7am on weekdays. The lighting for photos would be great, crowd would be sparse, guides would not be too pushy, it maybe cleaner making it a more pleasant visit. Just something I thought about for my next visit! This time we reached quite late and had no time for leisure walks and observations (that also might be the reason for the guide to skip half of the royal complex).

The grand palaces of Fatehpur on the other hand were well kept and restored well. It will always be in my list of places to come back to and enjoy the detailed art and carvings. To spend more time in it and with a better guide. I loved the feeling of imagining myself to be a part of grandmothers bedtime story about kings and queens. The feeling I have got only in Amer Palace (Jaipur) before!

Ruins of once flourishing city of Fatehpur Sikri. Can you spot a peeping blue king of the ruins in the picture?

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