India Day 5 (14 Jun 11) – A trip to The Ghost Town of Fatehpur Sikri and Itimad-ud-Daulah

Journey towards Fatehpur Sikri

My plan for today was to visit Fatehpur Sikri (this name is easier to type then pronounce). I read on my guide book that the Tourism board has set up a half day tour for this ancient city which is located about 39 Km from Agra. The tour seem quite a deal, pricing at 550 rupee, with guide and entrance fee. Hired a auto rickshaw to take me to the tourism board. On the way, the driver kept hard selling his service to bring me there at a price of 650 rupees, entrance extra. But I told him of the deal that tourism board is offering, he backed down and brought me to the tourism board. At the office, the staff told me that bookings has to be made at the railway station, which I then head over to. At the railway station tourism board office, the staff there told me the tour will leave at around 10.30 am, subjected to if they can get at least 5 people for the tour. So I waited till the time arrives. At around 10.30 am, the staff then told me the trip will be cancelled as I am the only one. They advised me to take a rickshaw to the nearby bus station for around 5 – 10 rupees and take a bus from there which cost about 30 rupees. As I was heading out for the rickshaw rider, the forever persistent tout saw me walking out, a few of them came rushing towards me. There was this driver who offered quite a good deal, 10 rupees for an air-con ride to the bus station. However he did not stop there, instead of bringing me to his car, he haggled for my trip to Fatehpur Sikri. He was asking for 900 Rupee for the return trip, admission extra. I then told him the driver who drove me to the train station offered to take me there for 650 Rupees and was rejected by me, let alone the 900 Rupees he was asking for.

After some haggling, the man backed off and asked how much I was willing to pay. I told him 500 Rupee return, plus waiting time and inclusive of tolls and parking. Well this price was rejected by him initially, so I told him it is fine, I’ll just take the bus which will only cost me about 10% of this amount I am offering. As he see me about to walk away, he frantically looked around for one of his friends, who agreed to take me to Fatehpur Sikri for 500 Rupee, all in excluding admission. I confirmed with him 3 times and told him I will not pay anything more then 500 Rupees. After confirmation and agreeing, I finally set off to Fatehpur Sikri.

Along the way we passed by some rural villages and farmland. As it is middle of summer, most of the farmlands are dried up. People (and the animals) simply laze under trees to cool the summer heat off. After some time, we reached a toll gate. The driver turned around and asked 85 Rupees for toll charge. I firmly told him that it is not part of the deal, I agreed to pay 500 Rupees only and nothing more. I told him he would have to fork the toll charges himself. I think the driver saw that I was rather persistent in my stand, he simply backed off and I saw him stuffing 10 rupees to a guy and we went pass the toll gate without paying. At this point I was glad that he did not chase me off his ride, if not I’ll be stranded in the middle of nowhere, but then again why would he do that? If he had thrown me off his ride, his trip so far will be wasted. So I guess I was having the upper hand at this point in time. However what baffles me was his dishonesty. If toll charges was free, why did he demanded 85 rupees out of me??

On my way to Fatehpur Sikri
Rural Agra on my way to Fatehpur Sikri
On my way to Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri – The Ghost City

Fatehpur Sikri was termed The Ghost City as it was abandoned about 20 years after it was built. There were 2 theories about its abandonment, one is that there wasn’t enough water supply to sustain the whole city, which later was debunked as people found water at the nearby reservoir. The other more convincing theory was that Agra was a better location to fight off enemies, thus the kings decided to abandon this city in favour of Agra. We arrived at the base of Fatehpur Sikri not long after the toll gate. As we were turning into the parking space, the driver turned around and told me (in a rather soft tone) not to pay anything more then 20 rupees for a guide as most of them are unlicensed. Well I was glad that the driver offered this piece of information. As the vehicle came to a halt, the touts sprung into action. A guy claimed to be a licensed guide asked for 500 Rupees for his guiding services. I told him I already paid 500 rupees for the ride to the base and there is no way I am going to pay anything more other then the entrance charges. The guide that backed off and started to lower his price to 400 rupees and then 200 rupees and subsequently 50 Rupees upon seeing how relentless I was in refusing his offer. Even for 50 rupees I did not want a guided service as I really had it with the touts and people who self proclaimed to be guides. I told them I just want to visit the place by myself without anyone annoying me. They backed off and I headed towards the bus which brought me to the palace entrance.

After getting the tickets for the palace entrance, another man approached me claiming to be an authorised guide. He showed me his pass and started to ask for 450 rupees for his services. I rejected him flat and told him I just want to visit the place by myself. The man then left me alone, seeing that big “no sale” expression on my face and told me if I needed a guide come look for him. After freeing myself from all the touts, I was glad I was able to roam around myself. The first building that greeted me was the Jodbhai’s Palace. This building has a rather large courtyard in the centre and rooms at the sides and each room seemed to have a small balcony. This is where it was believed that the king made as his living quarters. The Sandstone building was rather elaborate it terms of size and the designs on the pillars and walls. At the centre building (facing the entrance), there seemed to be a throne room or at least a place where the king would grant private audience to people who he trust. The attaching side buildings are symmetrical in terms of design and the number of rooms. I left this building after snapping some pictures for the other parts of this palace.

According to my guide book, the building to the left of Jodbhai’s Palace was the Wind Palace. I was kinda expecting something like the one in Jaipur that I saw. I scanned around and saw nothing like that in sight. But then I realised that the Hawa Mahal is actually attached to Jodbhai’s Palace took some pictures of it and headed for the residence of The king’s most trusted adviser, which was behind Jodbhai’s Palace. Well the building was there alright, but the architecture was not impressive. Right next to the adviser’s residence is the stables. I did not really go all the way into the stables. Headed back to the main area within the palace complex.

Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Fatehpur Sikri
Front of Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Balcony on the facade of Jodhbai’s Palace
Panoramic view of inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Me inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Stables inside Jodhbai’s Palace
Hawa Mahal
Hawa Mahal Up close
One of the entrance to Fatehpur Sikri
Around Fatehpur Sikri
Hawa Mahal
Inside Jodhbai’s Palace

There are several more buildings within this palace grounds, there are a few which area rather distinctive. One of them is the hall of private audience, the interior of this stand alone building has one big and elaborately carved pillar, connected to 4 corners of the building by means of bridges. The centre pillar is where the throne used to be for the king to be seated for his audience sessions. Another building that has rather unique architecture is the Panch Mahal, a 5 storey building that has one level constructed to be smaller then the one right below. This is where the king come to enjoy the summer breeze and to admire the moonlight. Quite an elaborate building for relaxation for the king. Next to the Panch Mahal is a small pool with a platform in the centre, accessible by small bridged built on each of the four sides. Directly behind the pool is the House of Turkish Sultana, which was believed to be the residence of the king’s favourite mistress. The rest of the palace grounds are repetitive buildings, which has rather ordinary architecture, as I thought this could be the end of my palace grounds visit.

Panch Mahal
The main pillar in Diwan-i-Khas
Diwan-i-Khas
Panch Mahal
Inside Diwan-i-Khas
Carvings on one of the pillars in Diwan-i-Khas
Me at Panch Mahal
House of Turkish Sultana
House of Turkish Sultana

The Grand Jama Masjid Mosque

I walked towards the entrance and headed for the Jama Masjid mosque. The entrance of the mosque closest to the palace was rather ordinary. It looked like any other mosque entrance, however the main entrance is the more impressive ones. I walked towards the main entrance to be greeted by some self appointed guides. Thinking they might ask for ridiculous amount of tips after their service, I rejected a few. One of them is rather persistent and started to volunteer information about the top of the stairs where the main entrance stands. He mentioned that underneath the stairs was actually hollow, supported by pillars beneath. The guide brought me to one of the gaps to prove his point. After that I strongly rejected his service and headed towards the entrance to take pictures. The main entrance was was tall and very eye catching as one rides the bus towards the palace. The 54m tall entrance has 3 main domes on the top most floor. As I was taking pictures of the interior at the entrance, more touts offered to take me inside the mosque. Well I did learn my lesson in Delhi some days ago, I brushed them off and told them I do not want to go inside (to be frank I was rather lazy to take off my shoes and carry them around, plus the hot hot weather is really unbearable). After taking some pictures, I headed back towards the entrance of the palace to wait for the bus, which will take me to the carpark where my auto rickshaw was waiting for me. I did not stayed at Fatehpur Sikri for very long (about 1 hr) as the weather is really getting to me, all I want at this point was to get back to hotel and cool off. After meeting up with the driver, he drove me back to the hotel, where I rested for another couple of hours.

Entrance of Jama Masjid Mosque
Jama Masjid Mosque
Jama Masjid Mosque
Jama Masjid Mosque

The Baby Taj – Itimad-ud-Daulah

The temperature seemed to cool off after a couples of hours later, I decided to head to Itimad-ud-Daulah, commonly known as the Baby Taj as it was the first Mughal building to be built entirely of white marble. This building is where the father-in-law of the king was buried. As I entered the grounds, there was a sandstone gate facing the main entrance. The design of this gate is very similar to the mosque in Fatehpur Sikri, except that it does not have the 3 domes on it, and its height was not as tall. Still this is an exquisitely designed gate with flowers painted in white carved on its walls. Right through this gate was the Baby Taj, sitting on top of 1m tall platform.

As with Taj Mahal, this white marble mausoleum has 4 minarets at the end of each side of the building. There is a rectangular structure on the top of the building. The walls of the baby Taj is colourfully painted with flowers, showing its heavy Muslim influence. As I was walking up the platform, a staff member told me that I have to take off my shoes and leave it with him. He claimed to be safe, not suspecting anything I followed his instructions. I then proceeded nearer to the Baby Taj, which is also very colourfully decorated with flowers and trees. As it was around sunset, the golden sun ray reflecting onto the walls of the Baby Taj, painting it with golden yellow. Simply beautiful. I headed inside, where a solo tomb rests the father-in-law of the king. At this point I thought to myself, Taj Mahal would be something like this, except that it is much much bigger.

As I went to claim my shoes, the staff member is still there and as I was putting on my shoes, he pointed to some money he has on his hand. At this time, I knew he was asking for a tip, and I firmly told him that I did not ask for his service, since he volunteered I am not going to pay him. Seeing that I was very firm, the staff gave me a puzzled looked and I walked off. As I was walking towards the bank of the river (Baby Taj was built on the bank of Yamuna River), there was a gate overlooking the river, similar to the one guarding the entrance of Baby Taj. I walked through the gate, which offers a great view of the river. After taking a few more pictures I quickly left the premises, as I was worried that the staff may gang up with his friends and refuse my exit. I made it out of the premises without any incident and met up with my driver. At this point, he suggested to bring me to see the Taj Mahal on this side of Yamuna River. However I told him I wanted to visit another site, which is about 1 km away from Baby Taj.

Entrance to Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Entrance to Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Me with Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Around Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj) up close
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj) up close
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj) up close
Around Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Around Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
View of Yamuna River from Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)
Me with Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj)

Chini-ka-Rauza – The Persian Tomb

The Chini-ka-Rauza served as the mausoleum of a Shirazi Poet, who was one of the minister of Shah Jahan from Persia (present Iran). The significance of this building was that it is the only building in the whole of India that has Persian design. We reached the Chini-ka-Rauza in no time, it was in a really bad shape look as if no restoration was being done to it. However the bluish Persia pattern was still visible on the wall. As the building was not accessible, I spent about 3 mins took some pictures before heading towards to see the Taj Mahal.

First Glimpse of Taj Mahal

The driver was right, the view of Taj Mahal from this side of the river was indeed beautiful. It is a tranquil site, away from hordes and hordes of visitors who visited Taj Mahal each day. From this side of the river, I can see the whole of Taj Mahal and its 2 side gates. I spent another 2 minutes taking pictures of it before heading for dinner. Had my dinner at a restaurant called “The Park”, as it was strongly recommended by the guidebook. The Indian food was superb, as it was both sweet and spicy. After dinner I headed back to the hotel to rest for the night, getting ready to visit the gem of India the next day.

Chini-ka-Rauza
View of Taj Mahal opposite Yamuna River
View of Taj Mahal opposite Yamuna River
Crossing Yamuna River
View of Taj Mahal opposite Yamuna River
Me with Taj Mahal opposite Yamuna River
Butter Chicken for dinner

 

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