Just 40km from Agra is the former capital of Akbar, Fatehpur Sikri. The fortified city was the capital of the Mughal Empire between 1571 and 1585 after which the capital was shifted to Agra. There are two main complexes of tourist interest. One is the complex that houses the tomb of the Sufi Saint Sheik Salim-ud-din Chisti, the Jami Masjid and the Buland Darwaza. The other is the Palace Complex – the living area. The two complexes are adjacent to each other (just 2 minutes walk between them).
The car parking facility is located about 1 km away from these two complexes. There is a low-cost bus shuttle service between the car park and the monuments. Beware of agents who tell you that they will take you by auto rickshaw, etc. There is no need to engage these “guides” and one can manage just fine by proceeding on your own.
First head to the Jami Masjid and Chishti Monuments which don’t require a guide. The entry is free of cost. There will be many hawkers who will pester you to buy their goods. It gets really annoying after while as they won’t even let you see the place properly. There is a strict dress code if you want to enter the dargah of the Sufi Saint. Shorts and sleeve-less clothes are not allowed. Everyone has to cover the head with a cloth before entering the dargah. Again, beware of people trying to sell “chaddar” and flowers near the dargah.
In 1658, childless Mughal Emperor Akbar visited a Sufi saint, Sheikh Salim Chishti and begged him to bless him with a son to continue his linage. Shortly after, a son was born and Akbar named him Salim in honour of the saint. It was Salim who succeeded Akbar and took up the name Jahangir. In gratitude, Akbar also built his capital around Chishti’s abode.
The famed Buland Darwaza is the entrance to the courtyard which houses the Jami Masjid, Jamaat Khana and Sheikh Salim Chishti’s Tomb. Persian and Hindu elements are blended seamlessly in all these monuments. Red sandstone is the principal construction material. The saint’s tomb was initially built with sandstone but one of Akbar’s sons clad it in marble and added the beautiful latticed screens. Tombs of members of the saint’s family lie scattered in front of the jamaat khana (prayer hall). There is also an entrance to an underground tunnel behind the tomb and locals believe that is the tunnel through which the courtesan Anarkali was banished to Lahore. Take your time and walk around the colonnade. Each arch and pillar is worth marvelling.
Head to the Palace Complex next which is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). This place is ticketed and there are approved guides for hire. Very well maintained, this complex has many monuments of architectural and historical significance. I recommend that you hire a guide as it makes more sense than wandering around aimlessly. The guides are great photographers too and will help you take the best photos.
There are many exquisite buildings scattered across the area – Palace of Jodha Bai, Sunahra Mahal (Palace of Maryam Makani), Panch Mahal, Pachisi Court, Ankh Michauli (Treasury), Diwan -e-khas (Hall of Private Audience), Diwan-e-aam (Hall of Public Audience), Anup Talao (pool) and Khwabgarh. There is also the are where the ‘meena-bazaar’ would happen on certain days of the year. Each of these is beautifully built and has some stupendous design elements. This palace complex is the most well preserved examples of Mughal architectural prowess.
The best time to visit is September to April. The ideal time of the day is either early morning or late afternoon (All monuments maintained by ASI are open from sunrise to sunset). It’s best to stay at Agra. Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary is just 20 km from Fatehpur Sikri. Not sure about the timings and the best season.
When in Agra, visit Fatehpur Sikri to experience the grandeur of Mughal Architecture which is a celebrated melange of Hindu, Jain and Islam architecture.
Places to see in Agra
- Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb – built by Nur Jahan for her father. It served as an inspiration for the Taj Mahal
- Agra Fort
- The Taj Mahal
- Sikandra – Akbar’s graceful mausoleum
Places to see in and around Agra –
- Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary
- Fatehpur Sikri
- Mathura – Lord Krishna’s birthplace
What to buy in Agra?
- Leather items – wallets, shoes, belts, jackets
- Marble inlay souvenirs
- Agra petha – a sweet made from white pumpkin which is available in a wide variety of flavours and shapes.
A weekend in Agra
Day 1: Reach Taj Mahal by 6.30 a.m. – Agra Fort – Itmad-ud-Daula’s Tomb – Sikandra – Gokul – Mathura
Day 2: Mathura – Vrindavan – Govardhan – Bharatpur – Fatehpur Sikri – Agra