A Weekend Visit

For a spontaneous weekend break there is no dearth of locations around Delhi. However, if you are serious with making it to some historical place there is nothing more interesting than visiting Agra and Fatehpur Sikri. And, for those with a religious bend of mind, including Mathura in the itinerary is like icing on the cake. Doing all this within two days makes it wonderfully memorable.

Agra

This place needs no introduction as the greatest of tourist attractions in India - The Tajmahal stands here. Apart from the Taj there is historic Agra fort (another heritage site) conceived and started by Akbar but its final shape came up during the reign of his grandson Shahjehan who unfortunately also happened to spend his last years as a prisoner in one of its corners facing the Taj.

For visiting the Taj be prepared to stand in a long queue at one of the entry points for up to thirty minutes on week days and up to one hour on weekends. Every tourist has to undergo security checks. This is in the wake of the raised threats from terrorists to the security of the monument. However, the security people manning these entry gates are very polite and friendly and are adept at doing the frisking job efficiently. Mobiles, eatables and cigarettes are not allowed. One can safely deposit all such items free of charge at the counters along side the entry points. There is no restriction on cameras, however.

A word of caution though. There are unauthorised persons posing as guides who promise a quick entry through some secret gate, of course, for a price. They lure away many people standing in long queues. I wonder if any such secret alleys existed but the sheer numbers these unscrupulous elements take along them must be more than those standing in the queue. I can't say whether the gullible got an easy entry since I didn't bite the bait.

Fatehpur - Sikri

One name but two places in contiguity. One is built exclusively for religious purpose while the other was the seat of royal power. Enter the Buland Darwaza (the towering gate, at 54 metres the highest in Asia as the guide would tell you) and you are facing the mausoleum of Sheikh Chishti - the Sufi saint who blessed the Emperor with a son, erected in white marble (all else at Fatehpur-Sikri is constructed in local red sand-stone) with some beautiful marble screens. By the side is a smaller grave of the grand-daughter of the Sheikh. Here facing the Royal entrance is the mosque where Akbar the Great came to pray. Rest of the complex housed a Madarssa (religious school). Graves of nobles and those associated with the Sheikh could be seen filling alleys in the complex. Entry to this part is free.

At the Buland Darwaza there are a number of horse shoes fixed to the wooden shutter. The people fixed them after their horses had recovered from mysterious diseases by the grace of the saint. Even Lord Clive is said to have fixed two oversize horse shoes ostensibly going along with the popular belief.

Come out through the Badshahi Darwaza (the royal gate), buy entry tickets and you are off to know the capital city of Akbar which he hardly enjoyed. Besides the usual signs and structures of royal splendour some unique attractions are; Akbar's elevated bed, kid Saleem's bathing tub, Tansen's singing platform (the musician is said to have put the water pond on fire by the strength of his chords alone and where Baiju Bawra, the singer, sitting in contest with him is said to have doused the fire by bringing about rain by singing his ragas). A tower standing in the memory of the 'killer elephant' also adds to the unique attractions. The services of the killer elephant were used in carrying out the death penalty. There is a rock protruding in the lawns of the Hall of Public audience (Diwan-e-khas) where head of the person on death row used to be placed for the killer elephant to crush. The Emperor used to play the game of Chausar (a variant of chess) with 16 girls attired in colourful robes as pawns. Also in the corridors of his treasury he used to play hide and seek blindfolded with Sultana and other girls from his harem. In Diwan-e-khas (the hall of private audience) the emperor sat in the middle and his nine ministers seated in circle around him. The central pillar of the hall which held the emperor’s seat is intricately carved.

All the three royal consorts- Jodha Bai, Miriyam and Rukkaiyah Sultana had their palaces built in different architectural styles. In comparison with Jodha's residential unit those of the other two are very small in size. However, Sultana's quarters bear the evidence of a palace which was richly done. The pyramid shaped five storied airy construction exclusively built on pillars is another imposing structure in the royal complex. The guide would also point towards a storied building standing far away in the inhabited area where the queen is said to have given birth to the Moghul heir – Saleem.

They say Akbar hardly stayed in the city during the 13 year active life span of this capital city. He remained busy expanding his reign by conquering lands far stretched towards east as well as west. Finally, the capital city had to be abandoned due to severe shortage of water over there probably amid a long drawn drought.

Today this world heritage site is well preserved. Tourists have free access except for going down the cellars or upstairs on to the tops. Hiring a tourist guide is a must.