Fatehpur Sikri – amazing Mughal history and architecture, too many guides and countless memories

Fatehpur Sikri – a beautiful place (forced to live under the shadow of more popular and nearby tourist destination Agra), has a charm of its own and having read a little history myself and with strong recommendation of my dad who doesn’t waste his opinion, I finally made my much awaited trip to history a reality. And like I always like to do, I thought I’ll share my experience and maybe be of some help to the tourists and enthusiasts who may plan to visit it one day and also to those who may never.

Reaching Fatehpur Sikri fort, little tricky

First things first. Fatehpur Sikri is about 40km from Agra and about 20km from Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary. Reaching the Fatehpur Sikri fort is not that easy as it could have been, especially since the signages on the highway could have been a little better. We drove from Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary and struggled a little in finding the right diversion, however with some help from the locals we finally made it. Though the real trouble was yet to start.

“Govt approved” guides can make life miserable, leave bad taste in mouth too

Once you reach there the first thing that hits you is not the Mughal history and architecture for which you would have gone there, rather its lack of management by authorities, confusion, non availability of right sources for information and the most striking and annoying of them all – too many unsolicited guides. These “Govt approved” guides will throw themselves at you, butter you, tell you how economical it would be for you to hire them and start misguiding you from the word go. And if you show lack of interest, they’ll start reducing their rates, tell you their livelihood depends on you so you must hire them and finally if you still not hire them, may end just short of cursing you in front of you, they may do it behind your back though.

Park and take the CNG bus- they pretend but it’s no Agra

Anyhow, if you are going by your own vehicle, there is a parking place about a km and half short of the fort, you can park there for INR 60. From there take the bus, the fare is only INR 5. To board the bus, go towards the back of the parking, there you’ll see a shopping area – cross it and at the far end you’ll see a few buses parked. I don’t know whether this is intentional, but the place to board the buses is almost impossible to find and just too far off. Anyhow.

Fatehpur Sikri fort – lots of amazing things, just right there

The Mughal city of Fatehpur Sikri has so many things that it offers and I just loved it. The architecture of course is impressive, the red colour a strong reminder of Red Fort at Delhi and Agra Fort and having taken my new DSLR to its first historical place – which is my favourite kind, I had a rocking time. What you get to see inside the fort or the city includes Diwan-i-Aam, Diwan-i-Khas, Anup Talao, Panch Mahal and lots of stories and anecdotes. Good part, it’s not too spread out so you can take the complete tour in just about 2 hours.

The guides who don’t leave you for your life even here will tell you there are like 26 mahals and what not and that you should hire them but I am not sure how useful hiring them is. We gave in to their (read my wife and my friend’s wife) demands and finally a guide became part of our tour, or should I say we became part of his tour. He agreed to show us the fort and everything around for 100 INR, which of course at the end of the tour was something he first disagreed to and demanded more, then accepted as what we had agreed upon initially but asked for more as a matter of his right, then as a favour or tip and then finally as something moral for us to do. For us the moral of the story – DON’T HIRE THEM.

Buland Darwaza, Jama Masjid and Tomb of Salim Chishti are close by too

Anyhow, once we had finished the tour of the city/fort, we walked (3-4mins) to the very impressive complex which houses Buland Darwaza, Jama Masjid and Tomb of Salim Chishti and a few other things too. We entered from the King’s Gate, which is remarkable. Once we entered the complex two things caught our eyes straightaway – one, the white marble Tomb of Salim Chishti and two, the huge backside of the Buland Darwaza. As a matter of fact the Buland Darwaza is so huge that it’s distinctively visible even from the Fatehpur Sikri city/fort.

While inside, pay your respects and pray at Tomb of Salim Chishti if you want, take a round of the entire complex and all the structures inside and then go to the Buland Darwaza. It looks fantastic when you are looking at its backside and it’s breathtaking once you look from the front. I think for many of the tourists this one gate i.e. Darwaza would be worth a trip to this place if nothing else.

Be one with history or just buy a souvenir

The kind of sad part though is that right outside the Buland Darwaza as well as the King’s Gate you’ll find hawkers selling one thing or the other and I think many tourists like it also as they get to buy souvenirs, I for one somehow don’t like it much. When I visit a historical place I like to be left alone and appreciate it more if the place looks and feels like as it would have when it was actually inhabited – a feeling that was so strong when I visited the Bhangarh Fort (click here to read about it) and walked through its streets. But I guess this is the price more popular tourist destinations have to pay for being popular. Anyhow.

To sum it up – Fatehpur Sikri is a place that has a lot to offer and good thing is all you need is 3-4 hours and you can enjoy it all. And though the time of our visit was purely coincidental as that was the only time we had, however visiting it in the evening can be a better experience. The whole architecture appears to get even more spectacular in the evening. However, you plan your visit at it suits you and make sure to go there if you are visiting Agra or Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary – half a day is all that it will take.