Emphatically not to be missed while you happen to be in or around Agra is a visit to Fathehpur Sikri - easily managed as a day-trip from the city of Taj.
A visit to Fatehpur Sikri, about 39 km from Agra, the city of Taj, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is a sojourn into the mediaeval past. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri is home to several monuments and structures that are some of the stunning specimens of Mughal architecture.
Built by the greatest Mughal emperor Akbar to commemorate his conquest of Gujarat in 1572, Fatehpur Sikri was the seat of his government for 14 years (1571 to 1585). However, the capital was abandoned due to the scarcity of water. This short lived city brims with an assortment of palaces, pavilions, office buildings, mosque and sarais.
An imperialist to the core, Akbar could not have left Gujarat an independent state because its importance as an attractive commercial hub thanks to the rich and flourishing ports on its coasts was immense.
Apart from this, the prevailing anarchy of Gujarat under its nominal king, Muzaffar Shah III, arising out of the infighting among the different factions, gave him the pretext to interfere in the internal matter of the kingdom. In fact, Itimad Khan, one of the local princelings, invited Akbar’s intervention which the Mughal emperor gladly accepted.
Akbar marched in person towards Gujarat in 1572. After defeating the insurgents, he captured Surat on the 26th February, 1573. During this, he also came in contact with the Portuguese who entered into friendship with the Mughals.
However, as soon as Akbar returned to his new capital Fatehpur Sikri near Agra, rebellions broke out in Gujarat. On hearing this, the emperor’s anger was roused and he once again marched to Gujarat and defeated his opponents in a battle in a battle near Ahmadabad on the 2nd September, 1573. Gujarat was annexed to the Mughal empire.
Fatehpur was a big city as is evidenced by the account of Ralph Fitch, European traveller to the Mughal Court. Writing about these two cities, Fitch states in A.D. 1585, "Agra and Fatehpore are two very great cities, either of them much greater than London and very populous. Between Agra and Fatehpore are twelve miles, and all the way is a market of victual and other things, as full as though a man were still in a town, and so many people as if a man were in a market.
One of the finest monuments in Fatehpur Sikri complex, Jama Masjid was completed in 1571. This grand mosque has been described by many as the glory of Fatehpur Sikri. Within the courtyard of the Jama Masjid is located the spectacular white-marble tomb of Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti , the patron saint of Sikri. Childless women from all over come and tie threads to the pierced (jalis) lattice screens of the tomb of Chishti who had grated the wish of Akbar to father a son.
Adjacent to the Salim Chisti’s tomb is situated a red sandstone tomb of Islam Khan I, grandson of Shaikh Salim Chishti. This tomb was built in 1612.
One of the fairytale buildings within the enclosure of the Fatehpur Sikri is Panch Mahal a five-storeyed pillared structure, inspired by Buddhist architecture. Its five storeys diminish in size until the top one is in the form of a single large-domed chhatri. While the lower floor is supported by 84 columns, the whole structure has 176 intricately carved columns.
Other most conspicuous buildings inside the Fatehpur Sikri complex is the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences) and Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audiences).
One of the most impressive gateways of India, Buland Darwaza soars to a height of 55 metres (180 ft). Built in 1575, this enormous gateway, which serves as the entrance to the Fatehpur Sikri complex, bears testimony to the seamless blend of Mughal and Persian style of architecture.
Akbar’s passion for philosophical debate and search for spiritualism led him to establish the Ibadat Khana (Hall of Worship) at Fatehpur Sikri. Here religious discussions among the Muslim theologians, scholars and philosophers were held every Thursday evening.. Here the foundation of a new order known as Din-I-Ilahi ("the religion of God") was laid by Akbar.
However, differences between Shia-Sunni came to the fore and Akbar got disillusioned. Anup Talao, Astrologer's Seat, Mariam-uz-Zamani's Palace, Naubat Khana, Pachisi Court, Birbal's House and Archeological Museum are other important attractions in Fatehpur Sikri.
How To Reach Fatehpur Sikri By Air: The Delhi airport is the nearest international airport and is 222 kms away from Fatehpur Sikri. Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, and Agra, home to Taj Mahal, are the other airports that are near to Fatehpur Sikri and are 175 km and 39 km away respectively from Fatehpur Sikri.
How To Reach Fatehpur Sikri By Rail: The closest railhead is Fatehpur Sikri Railway Station which is connected to Agra.
How To Reach Fatehpur Sikri By Road: Fatehpur Sikri is well connected by road to Agra and other places. Some of the cities and places near Fatehpur Sikri with it by road are Agra (39 km) and Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (23 km).
Hotel Goverdhan Tourist Complex, Gulistan Tourist Complex and Hotel Vrindavan are some of the accommodation facilities located in Fatehpur Sikri.