Our second Agra morning is my most memorable one. I woke up early and witnessed the breathtaking sight of the Taj emerging from the morning mist. Dreamlike, subtle its beautiful dome rose like an all permeating fragrance and the colours of sun rise seemed to wrap themselves around it. The onion shaped dome topped by lotus design is very very Indian in architectural style and is repeated in the 4 adjoining smaller side domes. After breakfast, we left our hotel, walked down the dingy sleepy lanes of Taj Ganj (me walking, Noni clinging) and visited the glistening dewy monument again. It was very early and hardly anybody was around.
It was Taj and us apart from a handful of few other early birds. Noni is quite an early riser for a small child and loves morning excursions. She and I walked around the freshly fragrant expansive gardens, touched the stone daffodils and jasper calligraphy inlaid on the smooth marble and sat on the finely cut stone porch. I watched the Taj change colours as she delightedly counted the gem flowers. The sun rose fast and it soon became crowded again. We left the Taj complex to visit the other Agra attractions.
Mehtab Bagh or the Moonlight Garden was one of them. Located on the banks of River Yamuna, it was bang opposite Taj Mahal and last of the 11 gardens built by the Mughals in that area. It provided a nice long distance view of the Taj and its charm ended there. Originally built as a romantic place and carefully decorated with flowering, fragrant plants (which gleamed and pefumed on moonlit nights) it was in a bad state. Unkempt, hardly even pretty it however provided one of the best spots for Taj sunrise photography. Agra Fort was also on my list but Noni soon got bored with Agra and nagged to move on.
I definitely regret missing the powerful red sandstone 16th century Mughal fort, not only because of its grandeur but also the interesting tales attached with it. The Agra Fort is the epitome of Mughal power and prominence of the touristy city during its heydays and represented the strange tale of of a foreign dynasty hailing from Uzbekistan becoming the mightiest rulers of an united India. It was strange that under the Mughal subjugation, India actually got united into an empire and due to the subcontinental size of the country, this was no easy task.
Power was an aphrodisiac for the Mughals just like beauty and they lavishly enjoyed both. Thus Agra being the Mughal seat, got lavished by its rulers and the fort is a glaring testimony of their wealth, power and aesthetic sensibilities. The Mughals were indeed so powerful that other provincial rulers eagerly bought their allegiance by wealth or marriage, the most famous examples being the gift of Kohinoor Diamond by the King of Gwalior to Humayun and the marriage of the Hindu Rajput princess of Amer (nowadays Jaipur) Heer Kunwari/Jodha Bai to emperor Akbar respectively. Agra buzzed under the Mughals and the fort, which is listed under UNESCO World Heritage Site contain many fairy tale palaces, beautiful mosques and stunning marble carvings.
Sadly it also houses many tales of betrayal, greed, heartbreaks and other dark sides of human nature, all of which later contributed to the downfall of the powerful Mughals. Shah Jahan’s son Aurangazeb after murdering his elder brother and rightful owner of the throne, Dara Sukoh overthrew his father and imprisoned him at the Agra Fort for the rest of his life. Shah Jahan died a lonely death at the beautifully decorated marble balcony of the tower of Mussaman Burj inside the fort having spent his last days watching his beloved Taj Mahal from there. He reportedly cherished a dream to replicate another Taj Mahal in shining black marble on the opposite bank of the current one, but his dream along with his freedom ended at the fateful Agra Fort.
We left all that behind soon and drove back towards Jaipur. Fatehpur Sikri was on the way so we decided to stop there for the day. Noni’s father surprised us by joining our little excursion and the 3 of us, entered the ghost city of the Mughals. Fatehpur Sikri is the splendid abandoned city of the Mughals and is around 40 kilometers away from Agra (the reason why we did a day trip). It crowns a ridge and was founded in 1569 by the Mughal emperor Akbar. Although there are a lot of stories which revolve around the moving of the capital city to Fatehpur Sikri from Agra, the most popular one claims that it was built in honour of the great Sufi saint Salim Chishti. Fatehpur Sikri meaning “The City of Victory” does house the saint’s mausoleum inside but its existence as a Mughal capital was as ephemeral as short lived.
Akbar, in spite of his military victories and growing power was in dire need of a male heir and was slowly reeling under it. After the death of his first born twins it was here that the heartbroken emperor ended up to nurse his woes. He met the saint there and Salim Chishti predicted that a son would be born to him shortly. Akbar went back hopeful and was overjoyed when soon he was presented with the news that his Hindu wife Jodha Bai was expecting. A pregnant Jodha was sent to the site to seek the revered saint’s blessing and Prince Jahangir was born shortly. Akbar honoured the saint by naming his son Salim (later emperor Jahangir) and on his 2nd birthday, started building the architectural wonder of a new capital city of Fatehabad.
The magnificent fortified ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri is a masterpiece of Indo Islamic architecture and speaks volumes of Akbar’s tolerance for all religions and faiths. Today it is yet another beautifully preserved architectural enigma full of hustlers, beggars and camera totting tourists. However after the hardcore hustling and touristy crowd of Agra, the touts at Fatehpur Sikri seemed naively amateurish. The worst they could get was staring hard after being rejected by a few firm NO’s, which magically worked. Guides offered their services, children ran about asking for money and all sorts of vehicles were touted for hire. We took a break at the UP government guesthouse and I took in the crowd as we waited for lunch and Noni’s dad. They both came pleasantly fast enough and we nearly had to bodily drag Noni away from the guesthouse playground.
We parked the car at an official parking lot and entered the magnificent city of Fatehpur Sikri through the humongous Buland Darwaza. True to its stature of a powerful royal capital, the city was stunning and we had never felt so physically tiny as that moment when we walked through the stupendous 55 meters high Buland Darwaza or the Victory Arch. We entered the “City of Victory” and an ever playful Noni scampered around in the open space. A huge spectral city spread around us and we gaped at its expanse. Fatehpur Sikri had just begun.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE