Fatehpur Sikri- The Lost Mughal City

The mosque at Sikri with the pool in front. (sanjay austa austa)

The mosque at Sikri with the Khauz (pool) in front for Wudu or Islamic ablutions. .

The moment we reach Fatehpur Sikri our car is  besieged by an army of touts.  They run alongside our car beat on the windshield and shout. They are so aggressive that,  for a moment I thought they would smash the glass if we didn’t stop. They holler that there is no parking ahead and that we must stop and park right there. Somehow we manage to wriggle through but we are  quite shaken by the experience.

Not many tourists take the trouble to visit Fatehpur Sikri after  the Taj Mahal visit even though Sikri  is less than an hour’s drive away. But those who do, must have had a similar experience if not worse. It  was in the late 90’s that I visited  Fatehpur Sikri for the first time. Filmmaker Subhash Ghai had just shot the super hit song `Do Dil Mil Rahen Hai here for his blockbuster movie Pardesh and there were complaints that his crew had damaged some portion of the monument. I was one of the journalists sent to investigate along with a photographer (Fortunately  those days newspapers sent you out on  the field on the flimsiest of reasons).  It was getting dark and I was somewhat  irritated by the photographer’s incessant complaints about   the fading light.  I wondered what all the fuss was when the guy could  very well use his flash.

I visited this  magnificent 16th century monument again in May 2008- this time in the  avtar of a photographer myself. It was then that I  realized the photographers anguish for the right sort of light.   I was commissioned to do pictures for a  book project on Indian Monuments and I spent so many frustrating days just waiting for the evening golden light.

There was a rough storm and the little girl in the picture decided to run away with the chunni of her sister. (sanjay austa austa)

There was a rough storm and the little girl in the picture decided to run away with her sister’s chunni.

At Fatehpur Sikri I had to shoot not only the  prominent monuments but also the obscure ones like the Samosa Mahal that no local guide had a clue about.  I hired three of them in one day and each one of them led me on a wild goose chase.

I had almost  given up when the local boys at Sikri told me about  Mr Bobby. They went out to look for him and in 45 minutes returned with a man in a golf cap. Mr Bobby pointed out not only the Samosa Mahal but other smaller, unknown monuments at Fatehpur Sikri. He refused to take any money  from me after learning I was a photojournalist working on a book.  If you are visiting Sikri beware of the touts and if you want a good guide ask for Mr Bobby.   If you want his number you can mail  me though he is quite popular there and anyone at Sikri can lead you to him.

I love Mughal Emperor Akbar. I think he was perhaps the first and the last great secular ruler in India. However like most powerful people,  he was also given to superstitions.  He believed that his wife bore a son because of Sufi Saint Shaikh Salim Chisti’s prophecy. Akbar built his palace in Sikri in gratitude to the saint. He lived in Sikri for 15 long years before realizing it had a chronic water- shortage problem and  moved bag and baggage to Lahore.  I loved the  Diwan-i-Am at Fatehpur Sikri. Its indeed an unique architectural beauty with a central pillar in the hall with alcoves for Akbar’s nine gems. It was here that the caucus of these ancient  wise men had  conclaves not only on administrative matters but also on  philosophy, religion and literature. What heady  days those must have been.

The mulla had a quill full of Peacock feathers with which he blessed the devotees. (sanjay austa austa)

Paying obesiance at Salim Chishti’s tomb


 (sanjay austa austa)

And finally the book – Penguin/ Dk Photo-book.

6 Responses to “Fatehpur Sikri- The Lost Mughal City”

  1. Zehra says:

    Hey Sanjay, I’ve been to Fathepur Sikri twice and I loved it too…but I don’t know which is the samosa mahal, though! please send me a pic of ti, so that i can identify it! And I;d love to see this book too, can you tell me where I can get my hands on it?

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Zehra, I am not surprised you didn’t know about Samosa Mahal. Not many people know about it unless one is a historian. There are many such smaller and unknown monuments at Fatehpur Sikri. I had a very tough time locating them since the guides there are of little help. I will mail you the pic of Samosa mahal. As for the book it should be available in a book store near you but am not too sure since it was published two years ago.


    Good photographs very well composed since u r a photojounlist.. I have visited FPSikri many times.. U should visit again and try to explore many less known monuments e.g. near the rest house.around the hill and in the walledvillage below .. Try to find out what was destroyed to make these by moughles.. there are many mounuments around Agra too which have their past history including Taj amd Red fort.. Visit at your own without any guide…. U will come across many hidden truths…

  3. Madhu Nair says:

    Hi Sanjay,
    Excellent pictures …
    You correct … the touts drive you nuts.
    In our case we ended up paying one guy just so that they’d leave us alone.
    It is really sad how they have kept the area surrounding these fabulous monuments.

    But in case, I keep pushing people to go visit Fatehpur Sikri whenever they are in Agra. In fact I recently created my version of the Perfect Agra Itinerary which includes a day trip to Fatehpur. Here is the link just in case you’d like to give it a look.

    Anyways … just wanted to stop by and say hi …
    Take care and happy clicking!

    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Madhu,
      Thanks for your comments. I am glad you liked the images. Yes I have heard horror- stories from many people. I had a look at your link – its interesting. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂 Sanjay

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