Day Trip from Agra to a Ghost City, Fatehpur Sikri

Photo by Patrick Horton

More things to see in Fatehpur Sikri than the guides tell you about

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The emperor Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri to serve as his capital in the 16th century. For some reason the capital  moved to Lahore some ten years later leaving behind a ghost city. Preserved and restored it is a beautiful example of Mughal architecture.

You pay to enter and can employ a knowledgeable guide but there’s more outside and it’s for free.

Directions to Fatehpur Sikri

Leave the ticketed enclosure and walk towards the Jama Masjid (mosque). At the edge of the enclosure turn right and descend a stony path. This takes you behind what you’ve just visited and this part is free.

Elephants not pigeons

The jumble of buildings on the right is known as the Kabutar Khana (Pigeon House) This is an unlikely name to give a huge two-storey block of masonry with walls 3m thick. It’s so called because of the numerous holes with which it is pierced. It may have been the stable of the emperor Akbar’s favourite elephant.

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Somebody didn’t like elephant faces

Descending, you come to an old cobbled road which passes through the Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate). However you need to pass through and look back to see why. Two huge stone elephants stand on pedestals either side of the archway. Originally their trunks intertwined over the archway but the emperor Aurangzeb ordered the faces to be destroyed. He believed, as part of his religion, that it was sacrilege to depict living creatures.

A medieval motel

To the left of the descending road is the Karwaan Sarai, a large courtyard surrounded by the hostels. Visiting merchants used them – today’s equivalent of a motel. Opposite on the other side of the road is an octagonal baoli, or step-well, which was the main water reservoir for the royal residences. Inside were a number of cool chambers connected by internal staircases – just the place to spend the day in the scorching Fatehpur Sikri summer.

A tower with tusks

The unusual spiky tower at the bottom of the hill is the Hiran Minar (Deer Tower). Legend has it that it was erected over the grave of Akbar’s favourite elephant. Stone elephant tusks protrude from the 21m tower from which Akbar is said to have shot arrows at deer and other game that were driven past him. The flat expanse of land stretching away from the tower was once a lake and it still occasionally floods today.

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