Are you in Agra, visiting the Marvelous Taj Mahal and wondering where to go next? I say, hold on. Allow another day in Agra and be prepared to experience an eerie abandoned royal Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri in Uttar Pradesh, India.
So, is Fatehpur Sikri worth visiting? Yes, located at a distance of around 60 KM from Agra, Fatehpur Sikri is well worth a visit from the magnificent city of Agra. With its intricate carvings on the red sandstone palace, the profound entrance doors, the Mughal courtyard, and court of the king, Diwan-i-Aam and Diwan-i-Khas, Fatehpur Sikri more than lives up to the reputation it’s held ever since it was built in the 16th century by Emperor Akbar.
Fatehpur literally means the victorious land (Fateh means victory in Urdu).
Myriad historical tales and legends are attached with Fatehpur Sikri. It
It is now a world UNESCO heritage site and a pilgrimage spot for the believers of Sufi saint Salim Chishti.
There is of course much more to see and do in Fatehpur Sikri than what i have mentioned above. Get ready to fall in love with this architectural marvel.
History & Architecture of Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri was commemorated as the capital of the Mughal empire in India by emperor Akbar in 1571, around 500 years ago.
Salim Chishti was a Sufi Mystic who, it was believed by many, could perform miracles.
Why was Fatehpur Sikri built? Legend has it that the Mughal Emperor Akbar-e-Azam sought the blessings of the saint and wished for a male heir to his throne. Salim Chishti blessed Akbar, and soon the first of three sons was born to Akbar. In order to express his gratitude towards Salim Chishti, Akbar decided to build a great city around his camp. His Mughal Court and Courtiers were then relocated there.
Akbar named his first son Salim (the heir of the Mughal empire, later came to be known as Jahangir) in honor of Salim Chishti.
Akbar’s fort was built by the ridge of an old hillock. The sheer size of the fort talks in volume about the love and fondness Akrbar felt about the place.
There are courtyards, Dargah, a large mosque, multiple palaces, each taking up different style basis on the resident’s culture and ethnicity inside the complex.
Why is Fatehpur Sikri called a ghost town?
Why is Fatehpur Sikri called a ghost town? Fatehpur Sikri was an Indo-Islamic masterpiece, but due to the water shortages, this Royal City of religious importance was abandoned and that is why it is called a Ghost town. Perhaps, river Yamuna’s flow was not sufficient to provide water to the hinterlands. Fatehpur Sikri now sits in remarkably good condition as a deserted city popular with tourists, history and architecture lovers.
A visit to Fatehpur Sikri and is like going down the Mughal culture and History. All the monuments here are a blend of Mughal and Persian architecture. The magnificent buildings in Fatehpur Sikri can be divided into two categories the religious and the secular.
On one hand are the imposing Jama Masjid with the Buland Darwaza and the Dargah of Sheikh Salim Chishti, built of pure white marble.
On the other side are the other important buildings like the Diwan-I-Khas, Jodha Bai’s Palace, Mariam’s Palace, Birbal’s Palace, House of the Turkish Sultana and Panch Mahal, all depicting a variety of architectural styles (Source).
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Following are the 6 places you must not miss to visit in Fatehpur Sikri.
1. Jama Masjid
Also referred to as the Friday mosque, the Jama Mosque or the Jama Masjid at Fatehpur Sikri is one of the largest and most visited pilgrimage spots among the Muslims in India.
This remarkably stunning mosque was completed in 1571. It contains elements of Persian and Indian architecture with “chatri” styled domes and Mirhabs.
The inlaid mosaic tiles of the Jama Mosque at Fatehpur Sikri is a missing link of the trade route that once thrived between India and Persia.
Floral painting, watercolor murals adorn the fifteenth century built mosque. The mosque was built by Akbar while the complex existed from the advent of Mughal occupation.
2. Buland Darwaza at Fatehpur Sikri
The imposing Jama Masjid has the most stupendous gateway of India, Buland Darwaza as its entrance.
The Buland Darwaza is also known as the largest gateway in Asia.
It is regarded as one of the most important buildings in the list of the World Heritage Structures by UNESCO.
This gate was made in the year 1575 to commemorate Akbar’s conquest over Deccan. This enormous gateway is a fine blend of Persian and Mughal architecture. The height of the Buland Darwaza is 54 meters.
It took 5 years to complete the gate.
The doorway is richly carved with verses from the Holy Quran cut in bold Arabic letters. The gate carries two inscriptions in the archway, and the central portico comprises of three arched entrances, with the largest one, in the center (Source).
“Isa, Son of Mariam said: The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity.” are the words inscribed at the entry gate. This shows Akbar’s affinity and tolerance towards various religion.
The central arch still has a horseshoe ( and therefore referred to as the Horseshoe gate by locals) for good luck.
3. The Tomb of Salim Chisti
The mosque complex also houses the tomb or Dargah of Salim Chishti, the medieval Sufi saint who influenced the rule and thoughts of emperor Akbar immensely.
The single storied spotless marble enclosure is built around the grave of the saint.
Dainty mosaic encrusted in wood and made of “mother of pearl”, gleam from the canopy.
The mausoleum has the architectural influence of the preceding Gujarat dynasty. The beautiful marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti attracts thousands who seek blessings of the revered saint.
Travel Tip: Visitors are required to cover their heads and enter the tomb premises.
In the complex lies many other graves from Chishti family. Some nameless, some with a vague indication of a Farsi name and a time.
Pro Traveler Tip: Watch out for the people who will approach you and insist that you buy a piece of cloth, said to bring good luck, to put over the tomb when you visit.
The quoted price may be as much as 1,000 rupees! However, the cloth will be taken away and resold to the next gullible tourist soon after you’ve laid it (Source).
If you do not intend to make this donation, make it very clear to the guide that you will not buy any chadar and that he should not take you to any such sellers.
Diwan e Khas was the royal chamber where Akbar would consult Nabaratna (the nine pillars of his reign, 9 wise ministers of Mughal court. Birbal is one of the famed names of Akbar’s court).
Architecture of Diwan-e-khas, Akbar’s private courtroom justly describes the various virtues he implemented in his reign.
The chamber is innovatively structured, with a profound pilar erect in the middle connecting various corners of the royal court, indicating a melange of all faith and belief!
Diwan I Khas is famous as one of the earliest cultural landmark of Indian courtroom. It is made of wood carvings and showcases detailed, intricate design.
5. Jodhabai Palace
The largest of all the palaces, Jodha Bai’s Palace housed Akbar’s queen Jodha Bai.
She was the first chief Rajput wife of Emperor Akbar (though Akbar already had two other Chief Mughal wives and many other wives before his marriage to Rajput Princess Heer Kunwari).
There is a popular perception that Jodha Bai also known as Heer Kunwari, Hira Kunwari, Harka Bai was the mother of the next Mughal Emperor, Jahangir.
Tuzk-e-Jahangiri, the autobiography of Jahangir, however, doesn’t mention Jodha Bai, Harkha Bai or Heer Kunwari. Therein, she is referred to as Mariam-uz-Zamani (Source).
Jodha Bai remained faithful to her religious belief and worshipped Hindu God in a temple situated inside the palace. This was a pioneering practice of religious tolerance at that time.
At Jodha Bai’s palace, one can notice opposing architectural styles of the Hindus and the Mughals.
In Jodhabai Palace, the architectural elements of Gujarat, Mandu, and Gwalior are blended with traditional Islamic designs. Its blue-tiled roof is the only splash of color in Fatehpur Sikri.
You will be able to spot quintessential Rajput motifs such as srivatsa mark, parrots, lotus flowers, elephants and swans adorning the interiors of Jodhabai’s palace.
6. Panch Mahal
The courtyard of Fatehpur Sikri also houses Panchmahal, a sprawling campus which served the purpose of a recreation area for the ladies of the royal harem.
Panch Mahal is a five-story open columned structure, each of which has a pillared hall smaller than the one below it. There are 176 richly carved columns of red sandstone.
How to reach Fatehpur Sikri
The Agra airport is nearest to Fatehpur Sikri which is situated at a distance of 40 km from the city.
Fatehpur is easily accessible by public transport. Reaching Fatehpur Sikri by road is a good option since it is well connected to all the major cities.
The Idgah bus stand is the main bus stand of Agra, from where one can catch buses for Delhi, Jaipur, Mathura, Fatehpur-Sikri, etc. Government bus plies regularly from Idgah bus stand, Agra to Fatehpur Sikri from 7 am.
Rent a Car / Hire a Bike
- The best way to reach Fatehpur Sikri is to rent a car. The current rate is INR 1800 for a return drive. Make sure to have the driver agreeing to take you to the nearby points of interest, namely Sikandara (Akbar’s Mausoleum) and Mariyam Bibi ka Tomb (Akbar’s Christian wife).
- Alternatively, you can rent a bike and follow google map. The highway connects Agra with Fatehpur and road condition is good.
The main railway station is in Agra Cantonment which is well connected to all the major railway stations of India including cities like Delhi, Varanasi as well as a number of the cities in Rajasthan.
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Opening & Closing Time
- OPEN: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday
- OPENING TIME: Sunrise to Sunset
You have to leave the palace compound by 6 pm (after sunset).
The city was and remains abandoned till date, even in a populous country like India.
- Entry to Fatehpur Sikri is charged at INR 40 for Indian adults.
- For foreigners, the entry ticket is INR 550.
- Additional camera charges apply. You are not allowed to enter the complex with a tripod.
- Entry to the Dargah is free of charge.
time taken to visit Fatehpur Sikri
To have a feel of the royal place and soak in the royalty, I suggest keeping at least 4 hours in hand.
There are multiple palaces, courtyards, stables, remains of regal splendor. If you love history and culture, Fatehpur will easily keep you occupied for at least half a day!
Best time to visit Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri is best enjoyed from October to March. Cool weather will ensure you have energy reserve for the entire day. It is best to avoid Agra and Fatehpur Sikri during summers as the summers in North India are harsh.
Fatehpur Sikri is best traveled on a weekday except for Friday. Friday is the prayer day and thus the Dargah complex is flocked by devotees. If you love to observe people, you will enjoy this experience. Weekdays are somber and peaceful at Fatehpur.
Travel tips for visiting Fatehpur Sikri
- Vendors might get pushy and demand you buy their stuff. Say a firm, No! and proceed further.
- Since Fatehpur Sikri houses religious sites in the complex, you will need to have your arms covered. Any Dress which covers you from your cleavage to the knees is fine.
- You can not wear your shoes inside the premises but can roam around holding them in your hands.
- If you are a solo traveler, I suggest leaving the place well before sunset.
- I recommend staying in Agra and doing a day trip to Fatehpur Sikri. It is far off from Agra and has basically zero to little things to do at night. Agra, on the other hand, has plenty of places to explore, even at night.
What to buy at Fatehpur Sikri
The shops near the parking area of the Fatehpur Sikri monuments are way too overpriced. Bargaining is prevalent.
If you must buy, then I would recommend you buy the intricately carved marble jewelry box, ornate lampshade. The famous Agra leather Juttis are available as well. However, I always get drifted towards the pretty little edifice of Taj Mahal crafted in Marble stone.
Do you need a guide at Fatehpur Sikri?
I strongly suggest taking a guide at Fatehpur Sikri.
For a group of up to 4 people, ASI assigns an educated guide for 2 hours. They are extremely knowledgeable and show you around every nook and corner of the sprawling fort compound.
You will need to pay INR 450 as a group of 4, which is basically very affordable when divided by 4. Only hire a guide from the ticket counter.
Please do not pay the kids to show you around. There are plenty of children who will ask for as low as 20 rs but will run at the speed of Rajdhani express as soon as they spot a Policeman.
Toilet facilities inside the premises
There is a toilet in the fort complex and Dargah as well. You are to pay INR 5 to enter. You will be provided with the tissue roll.
The fort occupies a vast area, most of which are accessible by wheelchair. Even the Buland Darwaja which has a sloping pathway has an assisted accessibility by the side.
Since Fatehpur Sikri is a UNESCO heritage site, I have found that ASI maintains the fort with extreme care and provides every possible qualitative facility to the visitors.
If you ask me, I would say the best way to explore Agra is to start your visit with Fatehpur Sikri, understand the Mughal history and then move on to Agra.
The order of Fatehpur-Agra fort-Taj mahal gradually showcases Mughal patronage of art and culture and its culmination.
What started at the magnificent Buland Darwaja, comes to a full circle when you stand in front of the Taj!
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Here is a video by Expoza Travel about the fascinating ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri.