Fatehpur Sikri in India: The Complete Guide

The Abandoned Capital of Emperor Akbar

Fatehpur Sikri. Walkway and courtyard tombs of the Jami Masjid.

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A red sandstone city that was once the extravagant capital of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century, Fatehpur Sikri now stands deserted as a well-preserved ghost town. It was mysteriously abandoned not long after it was established but remains as one of the finest examples of Mughal architecture in India. This Fatehpur Sikri guide will help you plan your trip there.

History

Emperor Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri to honor the revered Sufi saint Sheikh Salim Chishti, who lived in Sikri village. Apparently, Akbar visited the saint to seek his blessing, as he longed to have a son and heir. The saint assured him it would happen. Not long afterward, his son was born in 1569. Akbar was overjoyed and named him Salim after the saint. (Although Salim had a turbulent relationship with his father, he went on to be India's fourth Mughal Emperor, known as Jahangir. He was a very succcessful and amicable ruler who consoldiated the Mughal Empire). Following his son's birth, Akbar constructed a grand mosque near the saint's dwelling as well.

Akbar decided to relocate his capital from Agra Fort to Fatehpur Sikri. In 1571, he commenced work on the lavish walled city and palace complex, where he lived with his wives and son. He added the mosque's main entry gate, the immense Buland Darwaza (Gate of Magnificence), in 1575 after his conquest of Gujarat. He also named the city Fatehpur, derived from the Persian word fatah, meaning victory. The city was completed in 1585. Not long after, Akbar went to Lahore to deal with impending invasions. When he returned in 1601, it was to Agra. Scarcity of water at Fatehpur Sikri is commonly stated as the reason why. However, according to some, Akbar lost interest in the city after establishing it on a whim. Plus, the saint was no longer alive.

By 1610, Fatehpur Sikri was apparently deserted and in ruins.

Location

Approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Agra, in Uttar Pradesh.

How to Visit Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri is a popular day trip from Agra. Expect to pay around 1,800 rupees upwards for a taxi based on vehicle size. Alternatively, you can travel by bus for about 50 rupees return. Agra Magic runs a private three-hour tour to Fatehpur Sikri. Uttar Pradesh Tourism also conducts half day and full-day tours to Fatehpur Sikri. (The full-day tours include Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal).

The best time to visit Fatehpur Sikri is during the cooler dry weather from November to March. It's open from sunrise until sunset. Aim to go early in the morning when it's less crowded and quieter.

Fatehpur Sikri is made up of two different parts -- the mosque and palace complex -- surrounded by a fortification wall. Visitors require a ticket for the palace complex but not the mosque. The cost is 610 rupees for foreigners and 50 rupees for Indians. Entry is free for children aged 15 years and under. Tickets can be purchased at the entry to the palace complex or online here.

Fatehpur Sikri; Agra, Buland Darwaza (Great Gate) of Jami Masjid
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What to See

Buland Darwaza, at the entrance to Jama Masjid (mosque), is claimed to be the tallest gateway in the world. Behind this extraordinary carved gate is the white marble tomb of Sufi saint Salim Chishti.

To the right is the palace complex and its Jodha Bhai gate -- one of the two entry gates. The main gate, Diwan-e-Am, is further along. There's also a free Archaeological Museum near it that's open daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 p.m. except Fridays (closed).

The palace's architecture is an exquisite blend of Isamic and Hindu influences. The residence of Akbar's principal wife, Jodha Bai, is the most elaborate structure in the complex. The Diwan-e-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences) features a single pillar (the Lotus Throne pillar) that's believed to have supported Akbar's throne. Other notable buildings include the five-storied Panch Mahal (the recreation quarters of the royal women), Daulat Khana-I-Khas (Akbar's private chambers), the Ankh Micholi Treasury, and an ornamental pond.

Another attraction that's off-the-beaten-track and worth visiting is the unusual Hiran Minar. To reach this spiky tower, walk down the steep stone path through the palace complex's Elephant Gate. Ask your guide to take you there. Some people say that Akbar used to watch antelope (hiran) from the top of the tower. Others say it was built over the tomb of Akbar's favorite elephant named Hiran, which executed people by walking over them and crushing their chests. It's encrusted with stone elephant tusks.

Fatehpur Sikri.
Roop_Dey/Getty Images

What to Keep in Mind: Dangers and Annoyances

Fatehpur Sikri is unfortunately dominated by the multitude of hawkers, beggars, and touts that roam uncontrolled. Prepare to be very persistently and aggressively harassed from the moment you arrive. This is not the time to appear friendly. Rather, ignore them or be as assertive as you have to be to get rid of them. Otherwise, they will pursue you relentlessly and extract as much money from you as possible. The problem has reached such a level that many tour companies are no longer including Fatehpur Sikri on their itineraries. Even more concerning, two Swiss tourists were severely injured by a group of local youths at Fatehpur Sikri in October 2017.

When coming from Agra or Jaipur, you'll most likely enter Fatehpur Sikri through Agra Gate (although there is a lesser-used rear gate). Vehicles are required to park in the car park near the entrance. It's situated about a kilometer (0.6 miles) away from the sites. A government shuttle bus, costing 10 rupees per person one way, transports visitors to the palace complex. The buses run in two different directions, to the Diwan-e-Am and Jodha Bhai entry gates. If you're feeling energetic and it's not too hot, you can walk.

Touts in the car park will invariably try to entice you to take a costly auto-rickshaw, or insist you visit the mosque part first. It's also guaranteed you'll be approached by fake tourist guides, many of them young children. The fake guides are most active around the road leading to Buland Darwaza and Jama Masjid. The mosque, in particular, is overrun with hawkers, beggars, pickpockets, and touts as it is free to enter.

Licensed guides are available in front of the ticket counter at the Diwan-e-Am gate. Take a guide from there only, or get your travel agent (if you have one) to arrange for a guide to meet you in the car park. Don't be misled by the fake guides elsewhere.

You'll need to take your shoes off to enter Buland Darwaza (you can carry them with you). Unfortunately, the area is dirty and not well maintained. Watch out for the people who will approach you an 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.

Where to Stay

Accommodations are limited at Fatehpur Sikri, so it's a good idea to stay in Agra. However, if you want to be close to the site, your best bet is Goverdhan Tourist Complex. It's a basic but clean place with friendly staff and hot water. Prices range from about 1,200 rupees to 1,700 rupees per night for a double, including tax, depending on the type of room.

What Else to Do Nearby

Alternatively, you can stay in Bharatpur, 25 minutes away, and check out the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary (also known as Keoladeo Ghana National Park) there. It's one of the top places for bird watching in India.

Stop at Korai Village on the way to Fatehpur Sikri from Agra for an authentic Indian village experience.

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