Fathepur Sikri is one of the stranger historical places we’ve been. It was founded in the mid 1500’s by Akhbar of the Mughal dynasty, the grandfather of the guy that built the Taj Mahal. He is famous for a lot of stuff, including having a number of wives and mistresses.
However fun that might have been, he is remembered more as a genius of design, building a city that incorporates much of the great Persian styles but also incorporating local Indian motifs. Most strangely, he barely ever used this new capital. He resided here for about 10 years before moving the capital to Lahore in part because they miscalculated the quality of the local spring that stopped delivering enough water.
Nonetheless it got some use all the way up to the British occupation, but is now a nicely restored mini-fort to explore. It’s really hot though, and the ride here made Lily carsick. She gets pretty grumpy.
Lily has never been the easiest traveler. She gets frustrated in the heat, bored at the historical stuff, tired of walking, anxious when we have a train or plane to catch. And anything with poop, bugs or slime makes her freak out. And she has some real panic attacks that must be frightening. When she is in a good mood she’s hilarious and keeps us laughing, but she needs frequent support, occasional prodding and a rare stern ‘get it together’.
I’ve always said that she is the key to our travel, because we can only go so far and fast as she will go. And I know she goes beyond her comfort zone to accommodate the adventure. For that I am grateful. I wonder if she will travel when she is an adult? Or will she prefer a resort and a pool and a TV nearby? It’s a close call right now.
Our driver grunts and points off the distance. He’s kind of a weird guy, but he gets us there and that’s what we hired him for. A man with good english comes up and ‘wants to be our guide.’ If you’ve read the blog, you’ll already know we almost always dislike the local guide.
He’s persistent and has good English, so I say yes after a while. Sometimes I like a little more information. He points me to the bathroom for which I pay 20 rupees to pee in a urinal and when I come out he points to a new guy and says ‘This is your guide.’ The new guide mumbles and introduces himself as ‘Karam Singh’ and mumbles something else. Aw Jeesh, I got the bait and switch for 500 rupees (about $7).
Fine, let’s go. They put us in a shuttle bus up to the main gate, and I pay another 1000 rupees for Emma and me. ‘How old is your son” they say to me about Lily. “He’s 10” I reply, trying hard not to laugh out loud. “I hate you” Lily says loudly. (That’s #47 for those counting with us.)
The guide is really hard to understand. I have to translate some of it for the kids. But one of the cool things I would not have known about this place is that it was the source of a new syncretic (No, I did not know that word before) religion that combined Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, and Christianity.
The Emporer Akhbar was disillusioned with Islam and decided to make a more inclusive religion that was basically monotheistic, but without the orthodoxy. It was called Din-i-Ilahi. He also named himself a prophet which really pissed people off. To his credit, he truly encouraged religious debate, something rare in this (or any really) part of the world in the 16th century.
The palace is interesting. Next we head to the markeplace and mosque. It’s still the week after Ramadan and there are a lot of festivities. Outside we take off our shoes and put on long wraps to cover our bare legs.
Inside I was surprised – I expected to see something more serene and well, clean given that we had to take off our shoes and go barefoot. Instead it’s a thriving marketplace with a lot of people and trash everywhere. The hot red sandstone is burning on the feet so we scurry across the huge square. Kids follow us tapping at our pockets ‘rupee, money, money’ they say.
Our destination is the white tomb of the sufi saint Salim Chisthi, whom Akhbar held in very high regard – so high regard that he built the city around his tomb. It’s swarmed with people. Our guide takes us off to the side and asks us to sit in front of a man selling stuff. I’m told it’s ‘for charity’, and ‘it will bring us luck.’ Well, maybe, but I remain skeptical on both counts. Moreover we are getting tired. One can only stay out in the heat for so long.
The tomb is packed and it is pretty smelly. People are chanting and kissing the tomb (a public health nightmare I’m sure.). It is beautiful, but it’s overrun with humanity. We all want out, especially lily who has a panic attack and freezes unable to move. I have to coax her through it. Outside we high-tail it back to the bus and our car.
Our taxi driver is a little stubborn. He doesn’t like to turn the AC down even though the car is freezing. And when we ask him to take us to Pizza Hut for a late lunch, he drives us to the hotel and mumbles ‘Delivery’. On our way there I asked him 3 times, and he gave me the nod but I had a feeling he was going to be a pain.
No problem. We are at the Oberoi! “Room service, I would like one large plain pizza from Pizza Hut’ They order it, charge it to my room and deliver it with white table cloth, a complementary side of fries and chocolate milk for the kids. The service here is really amazing.
At night we go to a cafe called ‘Sheroes’, which is operated as a non-profit to benefit victims of acid attacks. The waitress is an acid attack survivor and her beauty shines through her discolored skin and disfigured lips. We talk a little about the reasons behind it – refusal of sexual advances, marriage or dowry payment top the list. Sadly the food is terrible, but it’s a good stop.
We sleep in luxuriously. It’s friday and the Taj Mahal is closed, so the hotel is nearly empty. I think we and one other family are here. I offer the girls a choice – they can have breakfast down stairs in the expensive but tasty restaurant or they can keep the $25 themselves.
$25 bucks is a lot to them, so the decision was hard. Fascinatingly, they chose the breakfast. We’ve been eating gross McDonalds for breakfast for a few days and they are, like me, ready for some good food.
We order one of everything on the menu, and the restaurant has pity on us and give us a 3-for-2 deal. (I give each of the girls 12.50 since we got the deal.)
Our last moments at the finest hotel we have ever been to are spent in the pool. (However, it’s not the most expensive as I reported two days ago. Emma has since reminded me that honor belongs to Tokyo Disney, at which I paid $2,000 because I missed a decimal point converting Yen. Good times, yeah.
We are the only ones here, so we get loud. Lily decides she is a Russian judge at the olympics and provides hilarious accented commentary of Emma’s leaping from my shoulders. She is in rare form. This is why we love having her on out trips. Her final jump is priceless.
We do more three-high’s, and then it’s time to leave wonderland for the Delhi airport and Jaipur, our final destination.