Our first bus experience in India was a success! After a scorchingly hot wait for only 30 minutes at Agra bus stand, and not much help from the grumpy ticket office man, it wasn’t looking very hopeful as every bus name was written in Hindi and my limited knowledge of Sanskrit was proving completely unhelpful. Luckily for us, a friendly fellow bus rider and his family were happy to help, and we bundled onto the hot and sticky bus, and set off for the 1 1/2 hour ride to Fatephur Sikri. As soon as we started moving everything became much more pleasant. Everyone was grateful for the air billowing through the open windows to keep us cool.
I always love taking public transport whenever possible when visiting other countries. Sure, it can sometimes be a bit of a challenge, and maybe takes a bit more thinking than hiring a driver of course, but it is often soo much cheaper and I always find it a rewarding experience in itself. I don’t know why I enjoy it so much, maybe it’s because I feel like I get to see more of the country and the culture perhaps, feeling more involved with it all, living a little bit more like a local. Or maybe it’s the enjoyment I get from overcoming the challenge of working it all out, and the satisfaction of getting myself from A to B. Either way, I like it.
The bus took us out of the bustle of Agra and into more rural areas. Farms popped up with fields of what looked like corn, lush and green and full and healthy. The landscape was completely flat, and grand domed buildings or maybe temples occasionally popped up on the horizon or through the trees, looking all the more impressive next to the dusty rubbish strewn road side.
Fatephur Sikri itself is a walled city, built by Akbar, was once the ruling capital of the Mughal empire. For mysterious (but most probably military) reasons it was abandoned soon only 15 years after it was built. Modern day F. Sikri is still a bustling town spewed below the abandoned red rock palace on the hill, and remains a popular tourist attraction.
We hopped off at F. Sikri bus stand and walked along the main strip to our homestay, Goverdhan, which seemed to be one of the only places to stay in the area. Most people visit the place as a day trip from Agra, but as it lies right on the border of Rajasthan, it mades good sense for us to stay and then continue our journey from there the following day.
Once the fierce heat of midday started to subside a little, we ventured out. Mooching up the winding roads of hot tarmac we tried our best to avoid the touts selling us guided tours, postcards, and thick beaded necklaces dripping with garish colours. The fort itself lay in wait for us at the top of the hill like a sleeping red rock dragon basking in the dying heat of the afternoon sun. We wiggled our way through the crowds into the blissfully peaceful palace grounds where Akbar and his harem of 300+ wives were said to have resided.
An impressive range of Indian Muslim/Hindi architecture rose up to meet us, all beautifully embellished with swirling detail carved into the rock faces. From bath houses to tombs, lakes and temples, lawns, ruling platforms, bedrooms, and towers. My favourite, a vast checkered square where Akbar (ever the top lad) used to play a game that sounds a bit similar to chess, except he used slave girls as real life playing pieces, and nobody could go home until the game was over (sometimes lasting 3 months…), apparently to teach his people the value patience and perseverance, but I don’t doubt it was mainly for his own entertainment, especially alongside the over looking sexual-liaisons tower (the guide books description not ours).
Rich was a great tour guide, and if anyone from the Rough Guide Book wants to use any of our photos for advertising feel free to get in touch for only small fee 😉
We left the palace to explore modern day F. Sikri a bit more, on the way passing under the shadow of Jama Masquid, an imposing mosque that simply towers over the town below. Yet again I embodied Star Wars The Phantom Menace and generally felt fabulous in my scarf cloak, glasses and cricket hat (thanks dad).
Diving through the backstreets, we saw bustling market stalls selling everything from scrap metal to brightly coloured spices, bakeries were taking biscuits out of the ovens (we tried some later, passable..), animals and people mingled together and carts and bikes honking their way through the narrow streets and crowds of people.
Tomorrow, we enter Rajasthan for the first time on our travels, as we head to Bharatpur and the Keoladeo Nature Reserve…