Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Abandoned City

I'm currently on my “Golden Triangle trip”, which I think is a must do for anyone who visits India. I left Dan’s place in Delhi at a ridiculously early hour on Friday morning and took a train to Agra namely to see the nearby sights of the Agra Fort, Fatephur Sikri and (drumroll please), the Taj Mahal. Sunday night I’ll head to Jaipur, on Tuesday back to Delhi, and on Wednesday leaving Delhi again for the northern town of Simla.

I have exactly nine days left in India and besides figuring out what I'll be doing and where I’ll be living when I hit Rabat, Morocco on November 13th, I’m trying to pack in as much of northern India as I can. After this golden triangle whirlwind, my trip to Simla on Wednesday is a bit of a retreat. I’ll spend my last four days in India there before heading straight to the Delhi international airport. Simla is an old British hill station and is supposed to have a beautiful view of the Himalayas. I decided that a quiet town in the mountains would be a great place to unwind, listen to Moroccan Arabic podcasts, get to wear a sweater, and figure out all the logistics that need to happen to line things up for project country #3. (Insert attempts at deep breaths here).

But now, the abandoned city. Although we all know what the main attraction of any golden triangle trip is, I need to back up the Lonely Planet here and agree that Fatephur Sikri is also not a sight to be missed.

It’s a city surrounded by a fort that was the capital of the Mughal empire from 1751-1785, under Emperor Akbar. Apparently, a prophet predicted Akbar would have a son to rule his empire and in celebration, Akbar left Agra and built a new capital (because you know, when you’re getting a son who can rule an Islamic kingdom, you might as well). Of most interest to me were the three palaces inside that Akbar had built. There’s a palace for each of his wives (one Hindu, one Christian, one Muslim) and they’re all set up according to each wife’s taste and religion.

I could go into more detail, but mostly I just want to show you this place. Fatephur Sikri is called “the abandoned city” because that is, essentially, what it is. It’s more than 450 years old (100 years older than the Taj Mahal) and Akbar built this entire capital, made his three wives happy, and then completely left it after a mere fourteen years. (To be fair, I think he left because there was no water to be found).

Tradition says that Muslim women who are trying to have a child should come and tie a thread to this window for good luck.

Bathing before heading to the mosque for prayers.

I can’t get over how beautiful this place is, or how whole (from a library, to a mosque/temple/church, to elephant stables, to a room devoted to hide and go seek, to a concert venue, to another space where the Emperor used to play a game called pachisi that used slave girls as pieces….(?) not quite sure what one would call said space). It is remarkably well preserved. I loved wandering through this old abandoned capital and then back out again through the modern bazaars of the nearby towns of Fatephur and Sikri today. I loved that you can marvel at the beauty of this abandoned, quiet, sacred place, and in the same breath, turn around and be reminded of the beauty that comes from the sheer opposite; the beauty in vitality and fullness and noise and faces.

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