October 14, 2011

Fatehpur Sikri: City of Ghosts

There are some places which truly enchant you. When I use the word, 'enchant', I am referring to a process by which one becomes completely immersed in the place's atmosphere, beauty, and spirit, making it difficult to part ways from. For me, Fatehpur Sikri has been one of those places.

The first time I happened to discover the Mughal emperor, Akbar's abandoned  capital-city, Fatehpur Sikri was in the film, Pardes (1997), starring Shah Rukh Khan, Mahima Chaudhary, and Apurva Agnihotri. In the film, it is referred as to the 'kila' or the fort and as you can see in the clip below, it functions as a backdrop for a budding romance (save for the rather filmi bit shot in the studio at the end!):


After watching the film, Fatehpur Sikri somehow remained with me for a long time although I could not quite pinpoint what it was that so intrigued me about the place.

Upon further researching, I learnt that Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri 39 km from Agra  in 1570  as the new capital for the Mughal empire in honor of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti; it was the first planned city of the Mughal Empire and entirely built in the Mughal architechural fashion. However, due to water shortages which were unable to sustain the population, it was abandoned a mere 14 years later and now remains a perfectly preserved ghost city, bearing witness to magnificent examples of hybrid Mughal architechure

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I spent a few weeks in Delhi for an artists' residency; during my time there, a couple of the resident artists made a plan to visit Taj Mahal one day and I decided to accompany them, more excited about the prospect of finally visiting Fatehpur Sikri, which had dominated my imagination for long, than the Taj Mahal. Indeed, upon reaching and wandering around Taj Mahal, I could not help but think that its beauty was too obvious, too expected, perhaps due to the virtue of  it being so recognisable. However, I must admit that I saw it by noon and Taj Mahal is a hydra-headed beauty, metamorphosing into different creatures at different times of the day. Perhaps, I may feel differently were I to see it during dawn or dusk or as my mother once had the opportunity to do so, by moonlight!

Fatehpur Sikri
We left Agra sometime after lunch and arrived at Fatehpur Sikri a couple of hours before dusk. I personally feel that it was the most beautiful time to visit the place for the dusk lent the place an extraordinary beauty that perhaps other times of the day could not do so; the roseate sandstone gleamed and glowed in the diminishing light and this nebulous junction between day and night suspended the place in another realm together. As I meandered through the arches, courtyards, passages, and rooms that I had long wished to encounter, I thought of ghost towns that I had visited in the United States. I was not sure whether 'ghost town' was an apt epithet for them for they did not appear to be haunt of ghosts even so dead and static did they seem. In Fatehpur Sikri, though, it struck me the place was not as much a fossil as a city simply waiting for all of us to leave to become alive again: a veritable city of ghosts, indeed.**

I also recollect that Jodha Akbar (2008), starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai, was being shot then and it was a curious intermingling of history, imagination, and cinematic anticipation as I peeped into the courtyard complex of Jodha-bai, reputedly Akbar's favorite queen.

Jodha-bai's courtyard complex

I could not visit the white marble filigree-screened tomb of Salim Chishti that day and while it was disappointing, I consoled myself with the thought that it only meant that I would have reason to return to Fatehpur Sikri to tie a sacred thread in the dargah and partake of a city ensnared in time....once again.

The tomb of Salim Chisti

Is there a place that has enchanted you and which you would like to keep continually returning to?

** Interestingly enough, Fatehpur Sikri features in the Hindi film, Lal Patthar (1971) where it plays an elemental role in the plot and has a ghost story attached to it; Lal Patthar, or Red Stones, is in reference to the red sandstone that Fatehpur Sikri is abstracted from


  1. Hey Priyanka.... so well written.. I have always felt that mystical element about this place... specially on a winter morning or afternoon.. it is so worth it.. to just sit and imagine.. what would this place be like..back then..

  2. Thank you so much! I have only been to Fatehpur Sikri once but I can easily say that it's one of my all-time favorite places. And yes, I too was thinking that it would be especially lovely during a winter morning or afternoon - would love to spend the whole day there then actually! Chalo, same day...:)

  3. You know.. with your love for details.. I would love to take a trip with you.. anywhere.. seriously.. but yeh Fatehpur is not a bad idea at all... We must plan it sometime.. <3

  4. Well, you know what they say: God is in the details;) but you know, having posted this and just looking through pics of my Taj Mahal/Fatehpur Sikri trips, I too wish I could visit it again soon! Yes, we must definitely plan something...

  5. Even I have been to Taj Mahal but because of shortage of time I could not visit Fatehpur Sikri. But when I was reading this I was feeling like I am standing in the walls of Fatehpur Sikri. Thank you for lettimg me in your experience. And if possible I would also like to join you both.��


Thank you so much for taking the time out to leave a comment. I look forward to hearing from you!