Monday, October 17, 2011

India! Agra: Fatehpur Sikri and the Agra Fort

The Agra Fort
Blog Entry #32: India!  Agra: Fatehpur Sikri and the Agra Fort

Wednesday, October 13, 2011

On to Agra!  Forming a stark contrast to the gleaming Indira Gandhi airport is the Delhi Train Station, where one instantly is immersed in a cross section of Indian society traveling on the extensive train network.  Our early morning destination was Agra – 200 km to the southeast along the Yamuna River valley, capital of the Mughal emperor Babur, and home to the Taj Mahal.
Along the tracks in Delhi
Rice fields along the track from Delhi to Agra
Moving through Delhi in the early morning light and watching the sun rise over fields and villages provided an unforgettable sight: tenements and pockets of squalor among the slice of India’s poor who live adjacent to the tracks contrasted with fields of lentils, maize, wheat, and vegetables. 

One out of four of the world’s poorest one billion people live in India, and one is confronted with their presence everywhere as you traverse both city and countryside.  But equally present is India’s dynamism, from the rapidly growing corporate sector in the cities that is fueling India’s 8% annual economic growth, to the timeless energies of its villages and rural areas.  And the color!  Indians seem to revel in bright colors, from women’s clothing both traditional and modern, to buildings and billboards.
Water Buffalo near Agra
We arrived in Agra by 8 am and proceeded to the lovely Gateway Hotel for breakfast.  One of the challenging experiences of our time in the north was the constant juxtaposition of our lodgings and meals in luxurious hotels and restaurants with the conditions of the people we encountered in each place we visited: one simply can’t escape the enormously privileged global position we hold as citizens of the United States.  Yet everywhere we experienced India’s incredible hospitality and warmth.
Courtyard in Fatehpur Sikri
Palace at Fatehpur Sikri
Interior of Fatehpur Sikri
Lattice work Fatehpur Sikri
While most of our group had come to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, there we several other sites to be experienced beforehand, building a sense of anticipation.  First on our schedule was a visit to Fatehpur Sikri – described by Lonely Planet as “a magnificent fortified ghost city” built by the famed Mughal emperor Akbar to be his capital in the 16th century.  Nothing quite prepared me for the magnificent red sandstone palaces and mosque set on a hill and surrounded by remnants of a great wall.  From the smallest detail of the carved Islamic iconography to the contrast of red palaces and green gardens, it is a stunning site, made all the more poignant it was abandoned after only 14 years, apparently due to an inadequate water supply.
Palace at Fatehpur Sikri, outside Agra
Interior Buttresses, Palace at Fatehpur Sikri

Detail of Ceiling in Palace, Fatehpur Sikri
Entrance to the Agra Fort
Entrance, Agra Fort
Rivaling Fatehpur Sikri in opulence and majesty is the Agra Fort, also begun by the emperor Akbar and set on a strategic bluff above the Yamuna River within Agra. 

White Marble Palace, Agra Fort
First View of Taj Mahal from Agra Fort
One of the finest Mughal forts in India, the red sandstone walls and buildings also house several stunning white marble palaces, built by Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, who would go on to build the Taj Mahal a mile downstream along the river.  Entering the fort gave us our first glimpse of the Taj to the east. 

Ironically Shah Jahan spent his final years as a prisoner to his son, the emperor Aurangzeb, who killed his brothers and imprisoned his father to consolidate his power. 
Domes of Mosque and Arches of Marble Palace, Agra Fort
Getting Picture with the Taj Mahal
From his palace prison Shah Jahan could gaze downstream to the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum of his beloved wife, Mumtaz, who died while giving birth to their 14th child. 
Visitors to the Agra Fort
And it was to the Taj Mahal we traveled after our visit to the fort. 

Taj Mahal above the Yamuna River, viewed from the Agra Fort

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