After the wonders of the Taj Mahal and the awesome Agra Fort, it should come as no surprise that Fatehpur Sikri was something of a disappointment. But what are the reasons for this?
Fatehpur Sikri is arguably the finest example of Mughal Era architectural preservation in India. It was built in 1569 by the Mughal Emperor Akbar, and served as the capital of the Empire from 1571 to 1585. The capital was moved here from Agra, much like how the capital of the Angkor Empire of old Cambodia was moved to Angkor Thom from Angkor Wat. I found there to be many similarities in the politics. The new Mughal capital at the Fatehpur Sikri site contained harems, private residences, a mosque, and many royal palaces. Today, much of the complex remains in tact and is a popular tourist destination for people on a day trip from their Taj Mahal escapades in Agra. Much like the Taj, Fatehpur Sikri is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you bought a combined Agra Palaces ticket for 500 Rupees, you can visit Fatehpur Sikri as part of that price. Otherwise, an entrance ticket on its own to Fatehpur Sikri will set you back 485 Rupees.
So why do I think a trip to Fatehpur Sikri should be left off your itinerary? Well, I have a few reasons. Firstly, the horrid tourist infrastructure around the site. Fatehpur Sikri is around 40km from Agra, and I arrived here on the train early one morning. The train journey was ok by Indian standards, but upon arrival at the station there was complete chaos! It reminded me a little of Baggage Reclaim at Kathmandu Airport! I don’t expect signs to be written in English (just as well, because there aren’t any), but I do expect some kind of directions for people who have just left the station. Which way is the old Mughal capital of Fatehpur Sikri? I had planned to get a bus, but not only could I fail to see which bus was going where, it seemed that on that particular morning the bus that I eventually required broke down! I had to wait nearly 90 minutes at a train station! In the end, I hopped in a taxi, was ripped off, but at least I actually made it to the old capital.
Secondly, the dust. Agra’s air is known as being something of a choking hazard even at the best of times. Why not check the weather for Agra now on your iPhone? I bet it says it’s around 100 degrees Fahrenheit and HAZE! Always the same. You really need to be aware of the air quality around here. Interestingly, I didn’t notice too much of a problem at the Taj Mahal or Agra Fort, but its seems the further south you come in the city (which I think is closer to the Thar Desert?) then the air quality deteriorates further.
Thirdly, the Fatehpur Sikri site itself. I mentioned earlier that having spent some time in Agra to see the Taj first, coming to Fatehpur Sikri was always going to be something of a let down. I guess that kind of opinion is subjective (although if you preferred Fatehpur to the Taj, you really need to question yourself!) but it is definitely my opinion. I enjoyed the site to an extent (despite the extortionate entrance fees), but I couldn’t get The Red Fort from Delhi out of my mind when I was walking around. It seemed like I had seen it all before. On the other hand, maybe if you have a strong interest in Mughal history then you could think of nothing better than spending 4 or 5 hours here, much like I could do walking around Siem Reap to marvel at the Angkorian temples.
Fatehpur Sikri was not part of my original itinerary when I came to Agra, but seeing as I had done the Taj Mahal and the awesome Agra Fort in record time, I had some spare time in the morning before I went back to Delhi in the evening up the Yamuna Expressway. I am glad I ticked off Fatehpur Sikri and got the memories to go with it, but I wouldn’t come back here, and I am not sure I would recommend the visit to anyone else either.
For a great look at Fatehpur Sikri (with bonus pics from the Taj), please check out this amazing write-up and photo-story from Quirrow and Mail!