Rabindranath Tagore described it as 'a teardrop on the cheek of eternity' and Rudyard Kipling as 'the embodiment of all things pure.' The allure of UNESCO World Heritage Site Taj Mahal continues to draw tourists to Agra like moths to a flame. But that was not the reason for my recent visit to Agra — I wanted to test drive Yamuna Expressway which friends rightfully claim takes two hours at a steady 80 km per hour! Checking into ITC Mughal Sheraton, I booked an appointment for hammam and deep tissue massage at 6 p.m., on returning from a day trip to Fatehpur Sikri. After all, nothing guarantees an adventure like exploring ancient cities where the emperor once held court.
The fortified ancient city of Fatehpur Sikri, 40km from Agra, was Capital of the Mughal empire in 1571–1585. Emperor Akbar visited Sikri to consult Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne, and he subsequently shifted his Capital from Agra to Sikri and constructed a walled city with palaces, court, mosque and other buildings. He named the city Fatehabad — Persian for 'victory' — and it was later called Fatehpur Sikri. Leaving Agra at 11 a.m., I reached the historic city within an hour as the highway is great, whizzing past lush green fields with mustard flowers. Alighting from the car, I headed towards Buland Darwaja, a national historic landmark, followed by touts all the way up 50—odd steps! Ignoring them, I admired the grandiose gateway to Jama Masjid, rising up to 176-ft topped by chhatris, intricately carved with verses from the Quran. Here, I removed my shoes and walked in. Inside it was just as stunning: Jama Masjid is situated at the highest point in Fatehpur Sikri. Within the mosque complex, the marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti occupies central position under a semi-circular dome enclosed on all sides by marble screens. I offered rose petals on the tomb, tied a thread on the marble screen or jaali and sent up a prayer. Outside, I chose to skip viewing the palaces and spent an hour enraptured by a group of qawwals singing soulfully, before heading back to the car.