Monday, August 2, 2010

The Abandoned City

The Mughal Emperor Akbar built the city of Fatehpur Sikri, but abandoned it soon after it was built because of water shortages. It was really interesting to explore the palace complex, and the city ruins behind the palace.

The Great Gate leads into Jama Masjid, which is an active mosque. It was the single worst location for hassles in India. Shopkeepers pose as "not-a-guide" or "practicing-my-English" or "foreigners-are-required-to-have-an-escort-in-the-mosque" and they will do anything to get you to talk to them. Once you talk to them, it's almost impossible to get rid of them. "Leave me alone"; "Go away"; "I want to be alone"; and "Stop bothering me" are all useless, regardless of your level of rudeness. The only thing that works is a firm "Goodbye." It's best to just ignore them in the first place no matter what.

Once I figured out these basics, I could explore the beautiful mosque in relative peace. It's filled with regular people worshipping, intricate relief and lattice carvings, and is the site for a shrine with the tomb of Sufi Saint Salim Chisti which has amazing lattice carvings and colourful mirror and glass inlays. The saint predicted that Akbar would have a son, so people still come to pray for children here.

Inside the palace complex there are many unique buildings, including the Panch Mahal, a five-story building for keeping cool. Most of the buildings were open to the air. Some of them had fantastic carvings, especially the Khwabgah or Khalwat Kada-i-Khass, which looks like a library.

The exit to the city complex leads through the Elephant Gate, and not many people visit here, because it's not well-indicated. The elephants' heads were knocked off because representations of people and animals are forbidden in Islam. (Which allows for the development of such gorgeous geometric, floral, and calligraphic art forms in many Muslim societies.) Akbar wasn't very religious, but the later emperor Aurangzeb was fundamentalist, and he destroyed a lot of the representational artwork when he was in power, aside from doing a lot of harm to Muslim-Hindu relations.

Behind the palace is a strange-looking tower covered in stone elephant tusks, where the emperor and other dignitaries shot wild animals, after someone else flushed the game toward the tower. There were also interesting tanks, and a very nice baoli, or step-well. Here I met Katsu, a Japanese traveller, who encouraged my interest in eventually visiting Pakistan.

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