History has it that in 1569, the great Mughal emperor Akbar laid the foundation of his new capital to honour the sufi saint Salim Chishti, 37 kilometres from Agra. In celebration of his victory over the Rajput Kings of Chittorgarh and Ranthambore he named the city Fatehabad, ‘fateh’ literally means victory. Fatehabad remained his capital till 1585 when it had to be abandoned because the lake, the only source of its water supply, was exhausted. The construction of the city was never truly completed.
According to some people, the Rajputs had started construction even before Akbar defeated them and occupied and established his capital in the unfinished city. He made additions to the unfinished buildings which explains the combination of Rajput and Mughal style of architecture.
Because of its proximity to the village of Sikri, it came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri, though abandoned by Akbar in 1585, was occupied by several other rulers from time to time. Which is why the complex is in a well-preserved state. The 180 feet high Buland Darwaza is the identity of Fatehpur Sikri. ‘Buland’ has no English equivalent. ‘Big’ is the closest one can get although the word cannot even begin to describe the majesty of the structure. So ‘Big Gate’ it is.
The other well known structure is the tomb of Salim Chishti, the sufi saint, within the Jama masjid.
One should also see Panch Mahal, the five-storied palace as well as the palace of Jodhabai, Akbar’s Hindu wife.
The sun reflecting off the red sand stone floor of the Jama Masjid courtyard made it unbearably hot to walk barefoot even though jute sheets dripping with water were spread on the pathways. That the entire complex is made of red sand stone did not help either.
The reason for our being here was that my daughter, Pramiti, was relocating from Delhi to Bangalore and, being driving enthusiasts, we had decided to drive. As in the past, once again we found ourselves on the road in the blistering month of May. The saving grace was that, unlike earlier times when we drove a non-AC Maruti 800, we were in my daughter’s Hyundai Verna. Nearing Agra, a historical city we had thoroughly explored several times earlier and had nothing new to offer, we thought we should see the fabled Fatehpur Sikri, which only I had seen as a child some decades ago.
Bidding adieu to the magnificent city of Fatehpur Sikri, we drove on and made Jhansi by nightfall. Pramiti shared the 500 kilometre drive with me while Alka, my wife, was happy to resume her role of a navigator. We stopped only for lunch in Gwalior, another city we had investigated earlier. Jhansi too was no stranger to us and we departed for Nagpur early the next morning.
I have fond memories of Nagpur from my childhood and would have liked to spend time there but it was not to be. We were time bound. The eventless 600 kilometre drive from Jhansi was exhausting and we hit the beds immediately after dinner. We resumed our journey after breakfast the next morning to reach Hyderabad, once again nearly 500 kilometre away, just before dusk.
A very pleasant couple of days were in store for us with my wife’s niece and her family hosting us in Hyderabad, the city of Nizams. Just as Delhi is known for Qutub Minar, and Agra for Taj Mahal, Hyderabad is known for its Charminar, the famed minarets constructed in 1591-92. It is Hyderabad’s best known monument. Regrettably, we missed a visit to it. We did, however, visit the internationally known Salar Jung Museum and the Golconda Fort.
Golconda Fort is built on a granite hill about 500 feet in height. It came into prominence during the rule of Bahmani Sultanate and, later, the Qutb Shahi dynasty. But a fort did exist on the hill centuries earlier. The fort is a marvel of architecture. It was conquered and ransacked by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in 1687, never to rise again. Some of the fine buildings still stand and bear testimony to the architectural genius of it builders.
Salar Jung Museum exhibits world’s largest one-man collection of priceless works of art. It took Nawab Mir Ali Yusuf Khan Salar Jang III more than thirty-five years, and a fortune, to acquire and collect sculptures, paintings, weapons, manuscripts, carpets, clocks etc. from across the world. Only a fraction of the Nawab’s collection are exhibited in the 38 galleries spread across two floors and, even for casual visitors like us a whole day at the museum was insufficient to see and truly appreciate the marvellous exhibits. Of the hundreds of exhibits we saw, the most fascinating are the ‘Veiled Rebecca’ and a clock.
The Veiled Rebecca, created by G.B. Benzoni in 1876, is a delicately carved statue of a lady whose face can be seen through a marble veil.
Of the scores of clocks on display, the most famous is the one in which a timekeeper emerges every hour, strikes the gong and returns. The hourly shows are very popular among the visitors.
Unfortunately, photography in the museum is strictly prohibited.
It was now time to leave for Bangalore, our final destination. Overruling our protests, our hosts loaded us with quantities of eatables. Which was fortunate otherwise we would have starved. To our dismay, we did not find a single restaurant, not even a tea or coffee stall, during the nearly 550 kilometre drive to Bangalore. The lesson we learnt – one should always carry large quantities of foodstuff while driving in South India – came handy in our future essays in the south.
The nearly 2000 kilometre drive was most pleasant, the highways, constructed under the ‘Golden Quadrangle’, excellent except in patches where work was still in progress. We could drive at 160 kmph and maintain an average speed of 100 kmph, unimaginable on Indian Roads.