Anyone traveling to India has to make the pilgrimage to the Taj Mahal in Uttar Pradesh province. Despite the warnings of how decrepit Agra is, the Taj’s hometown, Lindsay and I were no exception this last January. The dire warnings were accurate and we hustled on towards Fatehpur Sikri not much more than 12 hours after our arrival.
The Mughal emperor Akbar the Great built Fatehpur Sikri during the late 16th century to herald the birth of his son. His son had other priorities, but Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, was bit by the same bug as his grandfather and went on to build the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was supposedly built as a tomb for Shah Jahan’s favorite of three wives but I think it was an excuse to one-up his grandpapa Akbar. Akbar and Shah Jahan were only two emperors from the fairly harmonious 300 year dynasty of the Mughals who ruled much of southern India starting in the early 1500s. Interestingly, the Mughals claimed heritage both from Genghis Khan’s Mongol empire in Asia and Timur’s Timurid empire in Persia.
The history notwithstanding, when we arrived and made our way through the gate crowded with amateur photographers, the inspiration oozed palpably from the Taj Mahal. We’d timed it perfectly with the lifting fog offering us a panoramic vista of not just the Taj Mahal but the almost-equally stunning setting it sits within. Sublime yet profound, it was easy to understand what all the fuss was about.
We thought we were making a hurried escape when we chose the rickshaw for a ride back to our hostel, but after chai was dutifully downed, our peddler turned into a pusher most of the way. Still, we managed to just make it in time to check out Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar the Great’s greatest architectural accomplishment, complete with overbearing trinket hawkers and must-hire tour guides. “Just make it in time” because it was our taxi-driver’s first job and he couldn’t be bothered to bring a map.
Fatehpur Sikri was worth the trip if for no other reason than to see the intricate and unbelievable stone carving work, a craft that continues in the local community. I had to touch panels appearing to be screens to believe they were hewn from a single piece of stone. Absolutely astounding. A group of Sufi musicians played forlorn, ancient songs of praise while we wandered the temple bare foot — shoes not allowed in Indian temples — creating a sense of timelessness.
Timelessness is a succinct summary for much of India, I’d come to realize.