Saturday, May 26, 2007

Agra to Jaipur, Rajasthan

Forty kilometers west of Agra we came upon the magnificent fortified ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri, today a World Heritage Site. It had been built by Emperor Akbar the Great as the capital of the Mughal Empire during the 16th Century. Akbar had a wonderful attitude towards religion. He believed in peace for all, and counted Christians and Hindus amongst his many wives.

He built Fatehpur Sikri as a place where people of all religions could come together and live in a ‘perfect city’. He invented a philosophy known as Din-i-llahi (Faith of God) which tried to blend all the religions into one. At the same time, he built separate quarters for each of his wives, decorated in the style of their religion. Unfortunately, the city only lasted as the capital for 14 years and had to be abandoned after his death, since it was built to far from an existing river, and despite the ingenious irrigation proposals by his engineers, it wasn’t possible to meet the water needs of the city. Sort of like Adelaide!

We picked up a guide at the entrance. We weren’t too concerned about his abilities because our guide book cautioned us that the purpose of many buildings was uncertain, hence much of what the guides say is invented!

Like so many of India’s great monuments, it was a most amazing place. Equally amazing were the stories about Emperor Akbar and his court who resided in the city. I was particularly interested in a large area, where the court played a game not unlike chess. However instead of wooden or marble markers, the ‘pieces’ were beautiful maidens, who were moved about the ‘board’ in their colourful saris and musical jewelry.

Our guide was able to show us how the different religions did influence the design of different buildings in the city. The combination of the religions resulted in some very interesting details and spaces. It is a great shame that the city did not survive as the capital. It’s an even greater shame that Akbar’s concept of a single religion, which blended all the other religions didn’t survive either.

About 95 km from Jaipur, our driver turned off the road, and down some very rough roads, through rural villages and wheat fields. Eventually we stopped in Abhaneri, a very remote village to see one of Rajasthan’s most awe inspiring step-wells. I still don’t fully understand the purpose of these wells, but this one was built by King Chand who ruled the area in the 9th century. Unfortunately, there was no guide to explain what this was all about; just a very rough looking guy, and a very old man who kept talking to us in Hindi, and taking our money as I violated the no photography signs.

This structure had about 11 visible levels of zigzagging steps. It was an incredible geometric sight, about 20 m deep. At the bottom was a small amount of stagnant water covered in algae, which wasn’t surprising since it hadn't rained for months, and doesn’t start raining here until late June. The temperature was in the mid forties while we were there.

As you can see from the photos, it was a remarkable place. While we felt a bit vulnerable wandering around, since our driver took off and left us, and there was no one around who could speak a word of English, it was a most memorable experience, and one of the most interesting old structures I have ever seen.

After looking around at this well, and an adjacent ruin of a temple, our driver did return, and we told him we were ready to go directly to our hotel in Jaipur, where we could go for a swim in a proper pool. And so we did.

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