I AM SOMEWHAT INTIMIDATED BY THE THOUGHT OF VISITING FATEHPUR SIKRI, THE FORTIFIED GHOST CITY. Who knows if it is really haunted? The bus arrived at the main bazaar of this city during a heavy shower, with half of the town ankle-deep in water. Already 2pm in the afternoon, I wasted no time, and started the short trek up to the mountains.
The town was inhabited, not by lonely spirits, but by people, who are busy tending to their buying and selling in the markets. A young man approached me offering his guesthouse luggage storage facility, which I happily accepted. Upon seeing the view of the nearby fields from the guesthouse and the cheap room with attached bathroom, I had to stay for the night. (Mostly for the cheap room, I am stingy)
With less burden on more shoulders, I had more energy to go explore the ghost city. Built during the Mughal dynasty by the Emperor Akbar, this World Heritage Site boasts of an uniform Indo-Muslim architectural style, but is abandoned soon after completion due to scarcity of water. The magnificent gate, Buland Darwaza, the biggest in Asia, brings us back to the brilliant reign of Akbar. The gate leads to a beautiful mosque which is still used until today, hardly spooky at all.
The nearby palaces are quite impressive. With architectural influences from the Hindu, Islam and Persian artists, they serve as good representations of the Mughal art. The insides of the buildings are now empty, but the ornamental designs on the walls are pretty well preserved. Along with me at the complexes are groups of foreigners and buses of local tourists, not in any way lifeless.
The largest gate of its kind in Asia, this towering entrance to the Jama Masjid captivates all visitors
A marble cenotaph with graveyards by its sides at the centre of the Jama Masjid
Whimsical architectures surround the palace
BACK AT THE MOSQUE, AS WE NEAR THE END OF THE RAMADAN MONTH FOR THE MOSLEMS, a festival is held here with drums, music and fairs. I sat at the mosque, just chilling out waiting for the sun to set, and was continuously approached by children selling postcards, pens and marble souvenirs. Different touts come and go and alas I was surrounded by four English-speaking twenty-year-olds who work as guides at the mosque. Now knowing that I had seen all of the sites, they have no money interest in me and thus we started chatting as new found friends.
“How much do you earn a day?” I asked.
“Rs 400 if it is a good day, but mostly Rs 200.” said one of the man in near perfect British accent. Apparently, they never went to school, but learned the language and the trade with years of practice, some starting at the age of seven.
“Can I ask you something?” the man with a beard, a bandana, long locks and eyeliners asked, looking suspicious. He did have a canny resemblance to Johnny Depp’s character in ‘Pirates of the Carribean’.
“Sure,” I answered, but with doubt, hoping that he does not want anything to do with my money. But then, they insisted that we move 10 meters away from the platform I was sitting on, telling me that it is not good to start the discussion on mosque grounds.
Then he said, “Do your people marry out of love or arrangement?”. I sighed a relief. The age-old question that I have been asked many times in India.
“We marry out of love but people in the past do have arranged marriages,” I replied though I had prepared this for a million times.
“Next question,” the man seemed desperate, and I thought he now has a curious look in his eyes. “If you find a bad girl, you like her but your parents don’t agree, what will you do?” Hmmm…. Then he goes on, “If you have baby with girlfriend, what do you do?” To them, these are taboo questions, not allowed by religion and not by the society.
“Can you buy condoms easily?”, “The thing that comes out from the man during sex, is it from the knees?”, “Did you learned about sex during school?”. I have to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable speaking about this with complete strangers, but they showed such enthusiasm, and I am the only person to ask. Most of them had no formal education, and has little exposure outside their villages. Even with the hundreds of foreigners visiting here everyday, few had the time to sit and chat with them. Fewer with the patience to endure their differences. I wonder if I curbed their enthusiasm, but I really liked the thought of helping out.
THE GUESTHOUSE IS REALLY NICE FOR ITS SUNSET VIEW, AND EVEN BETTER TO GAZE AT THE STARS BECAUSE THE POWER IS ALWAYS DOWN. Their old generators provide electricity but only for only tens of minutes before either the gasoline runs out or something gets jammed in it. I am not afraid of the dark but I don’t like it. Imagine being in a dark room alone, hot and sweaty, and finding more than 50 crickets beside you. Yikes! The crickets jump to your bed and onto you and then away, doing nothing to you, but making it difficult to fall asleep. The next morning, I was even more shocked to find hundreds of crickets nesting on the room’s wall! All in all, the ghost city is indeed scary, not because of the dead, but their very alive insects.
My own private balcony with a view of the sunset
A whole community of crickets that I reluctantly shared my room with