India: Fatehpur Sikri – The Long Way Round

I had two main objectives today: first was to sort out my transport to Jaipur for tomorrow and second was to make it to Fatehpur Sikri. I achieved them both, though the latter came with an assortment of obstacles, which seems to have been a recurring theme during this trip.

I’d looked on the RTSRC website the night before and had found a bus to Jaipur that I liked the sound of. I decided to book it in person rather than online just to be on the safe side. The ticket office for Jaipur buses is located just down the road from Idagh Bus Stand (Agra’s main bus station) from which I was getting the bus to Fatehpur Sikri anyway. I got a tuk tuk to the bus station, then turned left out of the station and walked down to the Sakura Hotel. Just outside the hotel is a small ticket booth with a sheet detailed the time and type of buses destined for Jaipur. The buses also leave from the same place.

I got my ticket with no problems and, as it was around the time I’d be leaving the next day, even saw the bus I’d be getting on as it pulled up outside the hotel. So far so good. Next, I had to organise getting a very different type of bus – the bus to Fatehpur Sikri.

Idagh Bus Stand is just a sprawling mess of buses parked every which way. I couldn’t see any numbers on them and the labels on the front weren’t in English. Luckily there is an enquiry desk near the back and the man there was happy to point out which bus was heading to Fatehpur Sikri. The buses are regular – every half hour (on the hour and half past the hour respectively) so finding a bus shouldn’t be a problem if you’re planning a trip. The bus soon filled up with a combination of locals and tourists and at 11am we headed on our way.

As a fellow traveller in front remarked to me, we were definitely in for an ‘authentic Indian experience’ by taking the bus and that was certainly what we got! We paid 40 rupees each way for an incredibly bumpy journey. At one point I thought I was going to hit the roof! You feel like you have to be on your guard at all times, bracing yourself for the next time you go flying. It’d certainly wake you up if you commuted on the bus everyday!

Then, about halfway through the journey, an Indian man sat just near me started mentioning how the driver had ‘made a mistake’. I figured he meant he had taken a wrong turning or something but then looked ahead to see smoke billowing out from the front of the bus! The tourists on the bus gave one another half-amused, half-terrified glances as the bus pulled over in the middle of nowhere and everyone was ordered to get off.

The knackered bus
The knackered bus

The other drivers on the road we were stuck on seemed to take great glee in the fact we’d broken down which was nice of them. Now about two dozen of us had to wait at the side of the road with no indication of what would happen next. We waited for about half an hour or so before the next bus to Fatehpur Sikri arrived and we all piled on there, though it was pretty cosy as we had to share it with the normal passengers from that bus. I’ve no idea what became of the broken bus, since it was just abandoned the road. I imagined the Indian AA would come along to take care of it, or that it would be going to the big bus station in the sky.

So with a half hour delay, we finally made it to Fatehpur Sikri. Sort of. We pulled in the bus station and I found myself on a huge street with stalls and shops either side. A man at the bus stand told me to keep walking and turn right. Well I kept walking… and walking… and walking… It was the hottest part of the day and, seeing no right turn, I had walked right through the market, up through a small village until I finally saw something which resembled the age old abandoned city I was looking for.

Except it wasn’t. It was just a very big wall.

I decided to climb up it anyway and got some good views, even if it was unsettling standing right next to a huge drop. I was also being hounded by children for money and fearing they might just lob me over the edge of I refused, I headed back down. I’d seen the huge entrance to the complex from my vantage point so had an idea of where I was going now and finally found my way into the mosque, now accompanied by a guide that I had neither asked for nor wanted, but he seemed friendly enough and I thought it’d be interesting to hear some of the history behind this place.

It’s a really majestic place, especially with the hot sun beating down on it, emphasising the sandy red colours. We entered the white marble tomb in the centre and made a wish. My guide was very insistent that wishes are for the heart only and I must never tell a soul. Sorry folks.

Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri

I’d say the complex itself is definitely worth the 1 hour bus journey out of Agra, particularly as I was pretty sick of Agra by this point. It’s 250 rupees to enter the palace though many areas of the complex are free. Though bumpy and not too reliable, the bus journey was also fine on the whole and, though it sounded a bit wheezy, the bus back got me to Agra safe and sound.

For my final night in Agra, I ate at Shankara Vegis, a vegetarian restaurant near the Taj’s North Gate. I’d really recommend it. It is quiet and cosy and the prices are exceptional for a budget traveller. I was left full with a delicious thali and a couple of drinks for under 200 rupees. A great way to end my time here. Tomorrow, the final leg of the Golden Triangle awaited…

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