I was tired. A long day spent travelling the pink city of Jaipur and its beautiful palaces in the scorching sun had bought fatigue over me and my friends. We decided that the third day in Jaipur should come to an end and bundled up to our bus. The next place to visit on our list was Fatehpur Sikri-the walled city built by Akbar the great. Dusk had already fallen. We hurriedly grabbed a few delicious crunchy jalebis and cold lassi from the sweet shop at the corner of a narrow pink walled lane and sat inside the bus ready to move ahead.
The evening sky was deep blue contrasting the day's hot white skies, with cool evening breeze of desert setting the mood for a nice journey. By the time I reached the outskirts of Fatehpur Sikri, I was fast asleep. So when the bus parked and we had to get down, we were at the rear side of the place and I had not even glimpsed my destination from afar. I had no idea what I was going to witness.
I remembered studying about the Fatehpur Sikri with the famed gateway Buland Darwaza and it significance, I remembered the drawings I made of it for college, the study sketches, But nothing prepared me for what I would witness that night. There was a power cut suddenly and it was way too dark to go on and look around Fatehpur Sikri. So we went to the shops nearby first. The shops by the boulders bordered the Sikri(city) with the little lamps flickering in place as the shopkeepers lit them. Those that had generators turned them on. I couldn't see anything except these lights and made my way to the shops deciding that once the power came back, I could go up to the Buland Darwaza.
Inside, nestled behind the parking area, among high boulders, the lane of shops looked as if built under ground. The sloping terrain went down farther away from the monument and into recessed little shops. Here were most beautiful carvings I had ever seen!! A marble lattice elephant carved within a lattice elephant! Flowing water from women's pot carved in stone mimicking the flow of water! I admired the skill the local artisans had to bend the stone to their wish and create such amazing masterpieces! I bought a little lattice elephant candle stand and a very antique looking canon for myself. I was still going through sandstone and glass blown artefacts when I realized it was quite late. So, promising myself to come back in daylight, I walked back in the labyrinth to visit the Fatehpur Sikri.
When I came out back into the open, I was shocked and in awe. Looming in front of me, with the star light glinting off the stones inlaid with holy inscriptions, looking majestic in the night, was the magnificent victory gate: The Buland Darwaza. I stood absolutely stunned. Studying the monument in the books and exams was one thing, but standing here, at the base of the high steps that led to the gate and looking up at the darwaza was another. I felt the magnanimity, like the feeling when you face a waterfall n realize what you are compared to the nature. Puny, the word came unbidden to my mind. I tried to think of the last time I had felt anything close to this looking at a man made structure, but nothing came to my mind. Not even the Taj Mahal adorned this majestic appearance. It was too elegant to evoke this feeling. The Buland Darwaza exuded the feeling of raw strength. I have not been to the pyramids of Giza or great wall of China, but this was my Wonder of the World.
With no other structure around, the Buland Darwaza stood tall at 167' with the stairs that went for 42'.I started climbing the massive stairs stopping at every 10 stairs as each step was too high to climb the entire flight at ease. It matched the gigantic Proportions of the darwaza(gate) itself, giving me the feeling as if it had been built for giants. I finally reached the base of the darwaza. The stars glowed far away. The darwaza, bathed in this night light, created the aura of regality. The air of mystery around the place was palpitating. The night could not have been better. To this day, I have never felt awe as much as that night as I stood there looking up. I could see the holy Quran and other inscriptions inlaid on the sandstone with marble and it remained etched into my memory for a long time afterwards. I could see the huge semi-dome sitting on the five decorated faces of the entry portal, supporting the platform above with turrets and chhatris(pillared kiosks) that adorned the top of the darwaza.
Walking inside through the gate and stepping into the courtyard of Fatehpur Sikri, I could see the corridors on either side in a perfect single perspective composition of arches disappearing to the end where they turned to form the enclosure of sikri. I stepped out into the open plaza and beheld the many remains of sikri(city):the tombs of Kings and tomb of Salim Chisti etc; The most intricate being the tomb of Salim chisti with its marble lattices and patterns glinting in the starlight. Looking back, the rear side of Buland Darwaza stepped out into layers topped with the 13 chhatris and walkways for the kings of that era. It seemed fit that great emperors in their days of war and lore, walked this very ground and lived here centuries ago. It really was the highest gateway in the world.
I knew now, what a visit to a place could really do. Reading about the places in books and looking up places online, is nothing compared to actually visiting the place. The photographs cannot evoke the same emotion as the reality does. Promising myself that I shall travel the world and witness more of what the world holds out for me, until the day I can, I started journeying into the history and other remains of the royal city of Fatehpur Sikri with renewed wonder.