Fatehpur Sikri

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Fatehpur Sikri (near Agra).

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Next we visited Fatahpur Sikri, about forty kilometres from Agra.  Akhbar built it as his new capital city and it functioned as such from 1571 to 1585. After this brief period it was abandoned.  Akhbar first shifted the capital to Lahore, while he was campaigning in the North and when he came back, Agra became the capital again.

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Entrance to Jodh Bai’s Palace.

Fatepur Sikri was partly built partly to honour the Sufi saint Salim Chisti, who had correctly foretold that Akhbar would have three sons.  It was never reoccupied not so much because of inadequacies of water supply, as is often suggested, but because it was more isolated and less secure than Agra when his sons had started to go in rebellion against him.

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Entrance to Queen’s Palace.

It generally has a basic Persian style, overlaid by Indian flourishes.  As such it symbolised Akhbar’s tolerance to different religions and cultures and was also the setting for extensive discourses between the proponents of different faiths.

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Jodhbai’s Kitchen.

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Jodhbai’s Kitchen.

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Diwan I Khas, or Hall of Private Audience (middle right distance).

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Anup Talao.

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Anup Talao.

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This young lad is well presented with his trousers even pressed.  He asked me to take his photo so I did.  He then asked me for money.  I told him that if I ask him whether I can take a photo he can ask me for money and I may pay but if he asks me, then I’m doing him a favour and there’s no reason why I should pay.

Had he not asked me I would have had little interest in such a photograph because posed portraits usually hold little interest for me.

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Entrance of the Taksal or Mint.  Only rubble lies beyond this.

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Taj Mahal

15th February 2014 (Day 7) Agra.

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The front gate.  You can see a bit of the Taj behind it.

We arrived at 7am to photograph the Taj Mahal, which is when the gates open.  You can’t actually photograph it at sunrise or sunset or at nighttime from a regular location.

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Through the front Gate.

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Shah Jahan ruled 1627 to 1658.  He was a contemporary therefore of Charles I of England and you’d have to say a rather more successful monarch although they both ended up being displaced from their thrones.  His favourite wife was Mumtaz Mahal, his cousin, who he married when he was 20 and she was 19.  They shared all the vicissitudes of life including his campaigns and the four years he was battling or on the run from his father Jahangir.

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Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631 while giving birth to their fourteenth child.  Shah Jahan was grief-stricken and retired for a year and when he re-appeared, he devoted all his energies to a mausoleum for her.  This is the Taj Mahal, built between 1632 and around 1653.

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Mumtaz Mahal insisted that children of other wives should be aborted to ensure the succession of their children but that did not prevent succession disputes.  After she died, Shah Jahan threw himself into licentious activities with a great number of women.  In 1658, he fell ill as a consequence of taking a seventeenth century equivalent of Viagra.  For a while it looked as though he would not survive.  Dara Shikoh, his nominated heir, assumed Regency and provoked a four-way civil war with his three brothers.  This continued even after Shah Jahan recovered.

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One of the two mosques, part of the overall enclosure.

Aurangzeb, the experienced war leader, defeated and killed the other three.  Shah Jahan survived, no longer Emperor, in house arrest in Agra Fort, where he could see the Taj Mahal.  Originally, he had wanted to build a black duplicate of the Taj Mahal as his mausoleum on the other side of the river, connected by a bridge, but this was not to be.  When Shah Jahan died, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal alongside Mumtaz Mahal.  His cenotaph is on the ground floor beside hers.  They are buried in a private chamber below that.

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This image and the next five are from or at one of the two mosques.

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Near the main gate.

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Near the main gate.

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the Baby Taj

14th February 2014 (Day 6)  Agra.

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Roadside market.

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Indian construction techniques.

These first two images are from the highway between Vrindavan and Sikandra.
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Truck parked at the side of the road.  Long-term parking, I would say.

From Akhbar’s Tomb we travelled further on into Agra.   The image above and the next seven are from that journey.

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Intersection.

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Making the best of your housing.

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Looking down on a street.

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Petrol pump transactions and a curious load.

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Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah or Baby Taj.

This was our next destination but we hadn’t quite got there yet.

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Roadside market.

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Road clogged with tuk-tuks.

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Main gate for the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah, or the Baby Taj.

Here we are at the outside gate and wall of the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah.  A distant relative of the Safavid royal family who ruled Persia from 1501, he came to India to find a position under Akhbar and ended up chief minister under Jahangir.  His title Itimad-ud-Daulah means “Pillar of the State”.  His daughter Nur Jahan became the favourite wife of Akhbar’s son JahangirJahangir was a capable ruler who consolidated the empire rather than expanding it.  However, he was overly fond of alcohol and opium and consumed excessively.  Nur Jahan grew in prominence during the reign of Jahangir and she came to sign official documents, feature on coins and act as Emperor when he was away or incapable.

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The end of Jahangir’s reign involved conflicts with his sons.  Kusrau, the eldest son rebelled and Jahangir blinded him.  Parwiz, the drunken second son rebelled but died anyway.  Khurram, the favoured third son rebelled and spent four years fighting or on the run.  He also killed Kusrau, a potential rival even if blind.  Nur Jahan married her daughter to illegitimate Shahriyar and tried to position him to be Emperor.

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Itimad-ud-Daulah’s tomb, or the Baby Taj.

 

However when Jahangir died, Nur Jahan’s brother, Asaf Khan, ensured that Khurram succeeded.  Apart from being the most capable candidate, Khurram was married to Asaf Khan’s daughter, Arjumand BanuAsaf Khan temporarily installed a son of Kusrau, Dawar Baksh as Emperor, Khurram marched from the Deccan and in short order executed Dawar Baksh, Shahriyar and other remaining male cousins.  Khurram then became the Emperor Shah Jahan and Arjumand Banu became his Empress Mumtaz Mahal.

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Nur Jahan survived but her political power was at an end.  She retired on a massive pension and devoted herself to building a tomb for her father, Itimad-ud-Daulah, Chief Minister of Jahangir and also grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal.  Specification of the white marble architecture was her focus and the tomb has the nickname of the “baby Taj” because it is clearly a precursor to the Taj Mahal.

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Delicate decorations on the inside walls of the Baby Taj.

Unfortunately, our visit to the Baby Taj was very rushed.  There were a wealth of details I would have like to explore but only five or ten minutes to race around.

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After a short bus journey, our next stop was the Mehtab Bagh, or the moonlight garden.  There were some very curious instructions on this sign on the way in.

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Taj Mahal (did you guess?) from Moonlight Gardens.

And here we see the purpose of the Moonlight Gardens, to view the Taj Mahal by moonlight.  Unfortunately this is not possible because the gardens are not open after dark.  Also, as of the last year or two, you are no longer allowed close to the river.  My guess is that this is a security reaction to the Bombay bombings.

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Click image for much larger view.

Here is the full view, showing the mosques on each side, which are part of the overall complex.  You can click on any image for a larger view.  This one however is a panorama comprising five images and there is a full-sized image behind it that you can zoom around in if you click it.

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This is near the Taj Mahal on the same side of the river but not part of the Taj.  According to Google Maps it is on the edge of the Taj Protected Forest.

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The first Mogul Emperor Babur constructed gardens on the site of the Taj Mahal and also on the site of the Moonlight Gardens.   Akhbar granted the land (on both sides of the river) to Raja Man Singh of Amer.  Much later, Shah Jahan purchased the land from Jai Singh I of Amer, the great grandfather of Jai Singh II who built Jai Singh Gera where we stayed in Vrindavan.  The river is the same an in Vrindavan too, the sacred Yamuna, and in theory it might have been possible to travel by river from Vrindavan to Agra though I suspect there is no river traffic these days.  Shah Jahan’s Moonlight Garden was covered in mud by successive floodwaters so the current one is a recreation.

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Just a reminder that there is more to India than the Taj Mahal.  This is not far from the Moonlight Gardens on the way back to our hotel, in the receding light.

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Akhbar’s Tomb

14th February 2014 (Day 6).  Agra (Sikandra)

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We drove from Vrindavan to Agra and this is Akhbar’s Tomb, in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra.

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What we are looking at though, is not the tomb but the walls around it and specifically the South Gate.  The minarets here inspired similar features on the Taj Mahal.

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Akhbar ruled from 1555 to 1605, contemporaneously with Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia, and was the greatest of the Mogul Emperors.  Earlier we saw the tomb of his father Humayan, which was completed by Akhbar.  When Humayan fell down the stairs and died, Akhbar was only thirteen and he was in the Punjab rather than in the capital Delhi.  He quickly had a rival.  A Hindu of lowly birth called Hemu, who was an undefeated general, declared himself supreme leader using the name Raja Vikramaditya and advanced on Akhbar with a huge army.

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Looking up at the South Gate.

Most of Akhbar’s advisors advised retreat to Kabul but his guardian and Regent, Bayram Khan, stood firm although outnumbered.  Initially they were fortunate and destroyed Hemu’s cavalry in a preliminary encounter but battle was joined and Hemu’s innumerable war elephants appeared to be winning the day.  Then Hemu, on his war elephant, was shot through the eye with an arrow, rather in the style of Harold Godwinson at Hastings, and died.  His army fled and Akhbar was triumphant.

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This is the building that houses the tomb.

Akhbar assumed complete command in 1561 at the age of nineteen and ended up executing Bayram Khan.  He was very successful militarily and extended his empire over much of Northern India and up to Afghanistan.  But what made him remarkable was his political success, which was due to his toleration.  He was born in Rajasthan under the protection of Hindu Rajas and unlike previous Moslem rulers he regarded Indians as his fellow countrymen rather than infidels to be suppressed.

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Blackbuck Antelopes on the grounds of the tomb, as enclosed by the outer walls.

Consequently he abolished laws discriminating against Hindus and encouraged discussion of spiritual matters between all religions.   He also encouraged art and literature and his reign is particularly well documented.  Ironically he was probably dyslexic and certainly illiterate.  Consequently he relied on conversation and on occasion would slip out of the palace in disguise to converse with ordinary people.  This gave him a much greater understanding of the lives of his subjects than other Mogul rulers.

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An Indian Palm Squirrel, being fed by passers-by.

Akhbar had the idea of generating a universal religion by taking the best out of each and then gravitated toward personal divinity, potentially rather like a Roman Emperor.  Because of Akhbar’s name, this meant that the standard Moslem invocation Allah Akhbar! could still mean God is great! or it could mean Akhbar is God.

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Ornate decorations and calligraphy inside the tomb.

This led to a revolt instigated by Moslem zealots in 1579-80, proclaiming his half-brother as Emperor.  However, he retained general support and the revolt was suppressed easily enough in the end.

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This support was partly due to his administrative and military reforms.  In particular, he expanded the small upper aristocracy by including many Hindu rajas who then supported him in order to defend their own positions.

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For most of his reign, his capital was at Agra but he built a new capital at Fatehpur Sikri and occupied that for a few years.  I will have a post on that soon and discuss it then.

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Many of his last years were consumed with a struggle with his son Salim, later the Emperor Jahangir, who attempted to seize Delhi in 1600 while Akhbar was away in the Deccan and even proclaimed himself Emperor in 1605.    Jahangir would also complete this tomb.

Akhbar’s latter years were also spent in fruitless campaigns in the Deccan.  His great grandson Aurangzeb would conquer most of the south a hundred years later but abandon Akhbar’s policies of toleration and thereby engender the subsequent disintegration of the Mogul Empire.

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This is Akhbar’s cenotaph and the real tomb is in a chamber underneath.

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Entering the tomb…

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This is a side chamber with the graves of two of Ahkbar’s daughters and a cenotaph for his Empress and main wife, Mariam uz Zamani.  Her mausoleum is one kilometre away.  She was the daughter of the Raja of Amber, so her father was the patrilineal ancestor of Jai Singh II who built Jai Singh Gera where we stayed in Vrindavan.  She was also Hindu and a continuing influence on Akhbar’s tolerance.  She was very influential as Empress and the mother of next emperor Jahangir.

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Vrindavan – Jai Singh Gera Ashram

13th February 2014 (Day 5) (Vrindavan #10)

While in Vrindavan we stayed at Jai Singh Gera Ashram.  This was founded by Raja Savai Jai Singh, or Jai Singh II, ruler of Amber (later Jaipur) in Rajasthan.  He was the strongest Hindu ruler in Northern India at the time and was also an important official for a succession of Mogul emperors, though Aurangzeb sidelined him because he was a Hindu and Bahadur Shah sidelined him because he took the wrong side in a Mogul succession war. He built what is now the ashram on a two-and-a-half acre site bordering onto the river.  It slowly fell into ruin for much of the next 200 years until rebuilding and restoration commenced from the 1960s.

I do not have any photographs to show you of the more modern accommodation and facilities in the building where we stayed, but I accidentally discovered an unreconstructed section of the original buildings.

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Gateway to garden, with squirrel.

Looking for the back gate, I walked past it and instead walked through a gateway to a rather charming garden.

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Beyond the garden, I discovered an unheralded and enchanted wonderland that included buildings that must have been built by Jai Singh.

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The river is just beyond here.  I suspect this was originally a gateway to steps leading down to the river.

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This must be Jai Singh’s Pavillion.  I surmise it was used for religious ceremonies and performances.

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Going back through the garden, there was a set of steps by the river wall leading up to a vantage point.  This is a view from there.  I don’t think these buildings are part of the ashram.  There appears to be a school for young children in the walkway at the left.

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Down below there was a monkey studying itself in a fragment of a mirror.

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And this is looking along the road beside the river.

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Outside the back gate of the ashram, there was a building that we were told was abandoned.  It appeared to have seen better days.

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Here we are looking back towards the street.

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I made some photographs in the central courtyard and then a dog started barking from the upper level.  I then realised there was a family squatting up there so I left.

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Here we are looking back from near the pontoon bridge with darkness descending….

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Vrindavan – Snake charmer and markets

13th to 14th February 2014 (Day 5 and 6) (Vrindavan #9)

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Continuing on from the morning walk in the previous post, we left Vrindavan and headed off towards the country.  We walked past a dozen or so people washing and beating clothes in the open air as a commercial activity.  We were told they would not appreciate us taking photographs so I have none to show you.  However, here are the clothes lines as we walked past.

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After a while we arrived at a small family settlement where we were to meet a snake charmer.

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And here he is.

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For those who are into the history of the Blues, his young assistant is playing the portable equivalent of a diddley bo.  In the southern US of yore, this was an instrument consisting of a wire stretched between two nails and could be on the side of a house, used by those too young to be able to afford a guitar.  Here the youngster has a guitar string (?) stretched between a stick and a tin can (under his arm).

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On the way back, these two people at a small farm settlement asked me to take their photo.

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Here we are passing the washing again.

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Back in the outskirts of Vrindavan, the municipal rubbish disposal workers are hard at work.

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I had a picture of this gateway in the last post with the doors half closed and a group of children.  Walking past it again, here you can see how little remains inside.  Perhaps sacked by Aurangzeb’s forces, I don’t know.

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The next morning was the day we were to leave Vrindavan but the bus didn’t go until 1:00pm, so I went for a walk and found some fruit and vegetable markets.

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The monkeys are a hazard here.  One of their favourite tricks is to grab someones glasses and retreat to the roof.  People then have to throw food up to them so they let the glasses go.

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Vrindavan – Morning walk

13th February 2014 (Day 5) (Vrindavan #8)

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Early this morning we set off on a walk through part of Vrindavan. In the background above is Jugal Kishor Temple, constructed in 1627 following permission from Mogul Emperor Akhbar.

Following images show some of the places and views I encountered on the walk. In most cases they need no further comment, particularly since I may know little more about them than what you see.

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A vendor on the way to work, I should think. Rubbish collection is not a strong point in the Indian states Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Corruption is also not unknown. Apparently the current or a recent mayor of Vrindavan sold the land that was being used for a tip, so now they have no official place to dump rubbish.

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This is a passageway into a compound where we visited a local family.

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And here is the family. While we were there a dog unfortunately bit one of our party. This resulted in quickly organising a doctor for rabies injections. Fortunately she was OK.

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This is a view at the upper level above the compound.

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Some followers of Shiva whom we visited.

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