Krishna’s Birthday in Fatehpur Sikri

After our long, long walks of yesterday, we arranged a taxi to take us the 30km to Fatehpur Sikri. The short version of the story goes like this:

Emperor Akbar says, when will I have a son? Priest/saint/wise man says, on such and such date. Emperor Akbar says, oh yeah? Well, if so, then…

So when the son is born as the priest had foretold, Akbar is way stoked. He says, okay, I’m moving my capitol to your town. Get ready.

He builds a huge complex of temples, palaces, and a big ol’ fort. (He liked forts. He built the one in Agra as well.) One palace is called the Palace of the Christian Wife. (I bet you can imagine why.) That’s where the mother of his new son lives. They go along for a short while like this, then someone says, Emperor. He answers, yes? That someone says, well, we’re out of water. This place can’t support us.

So the Emperor and the whole court move back to Agra, and the buildings at Fatehpur Sikri fall apart. They’ve been restored somewhat now. The very beautiful marble building in the courtyard beyond the Victory Gate is now the tomb of the saint guy. It was pretty cool, and the gate is enormous!

James and I walked up the road until we reached a fancy building. We went in and looked around. It was all free. We had managed to accidentally miss the palaces that they charge admission for.

Oops! But that’s okay.

The real highlight of the day started while leaving the gate. We sat down to put our shoes on and suddenly there were people around us, Indian people, taking pictures of each other with us. Like with a rock star or something. It was funny, but James and I played along, pulling faces at the camera, then looking serious, then just smiling. We had maybe 50 pictures of us taken in that few minutes, with family members rotating out so that everyone was in a picture with us. We all introduced ourselves and walked down the long stairs together. James and I walked on, and headed to the bazaar.

On the way down, a dash of rain poofed the dust on the road. James bagged his camera and I tucked my Lonely Planet under my arm. We stopped at a cart and bought 25 rupees worth of potato cake, puri, and samosas. A feast! It drizzled a bit more rain onto us while we stood at the cart, bolting potatoes with cumin, cardamom, pepper, salt, perhaps cinnamon?

When the rain petered off again, we strolled up the market street, all the fronts of all the buildings completely opened to the street. We watched people cook paste that they then packed into rectangular trays – sweets. We watched tailors sewing on beautiful old-fashioned black and gold machines, some run by electricity and some by treadle. We watched a happy populace in their best clothing. What’s up with this place?

Oh, right. Krishna’s birthday. It’s a big celebration day all over. Of course, the biggest festivities are in the cities associated with Krishna’s life, but here in Fatehpur Sikri, the people were getting ready for 8pm, when the music would start and the party would take over the town.

As we walked along, children began approaching us. The first brave child shouted from a few feet away, “Hello!” James and I both sang back, “Hello!” After that, the floodgates were opened. As we walked, children came up to us, saying hello or practicing other English phrases, hand out. Though the first hand might have gotten a skeptical look, it soon became clear that the hands were for shaking, not for filling. We floated along the bazaar street on a wave of happy, excited children, waiting their turn for a word and a handshake and then pushing us along to the next child. When the real rain hit, we ducked into a tin-covered alleyway, too narrow for even a bicycle to pass. We sat on a low wall with a woman and several children. In the ten minutes of the deluge, we established names, places of origin, love of India, and school level. They were all learning English. The one who spoke and understood the most English was the shyest and rarely spoke, but he poked at the bolder, younger boy when he misunderstood us, rolling his eyes.

After the shower turned to drips, we waved and made our way back toward the entrance of the bazaar. Again the rain hit and again we took cover. Again we were perfectly placed to enjoy our enforced break, having ducked into the Hotel Ajay Palace, where their masala chai shows a liberal hand with the cloves and their kheer is made from scratch and to order.

We were so drained and happy and tired. The taxi ride back was quiet, unlike the ride out. We had talked the whole way with the driver, learning Hindi and teaching English. So much fun! But now, tired, we sat and contemplated our day. When the driver left us at the train station, we tipped him liberally. He was obviously shocked. I think he had pegged us as cheapskates. We had haggled down the ride itself, then refused to hire a guide at the parking area. We had even walked the kilometer and a half rather than paying 10 rupees for a rickshaw. He seemed honestly bowled over by the tip, and it made me feel good. I could afford it. Besides, he is saving up for his wedding next spring…

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