A rocky ridge. Elegant splinters amidst an untempered dawn. A city of sand and stone lies empty.
The sun still heats its stones. The rain still wets its roofs. Birds still call to one another amongst its pillars. But the people? They are gone. It is quiet. It is still.
The beauty lingers – no it shines – but few see it. A red dawn breaks over the horizon many miles away, the sky on fire, the rocks still cold.
As it rolls its way unstoppably into the vastness above it paints fire onto the shaped stones of a ghost city: Fatehpur Sikri. The former imperial capital of the great Mughal emperor Akbar, built in 1569 and abandoned a mere 16 years later to wrack and to ruin. But every day the sun still bathes its weathered walls, its sheltered halls, its wandering corridors.
It is a maze of red rock. Hidden in the shadows a new wonder lies. Your mind creates a picture of centuries before, ladies in silk, emperors at court, vivid colour all around. Now. The colour is black, red and a piercing sky blue as you glance through doorways at the courtyard beyond.
Not only ghost cities but mirrors of ghosts echo in Fatehpur Sikri. Lakes once home to fish, house now but reflections of memories in their waters. A pale moon hanging in the sky, sad, alone, a fitting symbol of Sikri.
More mazes. More halls. Corridors and doorways. Another abandoned courtyard. The fusion of Hindu and Muslim traditions yearns to be noticed upon the intricate stonework. But still only our steps ring on stonework and echo from brickwork.
The sun rises ever higher casting longer shadows through the abandoned city. They radiate over courtyards and stretch long fingers down eerily quiet corridors. They are the only friends to the walls; and ever are they trying to escape themselves.
Respite from the sun is found in the Khwabgah – House of Dreams – where once, for a short time, an emperor slept. The gigantic bed lies high off the floor and even here the sun weeds its way in to disturb ones slumber.
As the sun nears its zenith, people start to wind their way through the maze we have flitted through like lost children in a lost city. The magic starts to break around us. The lost city has been found. Found by tour groups and touts.
Yet, the city is large and tour groups are like sheep in fancy clothes, and so easily avoided. Escaping from the boundaries of the royal palace and into the larger city, the ruin of this once great marvel is plainer to see. And it remains peaceful and abandoned.
Why was the city ever built? Why was it ever abandoned? I can’t answer.
All I know is I’m glad we came and became children once again; if only for a short time.