The ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri, former imperial capital of the great Mughal emperor Akbar, straddles the crest of a rocky ridge on the Agra–Jaipur highway, 45km southwest of Agra and 21km east of Bharatpur. The city was built here between 1569 and 1585 as a result of the emperor’s enthusiasm for the local Muslim divine Sheikh Salim Chishti, though the move away from Agra may also have had something to do with Akbar’s weariness of the crowds and his desire to create a new capital that was an appropriate symbol of imperial power. The fusion of Hindu and Muslim traditions in its architecture says a lot about the religious and cultural tolerance of Akbar’s reign.

Fatehpur Sikri’s period of pre-eminence was brief, however, and after 1585 it would never again serve as the seat of the Mughal emperor. The reasons for the city’s abandonment remain enigmatic. The theory that the city’s water supply proved incapable of sustaining its population is no longer widely accepted – even after the city had been deserted, the nearby lake to its northwest still yielded good water. A more likely explanation is that the city was simply the victim of the vagaries of the empire’s day-to-day military contingencies. Shortly after the new capital was established, the empire was threatened by troubles in the Punjab, and Akbar moved to the more strategically situated Lahore to deal with them. These military preoccupations kept Akbar at Lahore for over a decade, and at the end of this period he decided, apparently for no particular reason, to return to Agra rather than Fatehpur Sikri. You, on the other hand, might decide to do the opposite: an increasing number of tourists are using Fatehpur Sikri as a base and travelling into Agra on day-trips.

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