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Fatehpur Sikri - The Deserted Capital of India

"Panch Mahal", the "Five-storey Palace" incorporating architectural aspects of a Buddhist Temple.

A perfectly kept, Mughal city. 

Fatehpur Sikri was the purpose-built, Mughal capital of India, built by Emperor Akbar. 
Now it’s a red tourist destination, an open air museum, surrounded by green lawns. It was originally deserted after only 10 years of use, due to lack of water. This archaeological site is half-way between Jaipur and Agra and I had never heard of it before our tour to India. But it was worth the stop. 

Let me tell you about our drive from Jaipur to Fatehpur Sikri first. Headache comes to mind. And admiration. After a wonderful evening under the Jaipuri sky and a slow start to the day around the blooming gardens of Chowki Dhani, driving on an Indian motorway was as contrasting an experience, as everything else in India. It involved relentless beeping when it came to overtaking. This seems to be in use in general, instead of indicating and when the drive is 4 hours long, there comes the headache. Our driver's side mirror was completely broken and the car's acceleration was painfully slow, but that didn't stop him from "racing" down the motorway at a top speed of 60mph! 
We were all holding our breaths in, when camels were lazily walking against the traffic on the motorway or when we had to overtake a family of five on a motorbike, or when we had to overtake tall stacks of grass topped with a ladder, seemingly floating on the motorway, only to realise that there was a motorbike underneath it all. An eye-opening - often stressful - experience. But we also saw people showering in their front yard, out there in the open, waving and smiling under the morning sun, as we drove by! 

There is a little uphill walk from the car-park to the gate of the site. Make sure that you agree with the  rickshaw driver that they are taking you all the way up to King's Gate, outside Salim Chisti's Tomb. 

On the steps of King's Gate, a little boy was wondering around, begging in Hindi mixed with the occasional English. I was sitting there waiting for the rest of my friends. I didn’t respond to him straight away. I knew that the moment I opened my purse there would be a dozen other people asking for money. So, I just sat there, taking it all in. The boy gave up, sat on the steps next to me and started talking...
”England, America? Deutch, Deutch!” He proclaimed! 
“Ha, England” I replied, that’s "yes", The "E" in England is pronounced as in "pet".
I continued in my basic Hindi: "Why are you not at school?" 
He shrugged his shoulders, "I don’t know". 
I said to him that I’ll buy him a drink, but I’m not giving him money. 
"Cola chahiye", he wanted a Coke. So I got him a coke and myself a Lilt and we just sat there looking at people passing by together. 
No this was no great conversation, but this is the very reason I love learning foreign languages. You get to talk to people that you'd never meet or speak to otherwise. 

Diwan-i-Khas - The Emperor's audience hall. 

One of the most noteworthy buildings is Diwan-I-Khas, the emperor's audience hall. This type of room - or rather hall - can be found around many palaces in India; the one in the Red Fort in Delhi was spectacularly made out of marble, embroidered with coloured, floral mosaics, to accommodate audiences for Shah Jahan. This one in Fatehpur Siri, is made out of red clay and includes a heavily curved central pillar that seems to hold the whole thing up.

My favourite was Panch Mahal, a five-storey building, with Buddhist temple architectural aspects that is believed to have had glass panels between the 84 columns holding it up. It must have shimmered and reflected all of these lovely and earthy reds and terracotta colours in the sunshine. It's close to the harem buildings hence it's believed to have been used for entertainment.

What I find fascinating about Akbar was that he was an inclusive leader for his time, trying to reconcile religious characteristics of his subjects. He was married to Muslim and Hindu princesses and allowed them the freedom of exploring and practising their religions. And one of the central buildings in Fatehpur Sirkri is Birbal's house. He was Akbar's Prime Minister and a Hindu. His court was dotted with poets and singers of the time from all corners of his empire. A rather progressive thinker.

Janta Darbar - The Public courtyard where games and audiences took place.

Sundays in Brill - Windmills and Flirting Cocker Spaniels

A sunny, winter Sunday! What else can you really ask for?
It's the perfect excuse to put your wellies on, roam around the fields and then when you can't feel your face anymore, walk into a warm pub, cosy up in a big armchair with a cup of coffee and breath in the burning wood smell from the lit fireplace.
I tell you - you have to get out of London!
On the Sunday, just before the Big Chill that hit Britain last week, the weather was so gloriously sunny that we just couldn't allow for it to go to waste.
So out we ventured on the Chiltern Hills, in search of Brill Windmill.
After driving through the unexpectedly beautiful Long Crendon, dotted with old barns, thatched roofs and crooked beamed cottages, we got to Brill.

The Windmill is on the edge of the village, standing there, on its' own amongst green hills.
No entry fees, no fences, just a 16th century post windmill. No biggie?
The terrain around the Windmill is interesting - sharp gorge-like ditches and tiny little molehills covered in grass. The views are amazing, all the way to the Oxfordshire plains.
The scene is a cross between a Dutch Rembrandt painting set in Constable's English countryside.  

If you have a dog, bring it along too! People walking their dogs all around the village and the windmill, or to be fair, the dogs were setting the pace in most occasions!
A Jack Russell shooting around in all directions like a rocket.
A baby Bulldog with the sniffles! Ha!
A Dachshund, aka sausage dog, with a little tartan coat on. We felt really left out, not having a four-legged pal with us. 

Even the village pub is called The Pointer and welcomes dogs too!
We lodged ourselves in big, comfy armchairs and order coffees with Amaretto.
On a neighbouring sofa by the fireplace, a lady was rocking a baby in her arms, so we tried to be quiet, thinking she is trying to put the baby to sleep... only to realise eventually that the baby was an old and frail greyhound that has to be kept in a blanket. That's dedication!
This certainly didn't put a little cheeky Cocker Spaniel off, trying to flirt with the Greyhound! 
I almost lost my husband, as plates loaded with Sunday roast were going by.
My eye caught some humongous Yorkshires passing, we looked at each other and said: "we are definitely coming back for lunch".
In the meantime, alongside our coffees, we had the most interesting and moist date cake, topped with butterscotch froth and Weetabix ice cream - so clever and utterly delicious.

The Village Pub, Barnsley

Innovation doesn't always come in big, shiny packages.
It does come from a deep understanding of the product you are developing though. 
After a relaxing afternoon spent at Barnsley House Spa, we were directed to The Village Pub, just across the road, for dinner. No, not "a" village pub.
I have roamed enough around the Cotswolds, to know that local ingredients can always be trusted to produce magnificent meals. So, I was looking forward to this meal, as with any other meal around the area, but I wasn't expecting such interesting dishes.
The menu was brand new. We were greeted by the owner, who chatted to us about simple cocktails, fragrant with local aromas...Rose & Elderflower, Rhubarb & Raspberry.
We made ourselves comfortable and tried:
Venison tartar with Charcoal Mayonnaise and egg yolk.
Twice baked Cheddar cheese Soufflé.
Goats' cheese Pannacotta with Ginger Crumble and Beetroot. 
Roast lamb with fondant Potatoes and Mash - double trouble. 

Venison tartar and Charcoal mayonnaise - not for the fainthearted!

Leg of Lamb with a treat of two types of tatties - fondant and mash!

A cosy setting for the scrumptious Cheese Soufflé

The reason I'm telling you about this place is the Goat's cheese Pannacotta.
The idea that you can find innovative dishes in an un-assuming village pub, on a cold, February, Monday evening, gives me joy.   
© Life Love London

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