We left Agra and drove about 40km to a UNESCO World Heritage site known as Fatehpur Sikri. This magnificent fortified ancient city was the short-lived capital of the Mughal empire between 1571 and 1585, during the reign of Emperor Akbar. Akbar visited the village of Sikri to consult the Sufi saint Shaikh Salim Chishti, who predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne. When the prophecy came true, Akbar built his new capital here, including a stunning mosque - still in use today - and three palaces for each of his favourite wives, one a Hindu, one a Muslim and one a Christian (though Hindu villagers in Sikri dispute these claims). The city was an Indo-Islamic masterpiece, but erected in an area that supposedly suffered from water shortages and so it was abandoned shortly after Akbar's death.
We were looking forward to entering the walls of the palace because right outside the entrance, it's extremely overwhelming. There are various men claiming they are the best guides - not taking no for an answer, kids are trying to sell you knick knacks - not taking no for an answer and the best of all, was the bathroom attendant trying to get me to pay 50 rupees to use their hole in the wall toilet (literally, a hole). I laughed, gave him 5 rupees, did my business and walked away. Don't mess with me.
Once we entered, we felt free. Free to wander at our pace. It was all quite impressive. The palace's grounds were extensive with gardens, kitchens, living quarters, temples, offices, doctor's house, turkish baths, camel stables, girls school, hospital, tombs, elephant gates and so much more. It's crazy to think that this used to be an inhabited city with hundreds, if not thousands, of people living here but now it's just ruins. How does an entire town let that happen?
We then visited the Mosque, which was only a two minute walk away. This was incredible as well. The amount of detail that goes into the architecture and design is mind blowing. So many little intricate symbols on each wall, whether it's a word, a prayer, a picture or merely just a pattern.
Something I've noticed since I'm constantly observing the locals is that women tend to not smile in photos, especially the older ones. I don't know if it's just part of their culture or it's just who they are but you all know how much I love to smile :) I decided to test out my theory and asked a few women sitting on a bench if I could take a picture of them. Looks like my observation is right...
After Fatehpur Sikri, our driver took us to the Bharatpur Train Station, which is where we were to embark on our very first Indian train adventure. Our departure time wasn't until 6:38pm but we arrived at the station around 4pm. There wasn't much to do but sit on a bench and people watch (which is always my favorite). As we were walking to our platform, we noticed a printed out list behind some bars. It had all the names of the people on the train and we were like kids in a candy store when we saw ours. You would have thought we had been drafted to the major leagues or got into an Ivy League University. Instead, it just confirmed that we were in the right place, which is equally as rewarding.
Over the past 10 days as well as in articles I read before the trip, Indian trains seem to be fairly unreliable. They show up hours late, they randomly get cancelled, they break down halfway there. Luckily, our train was only thirty minutes delayed - we thought better late than never in this situation so we weren't complaining. We didn't have very high expectations, or any expectations at all for that matter, but we certainly weren't disappointed either. Our tickets were in 2AC, which on this specific train, was the highest class you could get. Most trains have 1AC but for some reason, this one didn't. Either way, it's wasn't that bad (except for the rat that Vinny saw running away - good thing I didn't see it with my own two eyes, ahhhhhhhh). Of course it was pretty dirty and run down but what trains aren't? Although we were only on the train for two and a half hours, I think the train was continuing overnight because we had beds as our chairs. And ironically, my seat was 31 (and I'm 31 years old) and Vinny's seat was 33 (and he's 33 years old) - weird, huh? I thought so when our seat location could have been any number from 15-45. Overall, I was happy. There weren't very many people in our cabin so it was nice and quiet. Vinny watched the Dark Knight on his iPhone and I listened to Shantaram on my iPad. So first world of us.
And here is us taking our very first selfie with our very first selfie stick on our very first Indian train ride...
As the train approached our final stop, Sawai Madhopur, we gathered our backpacks and patiently waited to get off. We knew someone from our next hotel, Khem Villas, was going to be picking us up but we had no idea who or where or when or how. It was 9:45pm and we had no cell service so we thought, this is going to be interesting. But, as the train doors opened and we hopped off, a man was running towards us with a sign that said Kimberly Cantor - boy that was a relief! Thanks, Danesh, for taking us under your wing and getting us to our room for the next three nights efficiently, smoothly and safely.
Welcome to Ranthambore National Park, a Tiger Reserve! I am looking forward to a grrrrrrrrrrrrrreat experience here (the famous words of Tony the Tiger, Frosted Flakes - love em).