After getting all sentimental at Shah Jahan’s expression of love for his beloved, departed wife and marvelling at the artistic nuances of Nur Jahan’s token of devotion towards her doting parents, I am ready to be bowled over by Sikandra, Akbar’s tomb for his own self.
Here was a monument made by, and for, one of India’s greatest rulers—befitting his stature and achievements. I wondered what it was going to be like.
Akbar (1542 – 1605), known synonymously through history as Akbar the Great was the Mughal Empire’s third emperor credited with taking it to its zenith in size and wealth. The arts, architecture, and literature thrived during his reign. Multiculturalism was not just a word but the essence of his state which stretched from Bengal in the east to Kabul and Qandahar in the west, and from Kashmir in the north to the Godavari in the south. Religious tolerance formed the cornerstone of an era held together by one man.
What makes all this that much more remarkable is that it was an empire claimed back from the vagaries of time and fate. When Akbar was born, his father, Humayun, was in exile and impoverished; the Mughal empire defeated by Sher Shah Suri. Though his father succeeded in regaining the empire after 15 gruelling years, six months later he died in a freak accident, leaving the colossal task of imperial rule to his 13-year-old illiterate son, Akbar.
Grit and wisdom, brains and brawns paved the rest of the story.
Commissioning mausoleums within one’s lifetime was an accepted norm in the Mughal Empire, whether it be for oneself or for one’s loved ones. The more powerful the person, the more exorbitant were its trappings and cost.
It is, thus, no surprise that Akbar’s mausoleum, completed by his son Jahangir, was colossal and magnificent in keeping with his father’s accomplishments. But what takes one by surprise is the simplicity of the crypt itself—unadorned and minimalist deep in the bowels of the earth under the red sandstone architectural extravaganza. Much like Akbar’s famed ancestor Amir Temur (1336 – 1405), better known as Tamerlane’s [Temur, the lame], intended crypt in Shakhrisabz, Uzbekistan.
When I arrived in Sikandra that morning, I was the only person on the site named after Sikandar Lodi of the Delhi Sultanate fame. The Lodi dynasty were the immediate predecessors of the Mughals. Walking through the towering, ethereal south gateway encrusted with white marble mosaic, down the expansive charbagh garden in which deer and antelope frolicked, I found myself transfixed in front of a five-storeyed mausoleum. Facing me, a doorway opened into a gilded portico painted in vibrant floral and geometric patterns, which further led me onto a grey, empty corridor.
I must confess I was nervous when I walked down its immense grey length, on to the subterranean chamber at its rear end. My mind buzzed aloud what if the door closed shut behind me and I was trapped inside. No one would even hear my screams.
But as my eyes adjusted to the dim light, and the sole tomb under the soaring roof slowly revealed itself, I was glad, super glad, I’d walked on. It was surreal to be in the same room as Akbar, though his dust lay dead 400 years on, and I was still living. For a brief moment neither mattered.
Fifteen minutes later a group of loud tourists danced in, flashing their phones and wanting to take selfies inside, breaking into my reverie. It was time for me to step out. 🙂
During my stay in Agra I got to witness much of the empire’s “greatest” emperor’s architectural marvels. His idyllic city in Fatehpur Sikri to the Agra Fort he put up in Agra to protect his capital. They’re both not just brick and mortar, but a tangible expression of Akbar the person, and what he stood for and believed in.
But none, I believe, are closer to the man and his title, than his final resting place at Sikandra. ❤
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Travel tips for Sikandra:
- The best time to visit is sunrise or late afternoon.
- Ticket and timing: Rs. 15 for Indians, Rs. 110 for foreigners; Open every day from sunrise to sunset; Photography allowed.
- Sikandra is 10 kilometres west of Agra.
Travel tips for Agra:
- Staying there: I stayed at the Crystal Sarovar Premiere through makemytrip.com. Ask for a Taj Mahal-facing room [no extra charge] and one that is at the beginning or end of the corridor. Else, you end up also looking out at KFC’s exhaust pipes.
- Getting to Agra: I took the Gatimaan Express from Delhi to Agra and back. The train offers fantastic on-board services with a travel time of 1 hour 40 minutes one way.
- Getting around: Auto rickshaws and car hire services are plentiful.
- How many days: Try and spend at least 3–4 days in Agra. There is plenty to explore, I assure you!
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Note: This post is the sixth in a 7-part series on why Agra should be on every travel bucket list. To read the entire set click here.