Often the major tourist destinations in a city are less interesting than some of the more obscure places. On my first trip to Agra I visited the Taj Mahal and found it slightly underwhelming. The Taj is beautiful, but somehow the experience of being at one of the world's great tourist attractions overwhelms the location's glory. (I wonder what it was like to visit the Taj Mahal in the 50s when Allen Ginsberg could sleep overnight in the compound?)
On my second trip to Agra I went on a Friday, when the Taj was closed. Instead my destination was Fatepur Sikri, a ruined city about 30km away. This was founded as the capital of the Mughal Empire in the 16th century but was soon abandoned due to water shortages. We took the early train from Delhi and hired a driver from the state tourist office. We had chai then set off for the main site.
The buildings are truly incredible, although there are some very hardworking touts. Even the most persistent of them couldn't detract from the amazing buildings. Below is the gateway to the Jama Masjid:
Behind the main palace was the Caravanserai where visiting merchants stayed. It was an evocative location, impossible not to imagine the people who might have gathered there. Behind the Caravanserai is the lighthouse-like Hiran Minar. This is said to be a monument to the Emporer Akbar's favourite execution elephant and is decorated with hundreds of stone elephant tusks.
Near sunset we went to the Mehtab Bagh gardens, across the Yamuna river from the Taj. There is a small, free viewing area nearby but we paid to enter the gardens for a respite from the touts. Between the gardens and the riverbank is a muddy no-man's land. One tourist had found their way onto it and we watched a Ballardian scene as they were intercepted by guards and led back to the road.