We opted to hire a driver to take us from Jaipur to Agra, splurging a bit for an SUV so David could stretch his legs. I wanted to make two stops en route: Chand Baori, an ancient step well and Fatehpur Sikri, a town founded as the capital of Mughal Empire in 1571 by Emperor Akbar and later completely abandoned in 1610.
Chand Baori is located in a small village a short distance off Hwy 21 that connects Jaipur and Agra. We’d heard mixed accounts of the road in India, but this stretch of Hwy 21 is modern, wide and in excellent shape. The road out to the village of Abhaneri where the step well is located is good, too. Our driver dropped us off just at the entrance of Chand Baori, parking to wait for us at a market set up across the street. Surprised to find free entrance, we ignored the many guides hawking their services and entered to stroll around the 100 ft. deep well, admiring its 13 story depth and 3500 steps. Architectural stone artifacts lined porticos around the well. The oldest parts of the well date to the 8th century, but upper parts date back to the Mughal period in the 18th century. Chand Baori has appeared in several movies, including the The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.
The turn-off to Abhaneri and Chand Baori is only about a third of the distance between Jaipur and Agra, so we settled back in to continue our journey. Our driver stopped at a large, mostly empty, but tourist-oriented spot for lunch and a bathroom break before heading on to the main attraction before Agra: Fatehpur Sikri.
Fatehpur Sikri is not far from Agra, maybe 5/6 of the distance we traveled from Jaipur and just off Hwy 21. There’s a lot to see here and we could have spent a lot more time, but I was focused on the red stone palace complex where Emperor Akbar built three palaces which legend claims to have been for each of his three favorite wives, one Hindu, one Muslim and one Christian. Architecture in the palace complex is an intriguing mix of the three cultures.
The minute we pulled into the parking lot, we were approached by tuk tuk drivers wanting to take us to the palace complex which is not within walking distance from the parking lot. I’d read that there was a cheap shuttle bus and didn’t like the idea of putting ourselves in the hands and vehicle of a stranger, so we declined and made our way along a wide sidewalk past several booths selling souvenirs to a parking lot with buses. We found the shuttle which was about to leave. We boarded with a crowd of tourists, asking about a ticket, but being waved on. We descended in a similar melee and were once again waved on by what appeared to be the guide for a tour group. Since no one would sell us a ticket, we got a free ride to the nearby palace. We weren’t going to raise a fuss over that so moved on to buy an entrance ticket to the palace complex.
We entered into a vast paved courtyard, a kingfisher bird perched on the wall making an iconic adornment to the elegant buildings. Again, we were approached by would-be guides, but plaques in English offered ample explanation for us, so we declined. The first building we came to was the Diwan-i-Khas or Hall of Private Audience, a square building with a famous octagonal central pillar carved with bands of geometric and floral designs. It supports a circular platform for Emperor Akbar, which is connected to each corner of the building on the first floor, by four stone walkways. Here the emperor listened to representatives of different religions discuss their faiths and gave private audience.
We wandered the complex exploring palaces and treasury buildings, pools and courtyards. We could only see a portion of the hilltop complex in the time we had, but we saw a lot and enjoyed the visit. With Agra and a visit to the Agra Fort yet ahead, we decided to head back to our driver. Things didn’t go as smoothly on the way back and we waited 15 minutes or so for the next shuttle bus back to the parking area. We had to pay this time, too, but the price was negligible.
Chand Baori was free when we went there, but I have read that the Indian government plans to start charging a 200INF ($2.80 US) entry fee for foreigners.
Entrance to Fatehpur Sikri is 550INR ($7.70 US) for foreigners. It is open sunrise to sunset. The shuttle bus from the parking lot is 10INR (14¢ US). The ride is 5 minutes or less. You could walk, but it’s a fair distance, uphill and hot. Take or buy water.
The driver I hired was supposed to be “Pushpendra” with Jaipertraveling.com, highly recommended on Tripadvisor. It turned out that he sent another driver. I booked well in advance and Pushpendra was very accommodating when PayPal would not let me pay a requested deposit in rupees. He took my reservation on faith, letting me pay on arrival. While that was good, communication was lacking when we got to Jaipur and I had some concerns although our driver showed up as promised. Also, there was some confusion as a guide was promised, but that turned out to be a guide we would meet in Agra for the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. Our driver spoke virtually no English which caused some confusion about the day’s plans and we had no guide for either Chand Baori or Fatehpur Sikri although that turned out to be no big deal at either place. The SUV and driver were not cheap by Indian standards at 8000INR ($112 US), but the driver was good and the vehicle new, spacious and immaculate. The non-stop drive alone is 4h30 and our driver waited patiently for us at three long stops, then had to drive back to Jaipur. Also, this included fuel and the guide in Agra, who ended up coming back the next day to take us to the Taj. Pushpendra later apologized for the communication gaps, and in the end, all was very satisfactory.