To get anything resembling a decent meal in depressing off-season Fatehpur Sikri, I had to walk some three kilometres out of town, beyond the old city walls. It wasn't long before I found myself in the bowels of hell.
Indian service stations – for that is where I found the restaurant – are utterly demonic. Of course, 'service station' is a western term and is purely euphemistic when applied to India; there's lots of servicing going on, but precious little station. Lining the dirty streets are garish Indian Tata trucks (the Tata company is India's biggest local manufacturer of vehicles, among other things), painted with Sivas and lingams and beautiful country scenes that scarcely bear any relation to the heaving rust buckets they adorn; perhaps the scenes are there to remind the driver precisely what it is his truck is systematically destroying. These trucks aren't as big as western lorries, but their sheer numbers make up for their lack of size and besides, the Indians manage to pack so much into them that they probably manage to carry as much as Australian road trains.
In an Indian service station the concept of a ramp for servicing vehicles is totally alien. Trucks with missing wheels are propped up on piles of stones; sump oil is drained onto the street where it collects in black, dangerous-looking puddles that even the cows won't drink; engines are tested regularly, revved up to high speeds while they churn big clouds of noxious fumes out into the street (Indian trucks have their exhaust pipes out of the side, so if one passes you while you're walking, prepare for black trousers); meanwhile truckers try to catch some sleep in their cramped cabs, somehow managing to ignore the hellish clanging going on all around. It's a 24-hour event and at night the whole scene, only lit by headlights and the occasional fire, takes on an unearthly air as men walking in front of headlights cast huge shadows in the fume-filled air.
I walked the gauntlet and, to my amazement, found the restaurant I was looking for to be very good. Sure, the power died every five minutes and the beer wasn't cold, but the food was excellent. But as I walked back, the beer pleasantly numbing my senses, I thought back to my experiences around the ruined city ands vowed to leave early in the morning, never to return. Old Fatehpur Sikri is paradise; new Fatehpur Sikri is hell.