The four hour train ride from Ranthambore to Agra was our first experience of sleeper class and what an experience it was. People were literally lodged into any available hole, including luggage racks. We didn’t have a reserved ticket meaning it was the floor or somebody’s lap – I chose the floor. Luke ended up making friends with a lovely old man who shared his tiny amount of space with us, and fed us apples. People were job smacked and horrified to see a white women sat on the floor of a sleeper class train and even though I loved it as I could watch the world go by outside, I soon gave in to my fellow passengers and doubled over to squeeze onto a bottom bunk. It didn’t stop the constant staring but it did stop the interrogation as to why a white women would ever sit on a floor.
It is said that in 1607, Mogul emperor Shah Jahan first laid eyes on Arjumand Banu Begum, a Muslim Persian princess. At the time he was 14 and she was 15, it was love at first sight and they married shortly after. Although Shah Jahan had many wives, he made no secret that she was his favourite and soon bestowed her the title of Mumtaz Mahal meaning ‘Jewel of the Palace’. She went everywhere with him, even military affairs but during the labour of their fourteenth child she died due to complications. On her deathbed he promised to build the richest mausoleum over her grave and after years of mourning he set about building the Taj Mahal. It really is the most beautiful creation, it radiates love and femininity and I adore that it is perfectly symmetrical whichever side you look at it. There is a myth that Shah Jahan planned to build an identical copy in black marble just across the river from the Taj Mahal, this would have been his mausoleum however his son imprisoned him in Agra Fort before any foundations were laid.
The beautiful Agra fort.
This is where Shah jahans spent his days after being imprisoned by his son. He was said to spend hours staring through the intricate arch ways longingly at the Taj Mahal.
No arm in the fort please.
Luke getting mobbed by local school children.
Little kiddies, large rucksacks.
Kamal, the stuff maker.
The Taj Mahal isn’t the only thing I will remember about Agra, a place called Sheroes Hangout has a very special place in my heart. This is a cafe created to provide jobs and raise money for female acid attack victims. For these women, this is a place of safety and their first introduction back into the public eye. It was extremely moving being inside, meeting these unbelievably strong women and reading about the horrific ordeals they have been put through. Rupa was attacked by her step mother, she is now an aspiring fashion designer and her creations were for sale inside. I fell in love with this dress and every time I wear it I feel so proud that she made it. Girls are attacked here for a variety of reasons but often by their husbands or in laws, sometimes because the family don’t feel they were paid enough dowry, sometimes because the girl cannot conceive. Once a women has been attacked she is hidden away and is said to have brought shame upon her family. Some women spend their entire lives hidden but thankfully places like Sheroes Hangout offers them an alternative and a light at the end of the tunnel. I loved watching the girls sat around chatting and giggling together. If nothing else they have sisterhood.