Agra: Three World Heritage Sites and Some Sheroes

After three days in Jaipur, we drove to Agra. It’s most famous building was on the agenda, of course, as who can resist visiting the Taj Mahal. First, we stopped at one of the cities other UNESCO World Heritage Sites - Fatehpur Sikri.

Fatehpur Sikri

family standing at base of central pillar in hall of private audience at Fatehpur SikriIn 1569 the Mughal emperor Akbar founded this site and established it as the capital of the empire. The entire fort and palace complex is made of red sandstone. It incorporates architectural styles of many different cultures: Indian, Arab, Persion, Hindu, and Jain. Fatehpur Sikri didn't serve as the capital for very long, though, as the site did not have adequate water to support the people.

We saw the hall of public audience, the palaces of each of the wives, and the hall of private audience (Diwan-i-khas) where Akbar met with scholars and clergy of different religions. Our guide explained that he valued these different perspectives and even sought to create a new religion that incorporated all of the good values of each of the other religions.

The next day came dark and early as we rose before dawn to visit the Taj Mahal. Arriving early in the day allows for easier walking and picture-taking through the site. Unfortunately, the weather turned a few days ago to cool, foggy mornings and afternoons. We did not have those amazing, picture-postcard views of the Taj, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Taj Mahal in fog

Our guide explained that the Mughal emperor had three wives, and his second wife is the one who bore the most children, including his four sons. It was also this wife whom he loved devotedly, and after her death at age 39 during childbirth of their 14th child, he commissioned this memorial built. Amazing. The marble is translucent and inlaid with colorful stones; not a drop of paint colors the building. It is enormous and glorious and tinged with sadness.

front facade of Taj Mahal

Agra Fort We returned to the hotel for breakfast and relaxation, then met our guide again at 11:30 for a tour of the Agra Fort, our third World Heritage site visit. The stories continued and I remained impressed at the richness of India’s history and culture.

Sheroes Hangout in Agra

We also visited Sheroes Hangout today - a cafe run by acid attack victims who operate the cafe as a place for survivors to shed their stigma and learn to live independently. It was a powerful experience. I was choked up with sadness most of the time. They show video documentaries about their attacks, the prices are as you wish, and goods by local artisans are for sale (including clothing designed and made by one of the survivors). Just after we sat down, a documentarian from Boston came in to talk with the women and take their pictures for a project of hers. One wall is lined with books, and we got the sense this really is a hangout and we did just that.

I think American culture is pretty unfriendly to girls and women in some ways, but nothing there compares to these acid attacks. A mother and daughter pair in the cafe were burned about twenty years ago by the husband/father who was urged to throw acid on them (and one other daughter) by his parents because his wife had not produced a son. Another teenager was attacked by her step-mother because she wanted to get the girl out of the way. Ritu, the one who spoke the most English and had the best vision, was attacked on the street because some extended relatives were in property dispute with her parents and chose to attack her, the youngest child, so it would inflict the most pain on her parents. She had been a star volleyball player and was poised to join the international level of the sport. The hostility toward women that compels these attacks is astounding. The courage and integrity with which these women live and work left me awe-struck.

women of Sheroes Hangout

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