Taj Mahal and Sheroes Hangout: Two Versions of Love in Agra

When our guide Sudhir mentioned the “aha” moment, our cynical brains said, Oh, yeah?

Taj Mahal aha moment Agra Dec 2015

We arrived at about 10 am, late enough for most of the smog to have burned off. The air was terribly smoky. You might want to reconsider visiting northern India in December.

Taj Mahal from the Great Gate Agra Dec 2015

Our guide took some goofy photos of us.

Taj Mahal goofy Beth Agra Dec 2015

We also viewed the Taj from across the river, in gardens called Mehtab Bagh.

Taj Mahal Mehtab Bagh view Agra Dec 2015

Shah Jahan had meant to build a black marble tomb for himself there (symmetry!), and you can still see the foundations. His son placed him under house arrest before the tomb could be completed.

Taj Mahal Mehtab Bagh foundations Agra Dec 2015

I wanted to photograph the Taj at sunrise, even though you cannot take a tripod inside the complex. So we went a second time. I had a meltdown on the way in, something to do with all the men asking if we needed a rickshaw or a guide and then the driver of the electric cart being nowhere in sight when we wanted to leave. It was, no surprise, very foggy, but I liked the way the tomb played peek-a-boo with us throughout the morning.

Taj Mahal foggy side view Agra Dec 2015 (1)

The day before, we had visited Sheroes Hangout, which Todd discovered online. It’s a cafe run by survivors of acid attacks. We walked there, collecting “Tuk-Tuk?” requests as we went, but then when we reached the cafe we were scared to cross the street. So a driver took pity on us and drove us across the street in his tuk-tuk. And later he drove us home.

Taj Mahal Sheroes Hangout Agra Dec 2015

A proposal for the café that we read while waiting for our food implied that there are a lot of acid attacks in Agra. And the combination in one city of an extreme monument to love—I would say Mumtaz Mahal was placed on a pedestal, but her body is actually underneath the monument—and extreme violence against women seems so typical to me.

Taj Mahal Sheroes Hangout two survivors Agra Dec 2015

Typical of a country in which the streets are still such a male domain that there is an open-air public urinal across the street from our hotel. And not the only one.

Taj Mahal Pandya Niwas Hotel public urinal Agra Dec 2015

Most of all, it’s typical of patriarchy. And there is still plenty of that in the United States.