Giving to
Bryn Mawr

Katharine Houghton Hepburn Center

Bangladesh and India: Beyond Caste and Poverty

January 10 – 25, 2010

We are delighted to introduce the third trip in our program for distinguished alumnae titled Among Women: An International Dialogue. Barnard, Bryn Mawr, Mount Holyoke, Radcliffe, Smith, Vassar and Wellesley colleges are partnering on programs that provide opportunities for alumnae to engage with women in selected regions worldwide to explore women’s issues that affect us all. Our third program, Beyond Caste, Family and Poverty: Bangladesh & India is scheduled for January 10 – 25, 2010. The trip will include daily discussions and presentations by women leaders of Bangladesh & India in the fields of government, business, education, media and the arts.

Study Leader

Dr. Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh is the Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies at Colby College, where she teaches courses on Asian religions. Singh’s scholarly interests focus on poetics and feminist issues. She has published extensively in the field of Sikhism, including The Feminine Principle in the Sikh Vision of the Transcendent, The Name of My Beloved: Verses of the Sikh Gurus, and A Feminist Re-Memory of Sikh Identity, and Cosmic Symphony. Born in India, Singh came to the United States to attend Stuart Hall, a preparatory school for girls in Virginia. As an undergraduate at Wellesley, she double majored in Religious Studies and Philosophy. She received her Masters from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. from Temple University.


Please note that it is highly likely that briefings may be changed or substituted to accommodate the schedules of our speakers.

Detailed Preliminary Itinerary

January 10: Sunday. En route.
Depart New York – Kennedy on Emirates Airlines to Dubai in the morning.

January 11: Monday. Dhaka
Arrive in Dubai this morning and connect with an Emirates Airlines non-stop flight to Dhaka.

Arrive in Dhaka in the evening. The history of Bangladesh has been one of extremes, of turmoil and peace, prosperity and destitution. It has thrived under the glow of cultural splendor and suffered under the ravages of war. The earliest mention of Bangladesh is found in the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. In the 5th- and 6th-centuries B.C. the Aryans entered from Central Asia and later the Dravidians from Western India. Then came the Guptas, Palas and Senas, who were Buddhist and Hindus. From 15th-century the Europeans, namely Portuguese, Dutch, French and British traders exerted an economic influence over the region. British political rule over the region began in 1757 when the last Muslim ruler was defeated. In 1947 the country was partitioned into India and Pakistan. Present day Bangladesh became the eastern wing of then Pakistan, and finally achieved independence in 1971 after a protracted war with Pakistan.

Upon arrival you will be met and transferred to the Dhaka Westin Hotel.

Enjoy a brief orientation and welcome reception.

January 12: Tuesday. Dhaka. B,L,D.

After breakfast meet with model, fashion designer and now textile and jewellery designer, Bibi Russell. Bibi was the first woman from Bangladesh to study at the London College of Fashion. When she graduated in 1975 she modeled her own graduation show, she was immediately offered modeling assignments with Yves Saint Laurent, Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani. She proceeded to model for all the well-known names including Vogue but decided to return to Bangladesh in the 1994 and began working with weavers and artisans in rural Bangladesh. Textiles, she says, are part of the history of Bangladesh. Bibi Productions now employs thousands of weavers and has received numerous awards including Woman of the Year by Elle Magazine and Asia Magazine recently highlighted her as one of the women to watch in the millennium.

At lunch meet with a group of women who have benefited from the training programs offered by the Nari Jibon project. This project led by executive director, Kathryn Ward, aims to educate poor and under-privileged women through different short term education and skill development programs. There will be an opportunity to meet and talk with a number of women and girls whose lives have been transformed by skills learned at Nari Jibon.

An orientation after lunch focuses on old Dhaka – a maze of bazaars and narrow streets. In order to gain an understanding of the life in the old part of Dhaka, the afternoon begins by taking a boat out on the Buriganga River and viewing the kaleidoscope of river life which runs alongside old Dhaka. Return to shore and admire the Pink Palace (Ahsan Manzil) built in 1872 by a wealthy land-owner. The interior has been recently restored and is one of the few buildings to be furnished in the style of the period in which it was built. It is an excellent restoration job and offers a reminder of the beauty that lurks beneath the surface of so many of the city’s buildings.

Meet with Rokia Rahman, a truly remarkable woman who has combined success in business with commitment and dedication to women entrepreneurship development. Through her efforts many women all over the country have been successful in starting their own enterprises. Her business ventures include insurance, media, agro-industries and real estate. She is also on the boards of various social development organizations and foundations. Rokia constantly urges banks and financial institutions to provide loans for the women entrepreneurs, saying that even in case of failure to make profit, women always repay the loans in time.

Welcome dinner this evening.

January 13: Wednesday. Dhaka. B,L,D.

Enjoy a morning briefing by Dr. Hoon Eng Khoo from the Asian University for Women. This private university aims to educate underprivileged women to become regional leaders. The concept behind the university was the result of the work by the Task Force on Higher Education and Society convened by the World Bank and UNESCO in 2000 to provide women with equal access to quality education. Currently 131 students are working on a foundation course and the college will be enrolling its first under-graduate class in 2009. Students will be recruited from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Cambodia. Dr. Hoon Eng Khoo, a Malaysian Smith College alumna, gained her PhD from the University of London and is the Asian University’s provost

The University will be the first of its kind: a private, regional institution of the highest quality, dedicated solely to women’s education and leadership development, international in outlook but rooted in the contexts of people across Asia.

Enjoy lunch with Sultana Kamal, a lawyer and an activist who has challenged the use of Islamic fundamentalist decrees known as fatwas, issued by village religious leaders in Bangladesh against women accused of "misbehaving". Sultana Kamal is currently director of the Aino Salish Kendra, a legal aid and human rights organization. She is also a member of the Unity for Social Action and she also coordinates the Women and Law Program for Women Living Under Muslim Laws.

Close by is the architecturally fabulous National Assembly which was designed by renowned architect Louis Kahn. It was commissioned in 1963 and was originally going to house the regional capital for East Pakistan but due to the liberation movement and ensuing war, the National Assembly building was not completed until 1982 and opened as the National Assembly for the entire country. A typical Kahn structure and considered one of his finest works, it’s a huge mass of concrete cylinders and rectangular boxes. We have arranged a private tour of the buildings interior.

End the day at the headquarters of Grameen Bank for a briefing. Grameen Bank and the founder of Grameen Bank – Muhammad Yunus – jointly won the Nobel Peace Price in 2006 for their successful application of the concept of micro-credit - the extension of small loans to entrepreneurs too poor to qualify for traditional bank loans. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee stated: "Lasting peace cannot be achieved unless large population groups find ways to break out of poverty. Micro-credit is one such means. Development from below also serves democracy and human rights. Every single individual on earth has both the potential and the right to live a decent life. Yunus and the Grameen Bank have shown that even the poorest of the poor can work to bring about their own development."

As of May, 2006, the Grameen Bank (which means "village" in Bangla) had 6.61 million borrowers, 97% of whom are women. General banking conception is that poor people would not be able to repay loans but what Grameen Bank and Dr. Yunus have shown that, in fact, repayment rates reached 99% and millions of people have been able to come out of poverty using the micro-credit concept. We are very much hoping that Mr. Yunus will be able to join the group

Dinner this evening in a private home.

January 14: Thursday. Dhaka. B,L,D.

Morning meeting with Selina Hossain, director of the Bangla Academy of Dhaka. One of the foremost writers of Bengali fiction today, she is also actively involved in cultural and social work in the areas of human rights and gender issues. She has published twenty-one novels, seven collections of short stories, four collections of prose writings and four collections of stories for children. Her works are a moving account of the contemporary social and political crises and conflicts as well as the recurrent cycles of the life of the struggling masses. She has edited 2 books on the socio-economic issues for children under the auspices of the UNICEF, and co-edited a collection of essays on the emancipation of Bangladeshi women. She is an amazing woman!

This afternoon drive out of Dhaka to Kashipur village where the local inhabitant’s lives have been changed as a result of small loans given by the Grameen Bank. Most Bangladeshi villagers have no electricity and no telephones in their homes and this project financed the purchase of several cell phones as well as solar panels to recharge their batteries. Walk through the village where water buffalo wander down dirt paths alongside women barking Bengali into the cell phones they had bought with small loans. In Kashipur barefoot women line up to hand the local Grameen representative small wads of cash. After 17 years with the bank, they had 100 percent repayment. Some had borrowed to buy another cow or expand their rice paddies or mustard fields. Others bought cell phones and walked about the phone-less village, making and taking calls for a fee. Talk to Anju Monwara who has become one of the country’s famous telephone ladies and now earns an average of $50 a month making a taking phone calls for others. She helps seal deals, find out the price of shrimp in rival fishing villages and even mediate marriage ceremonies from across the seas. The crushing poverty -- in a country Henry Kissinger once dubbed "South Asia's basket case" -- has decreased since Yunus founded Grameen in 1983. Bangladesh's per capita income has grown from $280 in 1985 to $440 in 2006, according to World Bank figures.

Her most memorable, and profitable, call was a 36-minute marriage ceremony between a young woman and a fellow villager on a construction site in Saudi Arabia. He had sent a wedding ring and some money, but could not afford to come home.

Late afternoon reception with U.S. Ambassador James Moriarty for a briefing and a chance to ask questions and share concerns.

Dinner at a private home.

January 15: Friday. Kolkata. B,L,D.

After breakfast drive to the airport for a flight to Kolkata. (8.50am)

A mere village in the 17th-century, Calcutta (now Kolkata) is today one of the largest cities in the world. The current name Kolkata is a translation from "Kali Ghat," which means the "land of the Goddess Kali."

To the first time visitor Calcutta is indeed overwhelming. It presents a unique blend of 19th-century Europe and the throbbing vitality of a metropolis of teeming millions. The city has produced some of India’s finest literature, theatre, films, art & culture, and personalities…Tagore, Satyajit Ray, and Mother Teresa to name a few. Today the bustling city is a veritable microcosm of India. Some of the country's grandest buildings, including the majestic Victoria Memorial, are found here.

On an orientation tour this morning visit the Victoria Memorial, a huge white-marble structure and the most enduring reminder of the British Raj in India. The marble structure is a combination of classical European architecture with Mughal influences – or as some say, a British attempt to build a better Taj Mahal. Also see the Raj Bhavan, the old British government house, now occupied by the governor of West Bengal and Eden Gardens, a mecca for cricket lovers and one of the most picturesque cricket fields in the world with a gigantic stadium which can take a crowd of nearly 100,000 spectators.

We have arranged a very special lunch today with the Maharani of Burdwan, daughter of the Maharaja of Faridkota and now married to the Maharaja of Burdwan. The royal family of Burdwan, the most important in lower Bengal, are a land-owning historical family. Their historical town of Burwan is located about a hundred kilometers from Kolkata and is home to a rich past including the Sarbamangala temple, the oldest Navratna temple of undivided Bengal and the compound of Nababhat which houses 109 identical hut-shaped Shiva temples. Our time with the Maharani will give us an opportunity learn more about her relief work and the crafts projects she has been involved in.

After lunch spend the afternoon at Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Missionaries of Charity is a Roman Catholic religious order established in 1950 by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which consists of over 4,500 nuns and is active in 133 countries. Member nuns must adhere to the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, and the fourth vow, to give "wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor". They run have 19 homes in Kolkata alone which include homes for women, for orphaned children, and for the dying; an AIDS hospital, a school for street children, and a leper colony. These services are provided to people regardless of their religion or social caste.

We have requested a meeting with Sister Nirmala who succeeded Mother Teresa as Superior General of the Missionaries of Charity in March 1997. Born into a family of high-caste Hindu Brahmins in Ranchi, India she joined the order after converting from Hinduism. After joining the Missionaries of Charity, Sister Nirmala studied law at the insistence of Mother Teresa and has opened Missionaries of Charity homes in Panama, New York and Kathmandu. She is a modest woman, and when she succeeded Mother she quietly said , "Mother Teresa can never be replaced. She is gifted with a rare compassion and charisma.

This evening enjoy a hands-on cooking class – a chance to prepare and then later sample delicious Indian cuisine.

January 16: Saturday. Mumbai. B,L,D.

Morning flight to Mumbai. Nestled against the Arabian Sea, Bombay, or as it is now known, Mumbai has a fascinating rags to riches story. From obscure, humble beginnings as a set of seven small islands with tidal creeks and marshes between them and inhabited by Koli fishermen, the city was ruled by a succession of Hindu dynasties, invaded by Muslims in the 14th century and then ceded to Portugal by the sultan of Gujarat in 1534. The Portuguese did little to develop their acquisition and it was included in Catherine of Braganza’s dowry in 1661 when she married England’s Charles II. The area was then leased to the East India Company which developed the area as a trading port. By the end of the 18th century land reclamation projects had joined the original seven islands together and with the opening of the Suez Canal and the arrival of steam ships and India and Asia’s first railway Mumbai had become India’s primary trading port and commercial center. Today Mumbai remains India's most important financial and industrial center as well as the center of the enormously popular Hindi movie industry more commonly referred to as Bollywood, a play on the city names of Bombay and Hollywood.

Enjoy an orientation tour on the way to the hotel stopping at the Gandhi Museum and Research Institute. The group will be met by Dr. Usha Thakkar who will talk about Gandhi’s life and his dynamic and powerful uncharted path of non-violent resistance to foreign rule and to all evil.

Check in at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower where rooms have been reserved in the tower wing of the hotel.

After lunch, enjoy an hour's boat ride to the tranquil forested island of Elephanta, one of the most atmospheric places in Bombay. The chief attraction of the island is its unique cave temple, whose Shiva sculpture is a fine example of Hindu architecture.

Late afternoon meeting with Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, an art historian who has been very involved in the architectural preservation of major museums and sites in Mumbai including the preparation of a Comprehensive Development Plan for the World Heritage Site of Elephanta where she helped establish the site museum.

Evening reception at a private home.

January 17: Sunday. Mumbai. B,L.

Morning visit to Dharavi, the teeming slum of one million souls, where as many as 18,000 people crowd into a single acre. Routinely called the "larges slum in Asia", Dharavi remains unique among slums. A neighborhood smack in the heart of Mumbai, it retains the emotional and historical pull of a subcontinental Harlem—a square-mile (three square kilometers) center of all things, geographically, psychologically, spiritually. Its location has also made it hot real estate in Mumbai, a city that epitomizes India's hopes of becoming an economic rival to China. Indeed, on a planet where half of humanity will soon live in cities, the forces at work in Dharavi serve as a window not only on the future of India's burgeoning cities, but on urban space everywhere.

Ask any longtime resident—some families have been here for three or more generations—how Dharavi came to be, and they'll say, "We built it." This is not far off. Until the late 19th century, this area of Mumbai was mangrove swamp inhabited by Koli fishermen. When the swamp filled in (with coconut leaves, rotten fish, and human waste), the Kolis were deprived of their fishing grounds—they would soon shift to bootlegging liquor—but room became available for others. The Kumbhars came from Gujarat to establish a potters' colony. Tamils arrived from the south and opened tanneries. Thousands traveled from Uttar Pradesh to work in the booming textile industry. The result is the most diverse of slums, arguably the most diverse neighborhood in Mumbai, India's most diverse city.

Accompanying us will be Kalpana Sharma is an independent journalist, columnist and media consultant. She has been, until recently, Deputy Editor and Chief of Bureau of The Hindu in Mumbai. In over three decades as a full-time journalist, she has held senior positions in Himmat Weekly, Indian Express and the Times of India. Her special areas of interest are environmental and developmental issues. She writes a fortnightly column in The Hindu's Sunday Magazine section, The Other Half that comments on contemporary issues from a gender perspective. She has also followed and commented on urban issues, especially in the context of Mumbai's development. Kalpana Sharma is the author of Rediscovering Dharavi: Stories from Asia's Largest Slum (Penguin 2000) and has co-edited with Ammu Joseph Whose News? The Media and Women's Issues (Sage 1994, 2006) and Terror Counter-Terror: Women Speak Out (Kali for Women, 2003).

After lunch meet with Nishtha Jain, a Mumbai-based documentary filmmaker who recently produced an incredible documentary called Lakshmi and Me. It’s a documentary that acknowledges the lives of the caregivers who so often work in our homes but whom we often know so little about. Nishtha Jain not just acknowledged that the silent worker in her home has a life, but she's followed her life so that we see the person behind the name — a person just like any of us. And instead of viewing the woman from a distance, the filmmaker has bravely placed herself in the frame, honestly dissecting her own relationship as an employer. Lakshmi and Me is a remarkably honest documentary about 21-year-old Lakshmi and the filmmaker, Nishtha.

At leisure for dinner.

January 18: Monday. Mumbai. B,L,D

After breakfast meet with Shabana Azmi. Besides being a very popular and talented actress, and winner of many awards including the National Film Award for Best Actress, she is a staunch social activist. Since 1989, she is a member of the National Integration Council headed by the Prime Minister of India; a member of National AIDS Commission (of India); and was nominated (in 1997) as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. UNFPA had appointed her as its goodwill Ambassador for India, and the University of Michigan conferred (in 2002) on her the Martin Luther King Professorship award in recognition of her contribution to arts, culture and society. In 2006 she was awarded the Gandhi International Peace Price.

After lunch meet with Vedika Bhandarkar, managing director and head of investment banking for India at JPMorgan Chase in Mumbai. Vedika defied a great number of odds to make it to the position she has and will share some of her thoughts with us on the glass-ceiling facing many Indian women today. More often than not though, the hurdle of conforming to traditional roles within families poses as much of a barrier to businesswomen in India as the still-too-thick glass ceiling at the companies themselves.

Evening reception at a private home

January 19: Tuesday. Delhi. B,L,D.

After breakfast fly to Delhi. Upon arrival transfer to The Imperial.

After lunch, we have requested a meeting with Sonia Gandhi. Sonia Gandhi was born into a family of modest means in an Italian village. While attending school in England she met Rajiv Gandhi and then married into India's best known family the Nehru-Gandhis in 1968. The couple remained aloof from politics despite Rajiv’s mother being the Indian Prime Minister, and it was only following the death of his younger brother Sanjay Gandhi in 1980 that Rajiv entered politics. After the assassination of his mother in 1984 Indian National Congress party leaders elected him Prime Minister. He served as Prime Minster until his defeat in 1989 and even then continued on as Congress President until he was assassinated in 1991.Mrs. Gandhi entered political life in 1997 and has served as the President of the Indian National Congress. She is the Chairperson of the ruling United Progressive Alliance in the Lok Sabha, and the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party. She is one of the most powerful woman in the world according to both Times and Forbes.

Evening cocktail reception at the Triveni Art Gallery where we will be joined by Vasundhara Tewari, a well known contemporary artist.

January 20: Wednesday. Delhi. B,L,D.

This morning enjoy a city tour that focuses on old Delhi. Walk through the palace of Shah Jahan’s known as the Red Fort or Lal Qila, so names because of the wall surrounding the palace built of red sandstone. new city lies on its eastern edge where its two main thoroughfares meet. The wall is of a simple and grand design and the two major gates which are aligned with the city’s two arterial streets are named after the cities towards which they face – the Lahore Gate is on the western side and the Delhi Gate on the south. Inside the complex are a large number of structures including a musician’s gallery and a Hall of Public Audience (Diwan-i-Am) where the emperor heard petitions from members of the public. It is a beautiful hall of red sandstone with twelve-sided columns supporting cusped arches. This type of arch is typical of Shah Jahan’s architecture where it was brought to the splendid maturity exemplified here.

Explore Delhi’s largest mosque - the Jami Masjid. Taking advantage of a natural outcrop of rock, the mosque has a commanding position and its dignity is greatly enhanced by the flights of steps required to reach its courtyard. It was begun by Shah Jahan in 1650 and five thousand masons worked on it daily for six years at a cost of a million rupees. With a courtyard measuring over 300 feet across, it is one of the largest mosques in India. Take a rickshaw ride through the winding alleys of Chandni Chowk before enjoying lunch at the charming and eclectic Chor Bizarre Restaurant.

After lunch we are hoping to meet with Arundhati Roy, the award winning novelist and activist. Roy was born to a women's rights activist and a tea planter and spent her childhood in southern India. She then studied architecture at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi and married her second husband, filmmaker Pradip Krishen, in 1984.

Her first novel, The God of Small Things is semi-autobiographical and a major part captures her childhood experiences in southern India. The book received the 1997 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and was listed as one of the New York Times Notable Books of the Year for 1997. She has also written screenplays, documentaries and for television. Since writing her first novel she has devoted herself solely to nonfiction and politics, publishing two more collections of essays, as well as working for social causes. She is a spokesperson of the anti-globalization/alter-globalization movement and a vehement critic of neo-imperialism and of the global policies of the United States. She also criticizes India's nuclear weapons policies and the approach to industrialization and rapid development as currently being practiced in India, including the Narmada Dam project which will displace half a million people, with little or no compensation, saying that the dam will not provide the projected irrigation, drinking water and other benefits. Roy has strongly criticized the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan in reaction to the September 11 attacks, decrying its undermining of international law and institutions. While condemning the 9/11 attacks, she writes that its response has legitimized violence as a political instrument and aided governments around the world in suppressing freedom and civil rights. In 2002 she was awarded the Lannan Cultural Freedom Prize and in June 2005 she took part in the World Tribunal on Iraq. In early 2007, Roy announced she would begin work on a second novel.

Dinner this evening at a private home.

January 21: Tuesday. Delhi. B,L,D.

After breakfast meet with Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi. In the Assembly Sheila Dikshit represents the Gole Market Constituency and is the second female Chief Minister of Delhi. In the 1970’s Indira Gandhi designated Sheila to work as a member of the Indian delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women and since then she has played a major role in the fight for women’s right. In 1990 she spent 23 days in jail because of her championing of women’s causes.

Continue on to meet with Kiran Bedi, an Indian social activist and a retired Indian Police Service (IPS) officer. She became the first woman to join the Indian Police Service (IPS) in 1972, and her last position, before voluntary retirement in 2007 was the Director General, BPR&D (Bureau of Police Research and Development, Ministry of Home Affairs). Her positions have also included the Inspector General of Prisons, - one of world's largest prison complexes, with over 10,000 inmates. Her prison reform policies lead to her winning, the 1994 Ramon Magsaysay Award. Subsequently, she has founded two NGOs in India – Navjyoti for welfare and preventive policing in 1987 and India Vision Foundation for prison reforms, drug abuse prevention, child welfare in 1994.

Enjoy lunch at the Lodi Garden Restaurant.

End the day by meeting with Madhu Kishwar, the founder and editor of Manushi – a journal on women and society. Her latest book published in April 2008 Zealous Reformers, Deadly Laws: Battling Stereotypes examines how existing laws in India fail to address and provide relief to women. She addresses problems around caste, child brides and dowries which she points out are often given by women from prominent families. Manushi was founded with the aim of finding effective solutions for the economic, political and social problems confronting women in India today through patient study, a non-partisan approach, live interaction with the people concerned and culturally sensitive, informed activism.

Dinner at a private home.

January 22: Friday. Agra. B,L,D.

After breakfast depart by private vehicle for Agra, a drive of 125 miles. We will be providing a boxed lunch to enjoy en route to Sikandra, approximately a four hour drive.

After a lunch stop visit the tomb of the great Mogul emperor, Akbar, who planned the design of the tomb and began its construction in 1602. A model of symmetry, built out of red sandstone and marble, the mausoleum stands in the center of a huge garden. The entrance is through an imposing two story gateway, 75 feet high, with exquisite mosaic and inlay work and is topped by four slim marble minarets that rise up from each corner. The main tomb is a fusion of Hindu and Muslim styles as if reflecting the religious tolerance of Akbar, who dreamed of peaceful coexistence between the two religions. Each floor of the five-story structure has a series of arcades, tapering to a marble cloister that seems of float on the top of the cloister beneath.

Arrive in Agra after a one hour drive and transfer to the wonderful Oberoi Amarvilas Hotel, a luxury resort located just 500 meters from the world famous monument of love – the Taj Mahal. The elaborate gardens, reflection pools and pavilions compliment the classic architecture of the hotel.

This evening enjoy a buffet dinner at the Bellevue Restaurant located on the lower lobby level of the hotel.

January 23: Saturday. Agra. B,L,D.

Enjoy a leisurely morning.

Enjoy lunch in town at the Rio Restaurant. After lunch embark on decorated horse drawn carriages and visit Agra’s "old city" and later enjoy a "heritage walk" taking in the finest examples of Mughal architecture and markets.

At sunset, visit the magnificent Taj Mahal. All other Mughal architectural achievements, in spite of their splendors, are surpassed by the Taj Mahal – a work of such flawless beauty that one’s initial astonishment at it never fades. It is the tomb of Arjumand Begam, better known by her title, Mumtaz Mahal (or Elect of the Palace), who married Shah Jahan in 1612. Mumtaz Mahal was Shah Jahan’s favorite wife (and mother of 14 children!). He had her tomb constructed after she died in 1631 and took over 20 years to build it. According to French traveler, Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who witnessed parts of the operation, 20,000 workmen were involved in the construction. Much of the marble and some of the masons who worked on the structure were brought over from Rajasthan. Other materials and craftsmen are known to have come from other parts of India and neighboring countries.

As in previous Mughal tombs, there is not one but a whole complex of buildings. The tomb itself stands on a podium with an elegant, tapering minaret at each corner. This ensemble stands on a terrace which it shares with two other buildings. To the west is a triple-dome mosque; while to the east is the mosque’s jawab or echo. Oriented the wrong way, this third building could not be used for worship and it has been suggested that it was intended to accommodate visitors to the tomb, but evidently its primary function was simply to provide balance to the mosque and so preserve the symmetry of the composition. In front of the terrace is a giant charbagh, 300 meters wide with a marble pool in its center. Together with the terrace, the garden is bordered by a high wall, which is punctuated by pavilions and gazebos and pierced on the southern side by a stately gate. Outside the gate is an arcaded courtyard and close by to the south and west, a number of other mosques and small tombs of sandstone and marble, pertaining to the other wives of Shah Jahan.

The Taj Mahal surpasses both its antecedents and its imitators in quality. This superiority is achieved by its sheer size and the delicacy of its decoration. Each of the building’s elevations measures 186’ across, some 9’more than the elevations of Humayun’s tomb and its total height, including the top finial and the podium is over 240’, slightly higher than the Qutb Minar. Its success depends more importantly though, on the proportions of its parts. To begin with, the height of the tomb without the finial and the podium is the same as each side of its plan, so that its extremities define a cube. The corners of the building are chamfered at such a point as to make each angled face the same width as the marginal parts of the main facades. Thus between each iwan and the nest are three equal sides which turn the corner smoothly and keep the eye forever moving around the building’s surface.

Enjoy a special farewell dinner at the Esphahan restaurant in the hotel this evening

January 24: Sunday. Departure. B,L,D

Enjoy a final morning at leisure.

En route back to Delhi visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Fatehpur Sikri. Built in honor of the Sufi saint, Salim Chishti in 1571 by the Mughal emperor "Akbar the Great," it is regarded as Akbar's crowning architectural legacy. Fatehpur Sikri shared its imperial duties as a capital city with Agra, where a bulk of the arsenal, treasure hoards and other reserves were kept at its Red Fort for security. During a crisis, the court, harem, and treasury could be removed to Agra, only 26 miles away, less than a day's march.

The imperial complex of palace and mosque is one of the most remarkable architectural conceptions in India. This hill-top deserted city has two distinct complexes, both religious and secular. The structures here include palaces and courtyards, as well as official buildings, such as audience halls, the treasury, the harem, soldier's barracks and kitchens. The attached complex comprises the main mosque, the shrine of Sheikh Salim Chishti and a lofty gateway. The palace and the mosque stand on the top of a ridge which runs in a straight line on a diagonal to the polar axes, from south-west to north-east. Most of the city, now dwindled, lies on the south-east side of the bridge. The city and palace together covered an area of approximately two miles. This was enclosed on three sides by the city wall, which was pierced by nine major gates, parts of which still survive. On the north-western side there was no wall but a large lake, now dry. In the heyday of Fatehpur Sikri, the whole length of the road between it and Agra was flanked by a continuous market. The English merchant, Ralph Fitch, who saw it at that time, said that traveling through the countryside between the two cities, one felt, "as though a man were still in a towne."

Arrive in Delhi early evening. A light dinner before driving to the airport for a late evening flight back home.

January 25: Monday.
Arrive back in the USA.

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