"......The train journey from Mumbai to Agra was quite rustic, to say the least. Throughout my journey, I tried to stay away from unnecessary luxuries, not that I had the means to consider more privileged amenities in the first place.
It had already been a few months since I had left home with a very modest amount of money that I had been able to save up working for the local newspaper. I had always been interested in the craft behind writing so I was happy enough to find work in a writing environment, but with my young age and silent nature, I had never quite been given the opportunity to show my worth.
My job was in the archives, I was to organise all past publications and occasionally dig out old articles for the writers to use as references for new ones. My days were repetitive, quiet and lonely, and the dullness of the job probably became the reason why I longed for adventure in the first place. In the archives, I most often spent my time finding articles to do with foreign affairs, and although the affairs side of things did not interest me, the location in which those took place did.
The local newspaper very rarely wrote of more adventurous locations and so I knew it was safe to cut out the few articles referencing all these places I wanted to find in my atlas after work.
The journey to Agra was quite long and gave me plenty of time to rest, write and admire the beautiful wilderness on the way.
I remembered once cutting out an article on the Taj Mahal and its majestic surroundings. I took my book out of my bag and found the article under the section I had named “India” in which most of my articles were to do with the past and current affairs of the British rule over India.
The article was brief and very uninspiring but it had a black and white picture of the Taj Mahal, and although very unflattering, it was all I had ever seen of the monument.
As I looked at the picture, a joyful old Indian lady tapped me on the shoulder and said - “I’m very happy for you.”. Slightly confused, I asked her - “Why is that Madam?” - “You are going to the Taj Mahal, yes? So, I am happy that you will now see it with your own eyes and not just from this horrid picture of it!”. As she finished speaking, she took the picture away from my hands, and with a swift movement of her arm, she threw it out of the train window. Baffled, I put my head out of the window to see the thin piece of paper fly like a feather to the side of the moving train... She then leaned out of the window with me and asked “Do you see now?” and as I replied “See what?”, not without a hint of frustration in my voice, a haunting shadow covered my face. I looked out into the distance and a silhouette unlike any I had ever seen had blocked out the sun. I could see towers on either side of the main structure and a large dome shape was eclipsing the sun.
The train was soon coming into the station and as the vibrations from the train tracks underneath slowed down, they became one with the beat of my calm heart. Slowly the sun was finding its way to illuminate the building.
The glorious shining white monument revealed itself through the gentle mist and in its reflection from the peaceful waters of the Yamuna River. My body froze in awe at the scene that unfolding before my eyes, my first sight of the Taj Mahal.
This magical moment happened in no more than a few seconds, and yet it felt like time had frozen all around me. The immeasurable beauty of what I had just witnessed had become my first encounter with the spiritual.
I spent a few days in Agra, wondering the streets, and finding even more inspiration from the numerous wonders that it holds.
I met a few locals and eventually found a kind young man who was going to Kathmandu to see his family who lived there. He was happy to share the journey with me as he explained that the road is always better with company.
His name was Kshitij and he was as rich in stories as Anouar was. I told him of my travels across Northern Africa, a part of the world he knew very little about. Kshitij’s curiosity and ability to listen was a gift of and one that I hoped I shared with him.
I thought back to my work back home, a place where I was not heard and where I was made to feel like I had not much to say in the first place. Out here, far from home, my adventures fuelled my thoughts and my voice suddenly had a meaning, I felt more alive now than I ever had before.
We eventually crossed the border from India to Nepal. As we made our way deeper into the Himalayas the roads thinned themselves out more and more until they became just wide enough to still be called that. However, I did not care for the perilous roads, for I was finally in the mountains that to this day continue to hide the Gates of Shambala."