Fanny Parkes (nee Frances Susannah Archer, 1794-1875), was born in Wales to a military father and married Charles Crawford Parkes, who worked for the East India Company. Her account of life in India covered 1822-45, and it is clear that she respected and admired the richness of Indian culture, unlike many of her contemporaries. Her journals, written over 170 years ago, are non - judgemental, enlightening and full of humour.
Fanny travels by river to Agra to see the Taj Mahal on her own. The journey takes fifty one days.
9th December 1834. I quitted Prāg: Seagull spread her sails to the breeze and, in spite of the power of the stream, we made good way against it.
10th December. Saw the first crocodile today basking on a sandbank; a great long nosed fellow, a very Indian looking personage.
23rd December. A wretched day; cold, damp and miserable, a most powerful wind directly against us. To add to the discomfort, we sprang a leak which gave sixty buckets of water in twenty four hours... we had nothing on board fit to stop it. At last it was effectually stopped with towels, torn up and forced in tight, and stiff clay beaten down over that.
25th December. Christmas Day was ushered in by rain and hail, the wind high and contrary. At seven in the evening, just as we had moored, a storm came on accompanied with the most brilliant forked lightning ...it was really fearful.
26th December. We were in the midst of great sandbanks, in a complete wilderness. Off Belaspoor, on one sandbank, I saw 10 crocodiles basking in the sun... on the river’s edge were 3 enormous alligators, large savage monsters lying with their enormous mouths wide open, eyeing the boats. These are the first alligators I have seen. I would willingly have taken the voyage for this one sight of alligators and crocodiles in their native wildernesses; the scene was so unusual, so wild, so savage.
2nd January 1835. How little the natives think of death! This morning ...a body of a woman floated by
the pinnace.. her long dark hair spread on the stream. I desired the men to pull the body to the vessels’s side... they refused to touch it even with a bamboo; nobody seemed to think anything about it.
9th January. Saw the first wolf today; I wish we were at Etawah – to anchor here is detestable.
17th January. An acquaintance, the Hon Mrs R- has just arrived from England. Nothing could exceed her astonishment when she heard I had gone up the Jumna alone, on a pilgrimage of perhaps two months or more to see the Taj, not forced to make the voyage from necessity. I have books and employments of various sorts to beguile the loneliness; and the adventures I meet with give variety and interest to the monotony of life on the river. Could I follow my own inclinations I would proceed to Delhi, thence to the Hills, and on to the source of the Jumna; this would really be a good undertaking. Capt. Skinner’s Travels, which I have just read, have given me the most ardent desire to go to the source of the Jumna.
28th January. I quitted the pinnace... and taking my little pet terrier in my arms cantered off ...late at night I arrived at Agra, found a tent that had been pitched for me within the enclosure of the Taj, in front of the Sawaza or great gateway, and congratulated myself on having at length accomplished the pilgrimage in a voyage up the Jumna of fifty one days! Over exertion brought on illness, and severe pains in my head laid me up for several days.
From Fanny Parkes, Begums, Thugs and White Mughals, Eland Press, 2002.
Above: Bengali woman. Below, left to right; Ice pits, The Sircar, The Churuk Pooja, The Barkandaz