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Charles visits Muslim saint's tomb


 The Prince of Wales has a deep interest in Islamic art and culture

The Prince of Wales has a deep interest in Islamic art and culture

The Prince of Wales has a deep interest in Islamic art and culture

The Prince of Wales has paid his respects at the tomb of a Muslim saint and praised restoration work to return the Mumbai shrine to its former glory.

Charles, who has a deep interest in Islamic art and culture, visited the last resting place of revered 15th century figure Haji Ali.

The saint's body lies in an ornately decorated mausoleum built within a complex called a Dargah, which includes a mosque and lies a few hundred metres off the shore at Mumbai.

It is reached by a causeway and the Prince made the five-minute walk to the impressive white marble-clad building featuring the domed tomb.

After removing his shoes, Charles helped the Dargah's Imam make a "chadar" - an offering to the saint where a cloth is draped over the tomb and prayers are said for peace.

The Prince first touched the shrine and then his chest, and helped lay a blue velvet cloth covered in sequins over the tomb.

A blanket of red roses followed and then a covering woven from small white flowers before Charles sprinkled what appeared to be incense over the offering.

Haji Ali was a 15th century Muslim merchant who gave up his wealth to make a pilgrimage to the holy Muslim city of Mecca and is later said to have performed a number of miracles in Mumbai.

When he died during another trip to Mecca, it is believed the casket carrying his body was cast into the Arabian sea and floated back to Mumbai where it became lodged in the rocks where his tomb is now sited.

During his visit, Charles learned about an ongoing £1 million restoration project to repair the marble cladding and interior of the 60-year-old Dargah, which has been damaged over the years by sea water.

He admired the efforts of a group of workmen who were putting the finishing touches to a large slab of white marble carved with an intricate flower pattern.

Chetan Raikar, architect for the restoration project, acted as interpreter for the Prince as he chatted to one of the carvers and Charles told him: "It's brilliant, I'm full of admiration for their skills."

The Prince also chatted to Pooja Oberoi, a Sikh who runs a charity which offers free cataract surgery and medical treatment to poor devotees at the shrine.

Ms Oberoi, wearing a white shalwar kameez, who has two brothers who live in Birmingham, said her work reflected the multi-faith character of the shrine.

She said she believed Charles is burdened by his responsibilities and had only recently found happiness.

"With very big man there is tension, too big tension, so many responsibilities, too many friends and enemies. I will pray and God will give him happiness," she said.

The Duchess of Cornwall carried out her own engagement today, meeting a group of inspirational mothers who have started their own businesses selling everything from scrap to bangles.

One 59-year-old supports her entire family by foraging on Mumbai's infamous Shivajinagar rubbish dump - on which she also lives.

A 21-year-old widow, who was thrown out by her late husband's family, is making enough money selling nail polish and make-up to support her two children, aged four and two.

Camilla toured a display put on by the Vandana Foundation Micro-Finance Project which provides either free or low-cost loans to some of the city's poorest women so they can start their own businesses.

They sell everything from fruit and flowers to scrap but all have one thing in common: they are breaking boundaries by becoming entrepreneurs.

Saumya Roy, chief executive officer of the not-for-profit organisation, told the Duchess: "Many of these women are hugely vulnerable and, make no mistake, there is a huge stigma here about them going out of the house to work, let alone starting their own businesses. Each of them is an inspiration."

One of the most remarkable was 59-year-old Lila Manohar Chauhan, who lives on Mumbai's largest dump and works from 7am until 6pm picking up scrap copper, brass and other pieces of rubbish to sell.

She supports her husband, who does not work, her son, daughter-in-law and their three children with her 200 rupees per day earnings - around £2. The illiterate grandmother is now earning enough to send her three grandchildren to a local private school and they are even teaching her a few words of English.

Speaking through a translator, she said: "I want them to have a good education and a better life."

Despite the hardship, she has not lost her sense of humour.

When asked if her unemployed husband has a cup of tea waiting for her each evening, she rolled her eyes and waved her hands heavenwards in a gesture of futility.

One of the youngest women present was 21-year-old Pooja Sachin Bhagat, whose husband was one of the 7,000 or so cotton farmers who have killed themselves due to rising problems in the industry.

She and her two young children were thrown out by her in-laws and they now live with an aunt.

Ms Bhagat sells bangles, nail polish and make-up, earning around 500 rupees a day - about £5 - which is enough to support her family.

She said: "My in-laws are now very jealous that I can support us all."

The businesswoman and others like her are given a free loan by the charity to get themselves on their feet.

Another scrap seller was Ankush Rajguro, 30, who supports her husband and three children and has become so successful that she now runs a little shop from her home selling sugar, coconut and garlic.

She said: "My husband is glad I have a job that allows me to stay at home with the children and work."

On arrival, Camilla was greeted with a traditional Indian welcome - a vermillion tika, a flower garland and a traditional Indian lamp.

And as she walked around, she could not resist picking up gifts for her husband and family as she toured the stalls - buying beautiful embroidered jackets, children's clothes, sweets and a belt for Charles.

Marvelling at the women's ingenuity and the fact that so many of them support their husbands, she said: "What would we do without the women?"

Although all of the stallholders tried to offer their goods as a gift to the Duchess, she insisted on paying them, saying: 'No, I wouldn't dream of it. I must insist.

She added: "Sorry, I just can't resist, these things are so lovely. So beautifully made."

At one stall she was offered a beaded band that women tie around their brothers' wrists to bond with them and ask for their protection.

She joked: "I should get one of them for my brother (adventurer Mark Shand) . That'll be a shock for him."

Before leaving, she posed for a group picture with the delighted women.

Over the past few years, the Duchess has visited a number of UK-based organisations offering financial help and advice to their members, some of whom may be in financial difficulty.

She has toured several credit unions and has been very impressed by the practical nature of the help that is being offered by these co-operative style banks in difficult economic times.

Camilla also recently opened an account with the London Mutual Credit Union as she is keen to support co-operative banks and encourage others to do the same.

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