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Delhi India – 2 Opposing Experiences
FIRST DAYS IN DELHI
Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi is like any “2. world” airport… it’s hot, there are smooth and broken roads as soon as you leave the building. We arrived at 3am and took a quick but long “chef tour” through the back streets of Delhi to Wonghden House in the New Tibet Colony at Majnu Ka Tilla, with lots of honking to let other vehicles know we were passing. . My impression is that it’s decaying…light industrial/commercial areas with dilapidated buildings. Many felt like home. This is similar to what we saw in Mexico. I haven’t seen the tourist areas of the city center where the markets and attractions are.
Delhi is a fascinating experience, not to be missed (I think) … but not for the faint of heart! The chaos made transportation challenging and our hotel was far from the city center, so we had to travel by taxi, auto rickshaw and rickshaw. Everyone is going very fast between lanes than in them, even though the government posts “stay in your lane, be sober” signs and cuts in front of others to spare while honking loudly (recommended). Countless motorbikes and auto rickshaws weave between the cars and bicycles. All motorcycle riders seem to wear helmets, but cyclists don’t. Many women sit behind the side saddle of the motorcycle and look very relaxed in sarees or pants and tunics without a helmet!
Over the past week, I’ve noticed a strange parallel in the news from Vancouver and Delhi, with bus drivers running over or nearly running over people on the street. Quite a few people have been killed by buses in Delhi this year (I think 70+) and the passengers rioted and tried to set fire to a bus a few days ago when a young man died on his motorbike. Many people in Vancouver complained to the bus company about the dangerous driving of the bus drivers.
This first Delhi experience for me is not particularly positive. Whenever we go into the heart of Delhi, there are always shoppers and traders there to buy something or take them somewhere. They don’t take no for an answer. It’s almost like having a big sign on our foreheads “newcomers”. This, along with the heat and traffic chaos, was overwhelming at times. After 4 days we went to McLeod Ganj (Upper Dharamsala), home of the Dalai Lama, then returned for a couple more days before continuing on to Varanasi.
5 WEEKS LATER – BACK IN DELHI
Well here we are in Delhi after a long day of traveling yesterday. We left Kochi at 7:30am for a 10:30am flight but the flight was delayed till 12:15pm (it actually left at 1am). I think all our domestic flights are delayed.
We arrived at Delhi airport at 5:00 p.m., bought a government taxi ticket to Paharganj, the district where our hotel was (these fixed-price tickets are about half the price of private taxis). But these drivers don’t speak English and there was no address of the hotel, only detailed directions. There are so many hotels here, mostly around Paharganj near Connaught Circle, that taxi drivers don’t know many of them. Our driver did his best, stopping along the way as we got closer to Paharganj to ask other drivers and people on the street. Most people didn’t seem to know much about it! Then, miraculously, we stopped to ask a stranger on the street. This man read our lengthy directions, understood them perfectly, said he wanted to go this way, and asked for a ride. He directed us a block away from the hotel and then got off at our destination.
We passed through a crowded, extremely narrow market street at least 3 city blocks long. The street was full of people, every stall was open. A few cars sped by, and plenty of motorbikes and bicycle rickshaws. It wasn’t really wide enough for a vehicular street, but that’s how it goes in India. The market, bustling with lights and colorful goods, looked very magical. It was a good introduction to our last day in India!
Our hotel is good, quite retro-looking, the room is freshly painted turquoise, quite clean. The Paharganj neighborhood is an alternative to the expensive Connaught Place, with many upscale shops and hotels (eg Benneton). Yet it is closely adjacent to CP. We saw a lot of younger, hippy-looking travelers on the streets here, but also a lot of middle-aged people, mostly European and English.
We had the most wonderful morning. I wanted to go to the center for street children, a place where they get off the streets for a while, eat, wash their clothes and go to tutoring. We asked the reception for directions and were told that the owner of the hotel works with street children. We were taken to his basement office where he told us all about his volunteer work and explained how to “give back” to others to make up for bad karma from past lives. He said that a 27-year-old girl, an only child like our daughter, born into wealth (in her opinion) to loving parents in a country like Canada, has good karma.
Brij, the owner, is a member of a volunteer organization. He is a former auto rickshaw driver from Paharganj (but unusual because he has a college degree) and supports many, many charities for the poor. He took the 4 of us to the basement of the hotel…tutoring for small children, computer training for men and women, sewing lessons and doctor’s office!
Then he took us to the orphanage of the nearby Hindu temple; he showed us the babies’ room (the other, older children were at school I think; they live in an ashram in another part of the temple). There were 8-10 babies and a 10-year-old girl who is slightly mentally disabled. Babies are rescued after being abandoned; the police call the association and someone immediately goes with a nurse to pick them up. One of the babies was very white skinned and I feel that may be the main reason why she left him at the park. They were mostly girls as people don’t want them.
Babies are lovingly cared for by paid nurses, and provided with good medical care and food. Then they are adopted into Indian families who cannot have children of their own. The youngest can only be given to couples whose 2-year age does not exceed 90 years; if they are older, they have bigger children. The babies were so beautiful and looked so peaceful; the energy of the whole church was like that.
We met a Dutch woman who has been a volunteer for 6 months. She makes the website for the children’s center as it is her job and she also deals with the children. It doesn’t go every day because he’s too attached to it and then they’re gone. We want to do volunteer work through this organization.
Our afternoon was a huge contrast to seeing the facilities for the poor
I’m sorry. We took the metro one stop to Connaught Circle as my partner wanted to see what an Indian metro was like. (Subway stations and tollbooths look similar to Bart in San Francisco) and are 5-6 years old. They help ease the bazaar congestion on the roads as they said). Connaught Circle is a very upscale area of shops, as I think I mentioned earlier, as well as expensive hotels and restaurants. We walked, had pizza at Pizza Hut (my choice, I’m starting a comeback!), then had dessert and coffee at a new Indian coffee chain. I wanted to take a cycle rickshaw back to our hotel for one last round, but they are not allowed in that area, so we took an auto rickshaw. After returning, we walked again for an hour through the busy lanes of Paharganj bazaar…for the last time…& took some pictures in the fading light.
I am now in love with Delhi…especially the Paharganj district in the heart of the city. Can’t wait to come back!
Copyright 2008 Ellen Besso
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