Experience has taught us that it is very hard to come to India and start work immediately. So we have come a few days before the NID in order to acclimatise and also to get over the 5½ hours jet lag.
Delhi seems little changed from last year. Drivers still follow the N+1 rule which means that if it is a four lane road they will drive as if it were five lanes and also fit in an additional ½N lanes of motorbikes into the road width. Hence driving in Delhi is not for the faint hearted nor anyone with a sense of lane discipline.
Having had a short nap, we head out for a walk into town to buy something we find we had forgotten to pack (Deodorant). The concept of walking for the pleasure of it and for exercise seems to be alien to many people here and those who see us looking at a map and then offer their advice cannot understand why we are walking and not taking a TukTuk.
Eventually we are persuaded to take one because the area we were going to walk to was closed off because of a demonstration (a common occurrence in Delhi). Our adviser asked us why we were in Delhi etc and when he heard that we were here to vaccinate against Polio, told the TukTuk driver to charge us the Indian fare of 30 rupees, not the Tourist fare of 100 rupees or as much more as they can convince you to pay.
We found a shop selling Deodorant and had an enjoyable time smelling the varieties on offer and conversing with no common language. Our question about the easiest route to walk back to our hotel led to us being taken to a Tourist Office across the road where they were said to have a good free street map of Delhi.
Again, once the owner found out that we were here as Polio Vaccinators rather than Tourists, our reception changed from "friendly and polite and a potential customer” to that of a "welcome guest” with an invitation "to come home for dinner the next time we come to Delhi to meet his wife". India is rightly proud of what it has achieved in becoming Polio Free but it is also very grateful to those who come to help in maintaining this achievement. Publicly expressed thanks to us as Polio Vaccinators was a constant theme during our previous two trips and it looks like it will also be the case this trip.
The Delhi Metro
Delhi has a new and growing Metro System and using it is very easy provided you have thought about it before hand. It is also very cheap. It is not particularly disability friendly in that usually you have to negotiate a combination of steps and escalators (with the option of some lifts) to get to the platforms.
We chose to use the token method of travel (as against smart cards) whereby you tell the ticket office where your are going to, handed over the appropriate number of rupees and are then given a validated smart token in return as your ticket.
The tokens are a couple of cms in diameter. You then go through an airport style security gate (a separate lane for women) and touch your token onto a reader to open the station platform gates. At your destination gate, you drop the token into a slot on the gate where presumably it is validated and then the gate opens.
Trains seem to be every few minutes and are air conditioned. There are special carriages for ladies but this designation seems to be universally ignored as are the signs reserving certain seats for the old and infirm. Rechargeable smart cards are available for about 100 rupees and there are also tourist cards but we found the token method to be very easy.
A short journey south from our Hotel on the Delhi Metro is Gandhi Smitri which is a free museum devoted to the life of Gandhi.
The museum is the house within which he lived during his last days and in the grounds is the spot where he was assassinated.
As museums go, it was not overly interesting and they seemed to have got a bit carried away with their interpretation of the word “multimedia”. But if you work at it, there is a lot to read and you can get a good understanding of their view of Gandhi and the inability of the British Empire to resist what he stood for. Reading up on Gandhi before a visit would be a good idea because the structure of the museum and its information is not overly obvious.
The gardens around the house are maintained perfectly
and there are a series of footprints on certain paths marking the
route he walked to the spot where he was assassinated on 30th January 1948.
Nearby is a museum devoted to Indra Gandhi who was assassinated in 1984. Judging by the length of the queue, this is a more popular museum than the one we went to.
Saalem Balek Trust
It is well known in India that numerous children run away from home each year and head for one of the big cities in the hope of making their fortune or at worst, finding a better life than the one they currently have. Young children also loose their parents when travelling and are never reunited with their families. The major stations of Delhi, Mumbai and Kolcarta are the magnets which attract these children and when they arrive there on their own, they are ready prey for whomever is waiting there seeking children like them. It is common for boys to be recruited as very cheap labour in cafes and factories or as slave labour and girl are often recruited to the sex trade or as domestic servants / slaves.
A lot of children end up living on the streets and they survive by begging. The most cogent reasons for not giving money to beggars (as told to us by the Saalem Balek Trust) are that giving money makes them successful beggars and therefore they have no reason to try to improve their lot, the money is often spent on drugs (sniffing glue is common) or given to those who control them as beggars; and they do not need money for food because there are many temples in Delhi who will willingly feed anyone (including them) for free.
The Saalem Balek Trust (more information here and here) is a charity which aims to provide support to these children by intercepting them at one of the major stations and then guiding them into a support network. They organise daily two hour walks around the Delhi Station area and a visit to one of the trust centres for tourists and anyone else with an interest. Tourists who are new to India and to Delhi can use these walks to introduce themselves to the real India which they perhaps are shielded from by their hotels and their air conditioned coaches.
The walk’s starting point is very easy to find and is a few minutes up Chelmsford Road which is a road off Connaught Circle.
The guides assemble opposite the Rail Reservation Centre
and adjacent to a Buddhist Rest House
and about 100 metres before a large sign pointing to the Railway Station itself.
Whilst you are waiting for the walk to start, you can have your hair cut (cost between 50 and 100 rupees depending on the cut specified)
or get a cup of Chai (10 rupees) at a stall run by someone who had polio as a child and uses one of the standard hand driven tricycles to get around town.
Our walk started with a briefing from one of the guides (Ejaz)
adjacent to a pile of rubbish. There are plenty of piles of rubbish in Delhi but this one also served as the local toilet for those working on stalls in the area.
There is a general lack of public toilets and to stop people using a house wall up an alleyway as a toilet, they affixed plaques displaying images of various Gods to the wall. Those cut short now go elsewhere.
The Paharganj area close to the station is full of cheap hotels and shops selling everything one might want and a lot that one might not want. Prices were said to be cheap but also out of reach for some of India’s 1.3 billion people.
Fruit stalls were everywhere
with one selling Jack Fruit, a fruit we have never seen before.
As well as fruit and clothes, there also was a stall selling pottery - we wish we could have bought some to take home.
And down one of the back alleys, there was a shop where ragpickers would take the plastic bottles they had collected and sold for recycling. One Kg of plastic bottles fit for recycling (about 50 large bottles without their caps) is said to be worth around 20 rupees (about £0.25 or $0.32 US).
Interestingly, about 60% of plastics used in India are recycled whereas the figure in First World Countries currently averages out at about 15%.
We were taken to the reception centre at Delhi Railway Station - photographs are not allowed here because it is above a Police Station) and then to one of the Salaam Baalek buildings nearby.
Situated on the third floor of this building are a few classrooms and offices belonging to the Centre.
We saw two classrooms and met the children in them. One was for the youngest ages who were being taught to write numbers in English script
and the other for an older age group
Most of the children were very keen to practice their limited English
and play various hand games
but tucked away in the corner was one child who would not interact at all and simply wanted to hide away no matter what anyone did to try to get him to react.
At the end of the two hours, you pay your 300 Rupees tour fee (about £3.30 or $4.5) and are escorted back to where the walk started. You return much wiser about the issues of child homelessness and poverty in India and also aware that Saalem Baalek does good work. And if you have never been into the back streets of India before, you will have seen things you never expected to see.