We arrived in Delhi just before Diwali, it is celebrated in a very similar way to how we celebrate Christmas ; with the exchange of gifts and half price sales in furniture shops. Oh and fireworks, there are whole streets of Delhi where all the shops sell are fireworks. I’ve no idea what they sell the rest of the year. Firework safety isn’t high on their agenda so they are set off everywhere and anywhere at anytime. The whole city seemed to be playing a game of terrify the tourists by throwing fireworks in front of us.
We were part of an organised tour for the first time on this trip, a G Adventures Golden Triangle tour to be exact. The triangle is Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. The tours G Adventures run are kind of a backpacker version of an organised tour so hotels are functional rather than luxurious. Entrance fees and guides for the main sites are included along with accommodation and transport. We were taken to suggested restaurants most days but it was up to us if we wanted to eat elsewhere.
Many people and guidebooks warn you about a sensory overload when encountering India for the first time. We had acclimatised to this a little by the places we had visited before getting to India. The crowds, sites and smells weren’t much different to Bangkok, Hanoi or even London. What I think hit us most was the dirt and rubbish. The only clean road we saw was the one from the airport that takes you to the government and embassy buildings. There were piles of rubbish everywhere and it stank. The cows wandering the streets didn’t help and in some places were joined by pigs that survived, along with the street kids, by scouring the litter.
Delhi has around 200 000 street kids, we were given a tour around part of it by a charity worker who was himself a street kid. He ran away from his family who lived near Nepal because his dad had died and he felt his mum couldn’t afford to feed him and his sister. He was 9. He ate most days at a Sikh Guduwara where they provide food to anyone who needs it. We visited one of these and the kitchens are staffed by volunteers who prepare the donated food. It is a part of their religion that they have a responsibility to contribute to the community either by giving resources or time. It is effectively a social welfare net for the most needy.
Old Delhi has some beautiful historic buildings and New Delhi is very similar to the architecture of parts of London but there is a sense of decay and lack of upkeep in all these places. We didn’t really feel unsafe, even with the fireworks, but the constant hassle from hawkers and beggars meant you had to develop a very thick skin and learn to ignore people who you actually felt really sorry for.