Given the sudden nature of my trip, I wasn’t hugely prepared as I stepped on the plane at Glasgow. The trip had snowballed from India to India and Australia and the Americas are just a short 14 hour flight from there… It was suggested that I mentally prepare myself for India, given how common genuine culture shock can be. But then I realised they were showing The Godfather Trilogy on the flight, so I watched that instead.
As the plane descended into Delhi, I peaked out the window at the impressive urban sprawl. Exiting the jetway and spying the locals, there was still nothing shocking. After picking up my rucksack (man I need to streamline this) and emerging into Arrivals, I’m faced with a familiar luminous green sign: Starbucks. So far, so very generic. I spot my driver and without any hassle we’re in the taxi and completely misunderstanding each other’s pidgin English. Textbook.
As we get closer to the city the driving gets a little more crazy, the litter and general junk increases and most strikingly, more and more people are lying by the road side. The traffic is just about bearable if you ignore the CONSTANT horns, people driving in the wrong direction, five rows of cars across a three-lane motorway and constantly braking five centimetres from surrounding vehicles. The people lying on the street is like nothing I’ve ever seen before, but thanks to social media and a 24 hour news cycle, these images aren’t as shocking as they once might have been. What really makes me sad, are the children playing and sleeping by the side of motorways. In the UK we worry about a 10 year-old walking to the end of a residential street to catch the school bus. Here it’s common to see toddlers carrying babies across dual carriageways barefoot. They always seem to be smiling though.
I’ve arranged to travel with friends of friends for a few weeks, so I go straight to meet the girls who arrived a few days before. We’d arranged to do a tour with a charity that provides reunification, education and accommodation to homeless children, called Salaam Baarak Trust. Guided by a young man who arrived at the charity years before, and now works there, we wormed our way through the neighbourhood. They neighbourhood could also be described as a ghetto, slum or township, the stench was horrendous. We headed back to the office for a short presentation on their work and a chance to meet the children. I’d really recommend it and think these kind of visits can enhance your understanding of a new country.
In the afternoon we did whirlwind tour of the big religious sites, well worth a visit but probably best shared in photos rather than endless explanations of their context, which you can google easily.
I hadn’t slept for around 36 hours, within which I’d said goodbye to my family for five months, taken an intercontinental flight, toured the slums of Delhi and covered some of the most significant sites of Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam. I managed to squeeze in five hours sleep before the 5am train to Jaipur which took my total time in Delhi to 20 hours. What a way to kick off my trip.