India’s capital, Delhi, is home to 25 million people. It’s an enormous city filled with fresh fruit stands, western influence, delectable cuisine and rich culture. Overall, Delhi was less chaotic than I expected and the people were friendly and helpful. Delhi lacked the aggressiveness that I experienced in Kolkata and not only did I feel comfortable, a man told me when I should cut the 50 person metro line, because I was a lady. The smells, colors, and tastes made the city fascinating.
The first two nights in Delhi, Nick, Dan and I stayed at Mr. Charan’s apartment, through AirBnB. Young guests were in and out and he seemed to be making a pretty decent business from his apartment. He generously took us to a Sikh Temple, Gurudwara Bangla Sahib (as he is Sikh) and was able to give us the behind the scenes tour. First, both genders had to cover their hair and wash their feet before entering. We entered the temple where many people were praying then walked around the enormous pool located behind the temple where individuals splashed water on their heads. It was a beautiful complex and we learned a lot about the religion. We learned that the Sikh religion is a rather new religion and started from a holy war. Sikhs accept every religion; they never cut their hair and most avoid consuming alcohol and meat. Later, we accepted an offering, which tasted like a ball of sticky sweet flour and continued on to the kitchen for dinner.
Hundreds of people entered the kitchen and sat crossed legged in rows. Volunteers handed each person a silver plate, threw us chapatti, which we accepted with both hands, and spooned us dhal (lentils) and potato curry. It was mandatory that we finish all of the food and it was an experience, we were thankful to be included in. This temple served dinner everyday from 5pm- 10pm and anyone, Sikh or not, would be served. Rooms were available and individuals could spend 1 night to 1 month there. It didn’t feel like Dehi’s street community took advantage of these services, and walks of all life, joined together.
That night, we spent the evening hanging out with a both locals and foreigners at Charan’s. Charan joked about Sikhs having receding hair lines due to their turbines and a recently married coupled joked about weddings in the north of India being better than the south. We exchanged travel stories with a German, Chinese and Canadian who were also staying with Charan. In this moment, I felt thankful for all of the people that have shaped my travels and added to my global perspective.
The next morning we joined Street Connections on a walk of Old Delhi. Salaam Baalak Trust ran this program, a non-profit supporting street kids. Not only was our money helping this non-profit, our guide was a young beneficiary who spent 14 years with Salaam Baalak Trust. This trust has been working with street kids in Delhi since 1988, and was recently recognized by Michelle Obama. They have contact points where they provide medical care and education to street kids, and 6 centers where they home a total of 6,000 boys and girls. They perform sting operations in factories that rescue child laborers.
We spent the morning wandering around crumbling mansions (homes with windows facing the interior) and embroidery factories. We walked through Muslim, Jain, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian communities. We learned a little about Jainism and how the religion is similar to Buddhism, however more strict. Jains are not only vegetarian, however they will not eat root vegetables as they believe when they are removed from the ground it kills a plants life. A sect of Jainism is nudist and wears masks to avoid inhaling micro insects. We realized that the nude individuals we saw hauling goods on a highway in Kolkata must have been Jains. Later, we visited the largest spice market in Asia and although pleasantly aromatic, we coughed and sneezed the entire time. I learned about the health benefits of various teas, long pepper, black salt (which smelt like eggs), saffron, Indian cinnamon and turmeric. We ended the tour at the shelter home where our guide was raised.
When he was 5, both of his parents died and him and his sister moved in with their aunt, and only living relative. She treated them as servants and he eventually ran away. He caught a train and that brought him to Delhi. He joined other street kids picking up plastic bottles in exchange for money and got hooked to hard drugs at the age of 5. Drug dealers try to hook children as it guarantees lifelong customers. When a police officer caught him picking up garbage, he sent him to Salaam Baalak. The non-profit gave him the option of returning home or joining their program. He joined, and is now a guide for Street Connections and studying theatre. He had his first feature in a Bollywood movie and will move to Germany to marry his fiancé. An unbelievable story and when we saw the movie feature, awe-inspiring. This program seems to be doing a fantastic job housing, educating, nurturing and mentoring children.
After visiting Ladakh, Nick, Dan and I returned to Delhi and explored the Red Fort and took a cooking class. We eventually said goodbye to Dan, and Nick and I explored Delhi for one last day. We woke up early to meet some locals at Jama Masjid, a calm mosque that sits in the middle of Old Delhi (25,000 person capacity). Later, we visited the Lodhi Gardens and India Gate.
Haldiram’s – The most delicious cafeteria-style food and sweets I’ve ever had.
SodaBottleOpenerWala – A hip and an outstanding authentic Persian restaurant.
Jalebiwala – Best jalebis (syrupy fried dough sweets) in Delhi.
Karim’s – Meat mecca, Nick loved Karim’s roll.
Rajdhani – MUST TRY! Rajasthani vegetarian thalis.