No trip to India is complete without a visit to the capitol of New Delhi but what is the best way to see the city when you have a very short stay? There are, without a doubt, more travel and tour companies per square metre in New Delhi than any other city in the world. This is just my impression and not based on any formal poll or statistic but it seemed that everyone either was, or had a relation of some sort that was a guide or tour operator. Thankfully, Barb – being the organized planner that she is – had looked online weeks ago to suss out some of the more reputable and Trip Advisor-worthy ones. In the end, she settled on a tour group that offered a different take on the whole sightseeing industry. Reality Tours & Travel offered a tour to parts of New Delhi that I’m sure no other tour company does and it was probably the one of the most immersive and eye-opening experiences that we’ve had in our travels. To maintain the dignity and respect for the people we would meet photography was not permitted. All of the following pictures (save one) are the property of Reality Tours & Travels and are used by permission.
The day began with us meeting meeting our contact, Vivek, at the Connaught Place metro station where he accompanied and guided us through the metro system to another station quite removed from the centre of New Delhi. Once there we met with our guide Ravi who explained that the purpose of our tour was to see how life was like in the slums of New Delhi – Sanjay Colony, in particular. As we left the station and exited through the gates to Sanjay it was like stepping into another world. Gone were the well swept sidewalks and high-end shops of Connaught Place to be replaced with litter scattered everywhere along the pothole riddled roads. One of the first sights to greet us were large, multi-floor buildings that were clothing factories. Many of the men in the colony worked at one of the several factories. Surrounding the factories were the two- or three-level structures that served as housing for these men and their families. We learned that all of the land in this colony is owned by the government yet these houses have been illegally built. The government doesn’t really do anything about it (the exception being that incident in 2010 where they displaced thousands of slum dwellers and razed their homes in an effort to hide certain social strata during the Commonwealth Games India was hosting that year).
We walked along a street that was piled waist-high with, what I thought was, garbage until Ravi explained that the clothing factories dispose of their cloth leftovers and remnants and the people (mostly women) sort through all of it according to size, colour, and fabric type. They take these pieces, turn around and sell it back to the factories ( a different one than the one that pitched the remnants in the first place) to be used for other clothing production.
As we wound our way through the narrow and twisting passageways a feeling of trepidation began to gnaw at me. What if we got lost? How would we find each other if we became separated? Would dinner be delayed?
Ravi and Vivek, however, led us confidently through the dim, corridor-like streets pausing briefly now and again to greet various locals who quite obviously knew them as well. We eventually came to an NGO (Non-Government Organization) centre that offered help with school work, provided art lessons, computer classes, and life/social interaction skills development. It was also a place to practice English. We learned that Reality Tours gives 80% of the tour proceeds back to the community by funding education through this NGO.
We continued our tour and I began to see this slum for the community that it was – a busy, thriving, family-oriented place that looked out for each other. And friendly to outsiders as well. There were several calls of “Namaste” and handshakes as we walked the streets. At one point we were being followed by several small children all chirping “Hi” and “Hello” to hear our response. I must have said hello to each child about 17 times. Here was a small shop selling bottled water and snacks, down that alley was a barbershop, over there was a doctor’s kiosk.
We came to a Hindu temple that was dedicated to Shiva, the Destroyer. Ravi said that this temple was often frequented by girls and young women on Mondays. I couldn’t understand why a god called “the Destroyer” was so popular but apparently Shiva was considered incredibly handsome so all the girls prayed for husbands like Shiva at the beginning of the week.
The tree growing in the centre of the “courtyard” is a peepal tree (ficus religiosa) which purportedly releases the most oxygen of all trees during the day. It’s kind of hard to see in this picture but the red bell is hanging from one of its (out of frame) branches.
We entered a building and Ravi led us up several flights of stairs until we reached the roof. From there we could see where we started and he pointed out several rooftop landmarks of the places we’d been earlier. It was a great view but not one that would help you at street level.
That same building housed a small “office space” that was maintained by Reality Tours. It was roughly 6’x8’ with benches lining the walls and one electrical outlet that powered the lightbulb and a small fan.
Ravi (on the far right) explained that this was a typical space for a family to live in the slum. Caleb and Connor thought it would be a little cramped for us to live in that space!
While our intent was to show the boys how life can be different for children in other parts of the world this experience was equally rewarding for Barb and I as it gave us a glimpse of another culture and an appreciation of our lives in Canada.