If you’re flying into India from outside the country we recommend that your first stop should be Delhi as it is from here you can get your best perspective and understand of the nature of modern India. Delhi is where the British left their indelible mark on the country. We won’t give you a history or geography lesson here; you can get that information by Googling Delhi, however just a short observation.
Delhi is portrayed as Old Delhi and New Delhi, which is a shame as the distinction causes confusion. Delhi (Old ) is a state , which contains the parliamentary capital New Delhi. The population is estimated as 18 million, although how anyone could get this seething population to stop long enough to count is difficult to imagine.
The size, colour, movement and poverty leaves a daunting first impression that disguises what the real Delhi has to offer. To Delhi natives, what a Westerner might view as squalor is accepted as a way of life here – Indians do not feel sorry for their existence! As with all travel in India if you treat the people with respect, they will generally be friendly and proud to show you their country – from the manager of a five star hotel, to a humble rickshaw wallah.
One day trip we believe you WILL find interesting is to the Red Fort and Chandni Chowk markets area…and here’s how to do it. Firstly, we suggest you go early in the week, because Friday is the Muslim holy day and things get very crowded, and weekends are also busy – although when is Delhi not busy!
Before you set out from your accommodation, put their business card in your pocket, so that is you get lost, you know where ‘home’ is. If you’re travelling with a hired driver (or taxi) ask them to take you to the Red Fort. There is a parking area in front and the driver will wait for you there. Ask the driver to call you a rickshaw and to tell him (it’s best that it requested by a local) that you want to spend half a day travelling through the Candni Chowk market region. Each rickshaw will carry two people. If there are more than that in your travel party, hire the number you need and they will travel in convoy – and each one has a mobile phone – EVERYONE has a mobile in India! This market enclave is a series of lanes and alleys , each of which is dedicated to a particular commodity or activity – flower markets, spices, silver ware, textiles etc. A bit of reading before you go may stimulate a particular interest, but if you have no particular requirements, you’ll find the journey fascinating. You may find it distasteful to employ a human to be a draft animal, but these rickshaw wallahs continue a respected tradition of service, and remember, if they are not employed to transport you, they do not have a job. Expect to pay around 100 Rupee for the morning and it is expected that you will haggle over the price, but remember 100 rupees is about $A2, so don’t bargain too hard. Respect dictates that you will also tip about the same amount at the end of their service (* $2 is that coin you wouldn’t blink about if you vacuumed up from the back of your lounge suite!)
Motor vehicles are not permitted into the Chandni Chowk. You can walk, but there is a twofold advantage in taking a rickshaw – they know where they are going and you don’t have to walk!
Before leaving the car park, take note of your driver’s mobile number and have the rickshaw wallah give him theirs.
The sights and scenes of activity , in particular the early morning flower markets, and the chilli markets will stay with you as a treasured memory of Delhi. If you want to take photos, ask your rickshaw wallah to stop in the best spots. Along the way, if you stop and talk to the locals, chances are they will invite you to have alook at their homes – another culturally rewarding experience. Again a reminder to treat them with respect and don’t take photos of people bathing or dressing. By taking this Chandni Chown excursion early-ish (7.00am) you are bound to see the most market activity, and if you design your day around it, you will arrive at one of the markets real treasures, Karims, in time for lunch. While it is not salubrious looking, the food here is delicious (and famous). Generally your Rickshaw driver will wait while you have lunch, but if not just grab another one after lunch and negotiate the price to take you back to the carpark at the Red Fort.
In the afternoon, the famous Red Fort is worth a visit. You can choose to go it alone, take an audio guided tour or join a paid guided tour. It’s probably a good idea to read up on the history of the Red Fort before you arrive in Delhi.
For those that want to see how Delhi-ites strive to advance, a rewarding visit is to the Salaam Balik Trust. This another morning activity in the old city, not far from Chandni Chowk. (http://www.salaambaalaktrust.com/) This is a school or schools, run by the street kids of Delhi to improve their own quality of life. There is a boys and girls school. Many people donate and support this initiative. You can join a small group of people and do a tour. The kids will be happy to tell their story , such a who found them and where, what they have achieved and what the trust does for them. They all speak beautiful English and will be happy to share their stories and aspirations, such as where they came from, what their previous circumstances were and how they came to be here. Many have come from hopeless situations along the railway tracks where they lived off the spoils discarded by train travellers. We have often taken them a big box of fruit or some other practical gift the kids can share. Some people may even choose to make a donation. The stories told are an inspiration and it will probably change your perception of poverty. Not all people living poor consider themselves to be living in poverty. They might live by the side of the road because that is close to their work, but they come from a village that they “belong to”. They may choose to live where they live. Count their contentment by their smiles! Westerners are often shocked that these people live on $3 per day, but that is by our standards. Ask what 200 rupee buys in their society – a bowl of rice, bag of vegetables etc ie, their days grocery bill plus enough to live on.
But, there endeth that lesson.