Day two started at 0600 which is a bit early for this old couple. In fact, it was a bit early for most of the group, especially the two boys who stayed up all night watching the Rider Cup on their TV.
We met in the restaurant at 0700 and were checking out and onto the bus just after 0800.
The first stop was in Delhi.
We rendezvoused with a Guy from ‘Street Kids” (a charity supported by G Adventures) who was going to ‘show us round the back streets of Old Delhi’ and give us an insight into his life on the streets.
The tour started by taking us across some waste ground where waste and rubbish was dumped. Rats were dodging in and out of holes in the walls and there was a very bad smell of rotting food from a mountain of polystyrene fast food containers.
Once through this under belly we were engulfed in the narrow streets and alleys of Old Delhi.
Following our tour guide in single file we were strung out over about 20 metres with Jaki and I bringing up the rear.
My fears about the age difference between us and the group seems to be unfounded and they took on their responsibilities a my ‘main carer’s’ without complaint, ensuring we weren’t cut adrift in the sea of bodies as we brought up the rear of our convoy, snaking through the narrow streets.
We stopped at a junction and our guide told us this wall was often used by Men to urinate so, local’s had put up religious Icon’s and picture’s which had immediately stopped this unwanted behaviour.
The power of religion.
We proceeded on and quickly entered a doorway which was the head office of Street Kids. It was very old and a little eerie. Bare stone step’s with concrete walls Woven with a latticework of wrought Iron rails offered a hand grip and security against intruders.
Pigeon dropping and grey dust covered every surface creating a surreal Halloween environment fit for the very best Hammer Horror could offer.
We climbed up several floors and squashed into a small office dominated by a huge air conditioning unit.
The walls were adorned with pictures of street kids from the past who had ‘made Good’ and we were told with obvious pride where each one was now and what they had achieved. Some, like our guide, were working for Street kids talking to visitors and promoting the project.
We were even shown a picture of Prince William and Kate who had apparently visited the project and were keen supporters.
The guys own story was full of Irony and it could easily become a Religious Parable of epic proportions.
His Father was an Imam and wanted him to follow in his footsteps, however he wasn’t good at memorising the Koran so his father used to beat him. At the age of 10 he ran away and by pure chance found himself on the streets of Delhi where he lived for a year or so. At some stage he was found by his father who took him home but the cycle began again and it wasn’t long before he was back in Delhi. He eventually heard of Street Kids and came to live in one of their Hostel’s where he was fed, clothed and educated.
The Irony of a Father beating his child in order to make him religious is not lost on me and I think back to my Mums experiences in a pre- war Catholic School where the Nun’s took a sadistic pleasure in punishing the children in their care.
What we do in the name of religion?
We left the office and went to a home for current street Kids.
This again was in an old building with a locked door set in the wall off a narrow street full of shops and alcoves where men squatted on the floor making or repairing things that we in the west would discard without conscience.
Climbing the steep stairs the echo of voices could be heard. It reminded me of times past we had to enter Horfield prison to deal with an inmate who had set fire to his mattress. The hard surfaces spitting noise back at you with venom. Cheers and jeers mixed into a cocktail of sound that seemed to have no human origin. Trapped between the locked doors and the barred windows.
The first floor was a dormitory where even at this time some people were sleeping
The top floor was different. this was alive with noise. Shrieks and laughter could be heard and when we stepped out into the sunlight we were greeted by a bunch of smiling faces all keen to say “Hello” and shake hands.
Boys (they were all boys, I think the Girls are housed separately) of all shapes and sizes were vying to show us their talents at Thumb Wrestling and hand clapping games. One rather boisterous young fellow was keen to show his strength and encouraged us to let him Punch our palms as hard as he could.
The centre of the floor was a metal grill so you could see down onto the floor below. Tin pans were stacked in a corner by a running tap and a guy sat peeling potatoes ready for cooking. Was there a slight smell of disinfectant or did i invent this?
We spent maybe 15 minutes there and you couldn’t help be moved to know that these kids had no home (other than that dishevelled building) no family and until Street Kids, no future.
Poverty is ever present here in India. It is a reality.
It isn’t hidden or denied, it is accepted , accommodated and when possible, challenged.
In acceptance we see people sleeping in the Tuk-Tuk’s with which they earn their living or the less fortunate, sleeping on a mat at the side of the road, like the big Bullocks that seem to have no fear of traffic. All the while big car’s drive by honking their horn’s in frustration at the perceived obstacles slowing them down.
Challenging poverty, people seem to take the matter into their own hands and try to make a Rupee where ever they can. There is almost no activity which doesn’t generate a small ‘Tip’ pronounced ‘Dip’ by our tour leader (who I have taken to calling ‘Romi’ though Ive no Idea why. I got our taxi driver’s name wrong on the way to Heathrow and I’ve known him 10 years).
There is a tip for the taxi drivers, the waiting staff, the hotel staff, everyone expects to be tipped.
This may offend our Western sensibilities. Surely you only Tip when you get good service?
But here it’s a Social tax.
A method of distributing wealth to those that most need it. It is encouraged as part of the culture. Restaurants automatically add 5% service charge to a bill but you are expected to add a further 5% in cash which is guaranteed to go to the Staff and not the owner.
Our group have agreed to give Romi 700 Rupees each so he can distribute this as Tips to the relevant people (we often see him handing money to various people) on our behalf.
As well as the Hawkers trying to sell you sun glasses, fake watches and todays speciality (we’ve been to the Taj Mahal) Fridge Magnets, there are the obscure, unexpected way’s people have developed to make a few Rupees.
Like the Hotel Maintenance guy who offered to provide me with ‘Good Wine’ after he came to the room to check our fridge. Or the friendly guy who took us to the best photography spot’s at the Taj and when I thanked him by giving him 100 Rupees he asked if it was quite enough?
I can see some might find this annoying but it is in fact rather amusing, and entrepreneurial in a charming way.
Also, the sums are relatively small so a tip of 100 Rupees (just over a quid) aint gonna break the bank. Though i might have given some one 1000 Rupees tip yesterday thinking it was a 100 Rupee note but hey.
That’s what happens when Jaki trusts me with money!
We said our good byes to the Street Kids tour Guide and wished him well for the future, then made our way back past the Holy Pissing wall, across the waste land of debris to the main street where we waited for our bus to pick us up and take us to our next port of call a Mosque, which wasn’t the highlight of the tour.
After the Mosque we set off on a walk through the market area of Delhi. Narrow streets where humanity pushed and crushed each other. People still insisted on driving motorbikes through the throng which necessitated blowing their horns furiously to warn of their presence, even though there was no where for us to go. Tricycles, some towing home made wooden carts loaded with goods or passengers were an ever present but silent danger as they crept up on you from behind without warning.
Well, except the guy who make ‘Purp-Purping’ noises with his mouth in the absence of a proper horn.
It was extremely hot and very claustrophobic and the smells, Incense, cooking food, sewage and body odour combined to assault the senses and deliver mild nausea in even the most robust of characters. We were all glad when we burt out onto a wide street teeming with noise and traffic.
Our next visit was a Sikh Temple. This was far more interesting. Guarded by Sikhs carrying short curved daggers (some carried spears) they looked dignified and resplendent even if their clothes were a little thread bare and their beards pure white. They added the threat of violence which is I understand symbolic.
We took off our shoes, covered our heads with bandanas (they didn’t do an extra large) and entered the Temple. There was a three piece playing indian music and a guy sat on a raised Dais at the centre of proceedings. He was apparently looking after the Book. The Book is the centre of the Sikh religion which doesn’t accept God has a particular form or shape.
Therefore they worship the book to which they attribute a soul (very Harry potter) as a result, the book needs to rest each evening, so it is put away in a secure place.
This place has become as revered as the book itself and people prostrate themselves in front of it.
We visited the kitchens which cook food on an industrial scale and offers worshiper’s free food.
The people working in the Kitchen did so for free as a way of Giving some thing to the community where they didn’t have money.
David Cameron Big Society wasn’t invented at Tory Party HQ then?
Once done we set off back to the bus which by now was stuck in the most horrendous traffic jam and we sat there for over an hour before we got free of this gridlock.
Once on the Motorway (Toll Road) we didn’t seem to be making any better progress. The bus it seemed had a top speed of 40 miles an hour and even if it were able to go faster the state of the roads would have prevented it.
Sat at the back of the bus (so sought after when i was at school and we’d go on a School trip. These were the seats where you might ‘get a snog’ or you could light up a Fag without the teacher noticing) Jaki and I were subject to a significant amount of turbulence.
Unfortunately for us these were the ‘Rock and Roll Seats’ the ‘Roller Coaster Ride seats’ as a result of the body work protruding about 2 metres over the rear axel which in itself had little or no suspension.
We were thrown around like a Bonus Ball in the Lottery.
If I didn’t have a dodgy stomach when we started, I did at the end and the journey lasted about 5 hours to Agra.
Thats not including the stop at the Mazala Cafe, a sort of Indian Motorway service station, where we had the best Vegetarian Thali to date.
(Given I’d not tried Paneer before, I have now had it 5 times in 3 days and its wearing a bit thin).
We eventually got to our Hotel the Atithi early evening.
I was pleasantly surprised. It was more modern than the last one, offered good size rooms’, had working air-con and hot showers. It even has a Pool.
We agreed to meet up and visit a local restaurant that offered a Buffet dinner but when we got there we were the only guests.
The Buffet table looked deserted and there was a distinct lack of a Buzz about the place. But it was too late to turn back.
Most of us settled for the Buffet set menu though one or two preferred to order individual meals for fear of food poisoning if the buffet had been kept warm, though there was no fear of that given it was switched off.
When the meal was delivered (Starting with a clear Soup that had no taste and looked like weak tea) it became obvious that the ingredient distinctly resembled that of a Thali, the only difference being, these were served in steel bowls and the Thali tends to come on a tray.
Even more bizarre, the individual meals ordered from the A la-Carte menu didn’t half look like the food served up as part of the Buffet!
I wonder if ???