Just a weeks after the gang rape of the young student Jyoti I travelled to the so called juggernaut New Delhi. I was aware of all the newspaper reports, the daily demonstrations and the huge mobs. I knew the risks, but I hazarded the consequences. Because I hoped that after all the hype there would be a rethinking in mind and in politics. So I grabbed my backpack, grabbed all my belongings and headed off to my last trip in India. I would never have renounced to travel to the Indian capital at least once. After all, it has always been my desire since I had arrived at the airport. It was the starting point of my seven-month stay and it was my last stop before returning to cold Germany.
I travelled by train from Hyderabad to New Delhi for 27 hours – together with my Brazilian. Immediately after our arrival we searched for a shelter. And we walked immediately into a small tourist office. Hidden between two other doors there was the entrance. The owner was open-minded and very friendly to us. But we had been used to that behaviour. Indians are always friendly to foreigners because they sniff a chance to make big business. Whether at the market, on a rickshaw ride or on the road – you constantly expect to be ripped off and to pay far too much. But this time we did not care. It should be our last joint trip to India and we were quite prepared to pay more. Because at that time we did not know if we will ever see again or if fate will bring us back to India.
Now we stood there, jam-packed in a tourist information, somewhere in the middle of New Delhi. The street in front of the building had already promised a lot. It was noisy and dirty. Small rubbish heaps piled up on the huge holes that were called channel. The building facades crumbled bit by bit. They revealed that nobody was particularly interested in architecture here. An old man with a pushcart walked past us. A trader probably who just made his way to the market to get money for feeding his family. With these images in my head I waited in the small lobby of the tourist office.
After a few minutes the owner came up to us and asked us to come in his office at the back of the building. Somehow strange. But in India I was not no longer surprised by anything. If I would had been alone, I would have never gone along. I generally recommend this to everyone, whether man or woman, when travelling alone in India. It is simply too dangerous and you can easily fall for crooks.
Now we both sat in the small back room with a cup of tea and discussed our travel plans with a stranger. The owner made us an offer after another. Ultimately, we decided an all-round package “New Delhi – Agra – Jaipur” regarding the time and the unbeatable price – at least we thought it was unbeatable. We paid about 10,000 rupees for two people, converted 140 Euros. A personal driver and the overnight stays were included. With a handshake we wrapped up our deal and left the tourist office. Of course we did not want to lose more time. Finally the adventure New Delhi should start!
When we entered our hotel, we could not believe it. I had never had such a magnificent shelter in India. And that means something. Because I love to travel and I have done it a lot. But this room surpassed everything – although it would probably be a two-star hotel in Germany. Such a luxury, such a cleanliness, I had not known it anymore. Since I arrived India, I had scaled down my standard of living weekly, perhaps even daily. Otherwise it will not survive here.
This room was in contrast to what was waiting for us outside. Because in New Delhi poverty is pervasive. Dozens of children live without their parents on the street and beg for every rupee. You see them with their shaggy hair and clotty eyes walking behind the passer-bys. Pulling on their T-shirts and pants. Looking at them with their big sad brown eyes. I have never seen such sad eyes in my entire life. I was warned not to give any money to these children. Because if you give some money to one child, many others will start to beg and to ask for rupees. And the problem of poverty, as it is in India, will probably not be changed by a small donation.
Poverty and wealth just seem to go hand in hand in New Delhi. While students of Jawaharlal Nehru University study hard for a better future, a few meters away from them people live in small huts that are no bigger than a barn – without running water. Many young men leave to work daily by bicycle. They are often day labourers. They just earn enough to feed their families. At the Grand Bazaar in Old Delhi and in other bazaars of the city they offer their goods for sale. Or they just go begging, in front if the sights, on the street or near to the Connaught Place. This is a roundabout where expensive stores and fast food restaurants have settled down. In its centre, there is a large park, which is observed around the clock. Because the access to this place is strictly prohibited for poor people and the homeless.
In addition to poverty, there is another problem in New Delhi: the garbage. Especially near to the slums rubbish heaps and excrement of its inhabitants pile up. The stench is unbearable. But the slum dwellers do not know differently. Regularly you can even see how the cows – sacred in Hinduism – eat this garbage and perish miserably. Then their carcasses are left behind on the road and rot. And create even more stench. Also in front of our hotel there was garbage. Somehow I felt as if New Delhi is the dirtiest city in which I have ever been. And this impression should be strengthened noticeably in the following days.