Asia, Destinations, India

A strange day in Delhi by AC Car

June 27, 2011

India Gate, New Delhi

Every time I visit Delhi, I promise myself that it will be the last time.

Delhi is crazy. It rivals Beijing for the number of sights packed into the one city, and you could spend two weeks there and not see it all.

But it’s also crowded, it’s dirty and the people are not particularly friendly (though things have definitely improved since the Commonwealth Games). And it’s expensive.

But somehow, I always end up finding my way back there. I’ve now passed through the city four times. And I’m sure I’ll be back there again some day in the not too distant future.

Being a tight-arsed backpacker, when I’m in Delhi my area of choice is the disgustingly grotty and slightly dodgy Paharganj, a backpacker ghetto only a five minute walk from Delhi’s main railway station (this comes in handy when your train into the city arrives at 3am).

You quickly become immune to the filth and soon I was making my way around the city like a pro, going to see Harry Potter at the cinema and learning what was a rickshaw rip-off and what wasn’t.

Humayan's Tomb, New Delhi

But I can’t say I was put out when a guy I’d met at the yoga retreat in Pokhara contacted me and asked if I’d like to spend a day touring Delhi with him.

In a private, air-conditioned car. His treat.

Um, hell yes!

We spent the morning exploring the beautiful Humayun’s tomb and being driven from sight to sight by a friendly if slightly vague driver.

Humayun's tomb in Delhi, India

Humayun's tomb in Delhi, India

The driver was clearly sticking to a typical route through New Delhi and refused to take us anywhere near Old Delhi, where the streets are small and gridlocked.

So we checked out India Gate and the Rajpath instead and I educated my friend on how he shouldn’t be paying whatever price he was quoted first by anyone, particularly when someone was asking him for 100 rupees for  water when 15 rupees was clearly printed on the bottle.

The Rajpath, New Delhi

The Rajpath in New Delhi

Almost time for lunch, we hopped back into the car. And my friend asked the driver if he could take us to some slums before lunch.

Um, what?

The driver, I’m pretty sure, was pretending not to understand. But my friend insisted.

‘You know? Can you drive us to some bad areas? So we can see poor people?’

I began to feel distinctly uncomfortable.

He tried to explain what he wanted a few more times while I sat silently in the backseat, wishing I was in a rickshaw stuck in traffic somewhere else. I wasn’t paying for the car – it was my friend’s business where we went, so I was too shy to say I thought it was a bad idea.

‘I don’t think we have time,’ I said eventually. ‘Let’s just go and have lunch.’

And so we did. And after lunch, I took a rickshaw back to my own personal slum feeling a bit strange about the entire morning.

Now, I know there are slum tours in Mumbai. But to my knowledge these are put together by responsible tourism operators and aren’t just cars of tourists gawking at those much less fortunate than themselves.

Is it weird that I think it was weird that my friend asked to see ‘poor people’? How would you have reacted?


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  • Reply Erik June 27, 2011 at 3:49 am

    It is a little strange, but the slums are what I hear about from most people who travel to India. It’s unfortunate, but I think that probably is why his curiosity was peaked.

    Honestly, yours in one of the few experiences in India that remains mostly positive. More often than not when I meet someone who has just returned from India, I hear stories about being overwhelmed by the poverty and humanity.

    Thanks for an alternate perspective. Safe Travels.

    • Reply MeganRTW June 28, 2011 at 11:14 am

      Hey Erik! My experiences weren’t always positive but I think maybe I was just more willing to just accept it for what it is than most?

  • Reply Claire June 27, 2011 at 5:58 am

    No, it is not weird that you thought it was weird. I would have been taken aback, a bit nonplussed, and then suggested that we definitely not do that. Is it just that he has not been exposed to that kind of poverty before, or was he simply wanting to gawk? I am glad you managed to get out it, that would have certainly been uncomfortable.

    • Reply MeganRTW June 28, 2011 at 11:28 am

      Hey Claire – I honestly have no idea why he suggested it. The way he was talking about it, I did kind of feel like he wanted to gawk. I’m glad we didn’t go, too – I had images of an angry crowd throwing stones at us or burning the car or something!

  • Reply Kris Koeller June 28, 2011 at 5:54 am

    Awkward, yes but a good save. Its hard for some people to realize that oppressive poverty is not a tourist attraction. Nice post.

  • Reply Odysseus Drifts June 28, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    Yeah, that does sound like a really strange request, but you handled it well. He probably didn’t mean anything bad — but it does sound really insensitive. Anyways, if he wanted to see poverty, all he needed to do was hang out at the platforms of the nearest train station. Sadly, it’s not like you have to go far out of your way to see less fortunate people in India.

    • Reply MeganRTW June 29, 2011 at 6:15 am

      Very true. We spent most of the day in New Delhi so much of that seems out of sight these days, but in Paharganj or Old Delhi it’s very much in your face.

  • Reply Madhu Nair June 29, 2011 at 12:56 am

    I think it is sad that ‘tourists’ still focus on gawking at poverty and then crib about the awful time they had in India … It is like those fools who do the leather tannery tour in Turkey and are unable to stomach it.

    • Reply MeganRTW June 29, 2011 at 6:17 am

      Hey Madhu, thanks for dropping by – loving your site, by the way – so much great info on India!

      There’s really is so much more to India than poverty but it’s the lasting impression most tourists take away with them, which I can understand because it can be so confronting.

  • Reply Tijmen June 29, 2011 at 6:54 am

    I would never make slums a location that I would visit on purpose, I mean if there are next to a spot that you want to see anyway, you will see the slums. But if you are in a “good” area, then it’s really beyond me why you would want to go to a slum just to look at poor people… Very strange request of him. I would definitely have told them that I think its a bad idea to visit that place.

    • Reply MeganRTW June 29, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      Glad you’re on my side, Tijmen 😀

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