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.
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.
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.
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.
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?