Day 1 - Fair Trade India Tour April 10 2014, 2 Comments
After flying all night to arrive in Delhi, at night, with our bodies on a 12.5 hr. time change, we found ourselves unsuccessfully struggling to sleep all night long. Peaceful but sleepless we counted the hours until we started our first day. Just as the sun rose and lighted our day, Annette looked out our window to spot a large raptor known as the Crested Serpent Eagle perched on the fence just feet away! We both took this as great sign of the big day to come.
After our first Indian breakfast of Dosas and Masala Tea, we departed by bus and transferred to Tuk Tuks, a very common small three wheeled motorized transportation vehicle known throughout India. Our Tuk Tuk driver drove us through city streets too narrow and crowded for any tour bus to navigate to the inner city streets of Paharganj. One World Fair Trade exists to create opportunity and eliminate exploitation and child labor and here, we knew we could learn more about the street life of children in India. Here is where we were to see the work of Salaam Balak Trust, a 25 yr. NGO that now provides care and protection to nearly 6000 street children annually. We arrived on the corner of a broken down, garbage lined street near group of several men running a tea stand on the dirt road against a block wall covered with tarps. As we waited for our walking guide to arrive several members of our group decide to have tea, I remained a little guarded as I had obvious concerns of sanitation.
Here we met our guide, Iqbal, a former street child, now a gentle young man with a addictive smile and obvious self-confidence. As we walked these streets, Iqbal gave us a firsthand view of the harsh, raw underbelly of street life, a life that most of these children have chosen as a preference to an intolerable home life. We learned that "Salaam Balak", translates to "Salute Child" and that this non-profit provides food, housing, medical care, security, skills training and psychological support to children ages 3-18.
These children were on the street in either in search or a better life or orphans, abandoned by their parents or sold into slavery and escaped. Many young men are lured with promise of employment to find themselves working for gangs, pick-pocketing, re-filling water bottles and selling them on the street, prostitution and drug activity.
We toured the facility and played with the children. Surrounded by so many orphaned young boys, I was swept with an overwhelming feeling of gratitude and sadness as we played such simple hand games with a room full of smiling, laughing and loving boys. My heart bled for these children but I was happy to see that they were being cared for, that there was an organization doing all they can to help rescue as many street children as possible. Paddy Cake played "boy style", fast and hard, arm wrestling and exchanging names and ages occupied the time of the visit to this crowded common area.
After a closing presentation from Iqbal on the progress of the Salaam Balak Trust and the shared success stories of graduates moved on, we learned of ways to help. Walking tours like the one we just did generate income and raise awareness of the great need. Word of mouth and donations also help greatly.
For more information: www.salaambaalaktrust.com
Salaam Baalak Trust, DDA Community Centre, 2nd Floor, Gali Chandiwali, Paharganj, New Delhi 110055
Heading back to our tour bus we walked back through the inner city, now viewing these streets with a whole new perspective. We boarded the bus and met our tour guide for an afternoon bus tour of Delhi. Our first stop, the streets around Rashtrapati Bhavan, housing India’s President, Ministers and officials as well as the Indian Parliament, originally built by the British but eventually occupied by the Indian government following liberation. We are told that this is the largest Parliament in the world.
Our walk up the street leading to these impressive structures was lined with a variety of dahlias and monkeys could be seen walking along the rooftops and ledges with a confident air. Delhi Police barriers were in place at several locations restricting both vehicle and foot traffic to specific locations.
Continuing on we stopped at the India Gate, a large arch created as a memorial for the 9000+ Indian & British soldiers killed in the WW1. The names of each carved into the columns of the arch. At the foot of the opening three flags were flying, each representing a branch of the Indian armed forces.
One of the highlights of the tour was the Rajghat, the cremation site of Mahatma Gandhi. We removed our shoes and proceeded up the path to this serene site, a large rectangular black granite platform, a somber memorial with an eternal flame. A Sanskrit emblem meaning Hay Ram (“Oh God”), apparently Gandhi’s last words as he was assassinated decorates the front and a splash of color comes from mandalas of marigolds covering the top, incense burning in the background.
On our walk back to the bus we travelled the perimeter of the Red Fort, a fortress of massive red stone blocks guarded with towers and a surrounded by a moat now primarily occupied by wild hemp, not an unusual site here in India. The sun was in the perfect position to cast a beautiful glow to the already rich color of the red blocks.
Here, distracted from the rest of our group, I found myself mesmerized by a "Snake Charmer", summoning me to sit with him. As I sat cross-legged in front of him, he wrapped a snake around my neck as just as it calmed, he smiled and began to play his flute. Playing with one hand and reaching for the basket between us, he slowly lifted the lid, exposing the King Cobra! Slowly it rose, flaring its majestic hood, moving back and forth just so slightly as if mirroring the charmer’s motion. I found myself looking eye to eye with a King Cobra as another snake calmly slivered around my neck, all while hearing the exotic sounds of the flute played in front of me, a mesmerizing experience for both me and the cobra. Suddenly, as if the charmer sensed something, he instantly dropped the cobra back into the basket using the lid in one swift and deliberate motion, instantly snapping me to the present! Looking around, I realized a crowd had gathered to watch; my wife included, and after a bit of spousal scolding I knew I had an experience I will never forget.
We hopped back on the bus to head to our next adventure, a Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi. This pedal powered, three wheeled two seated rickshaw, as most I have seen so far on this journey is single geared with solid rubber tires. The framework made entirely of tubular steel, nothing like the lightweight modern day bikes we have available to US.Once directed to climb aboard the rickshaw driver will push by foot to get it rolling then jump on, almost always wearing cheap flip-flops, to begin a slow laborious pedal to gain momentum in the very congested and busy streets of Delhi. You immediately realize that you are putting your life at risk as the rickshaw shares the same several lanes of weaving cars, busses, trucks, Tuk-Tuks, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, wagons, pedestrians, cows, goats and stray dogs along our path.
The entire ride is an uncontrolled extreme sport as all commuters or obstacles, moving at a huge disparity of speeds and a cacophony of honking horns and shouting. To a foreigner it appears as there is absolutely no rules, no laws, no defined lanes of traffic, almost as if it is survival of the biggest. But yet as crazy as it looks, it seems to have some sort of unstated hierarchy, the slower gravitating to the left, the faster to the right but always constant bobbing and weaving to avoid the knock-out punch from landing!
We stopped at a spice market and the enthusiastic proprietor displayed and explained many exotic spices, teas and herbs such as saffron, turmeric, fennel, peppers,curries, tandoor and masala. We made our purchases and headed back to location closer to the bus for a bit of free walking time, the streets crowded and in constant movement. Trash lines the streets with an occasional shop keeper, sweeping garbage with a small straw hand-broom to a pile then lighting it on fire to burn. Outdoor restrooms can be seen usually against a building wall, three exposed stalls secluded by a small shoulder height wall, sometimes even occupied by monkeys.
The streets of Old Delhi can be a bit of sensory overload, with activity, noise and aromas. One must watch his step to avoid cow dung, uneven and broken pavement, mud puddles, piles of garbage all while avoiding being struck by a vehicle. You can transition from beautiful colors of clothing, jewelry and the exotic aromas of spices and food to the nauseating, sometimes gagging smells of burning trash, sewage, urine and see the great poverty, suffering, homeless and constant interaction with beggars of all ages.
With mixed emotions we end our day in Delhi and head back to the hotel for another wonderful traditional Indian dinner. We retired to our room feeling like we have already spent several days here and it was only our first day.