If you arrive in Delhi at the start of your trip through India it will be a baptism of fire that will leave you ripped off and wondering what just happened. Hot, sweaty, humid and unforgivingly chaotic, Delhi is a city that is hard to like.
Reading the news today (11th August 2016) I was not at all surprised to read that a man was knocked over in the early hours of yesterday morning, the driver got out, checked and saw the man was bleeding to death. He promptly hopped back in his van and left the scene. A short while later someone spotted the dying man and rather than help him, decided to steal his mobile phone. The man was pronounced dead when he finally arrived at hospital. The deceased man was an auto rickshaw driver during the day, but at night worked as a security guard. It was from his nightshift that he began walking home and was killed.
That story, for me sums up Delhi to absolute perfection. It is a dog eat dog world filled with those that have, and those that don’t. It is every man for himself as mankind takes a backward evolutionary step beyond one of community and cohesion to one of pure survival. Whatever the cost, with no morals or ethics even remotely attached. If you have money Delhi is your masterpiece, think beyond your wildest dreams and it is yours. At a cost. If you have no money, you have a pitiful existence fraught with struggle, desperation and a level of poverty beyond anything you could imagine. Children walk around half dressed, dirt so ground into their tiny bodies that it scars them. Open sores, wounds, missing limbs and eyes, many die from infection and malnourishment. Many victims of intentional abuse to increase their plight and ability to gain money from begging.
When we landed in Delhi airport I jumped in the taxi with the kids and headed for the centre. About a mile from the airport we stopped at lights and with the window down I saw a man approach carrying a young child across his arms. I hate to glance, it really pulls at my emotions and I gave a cursory glance and a “no, sorry”. He was persistent and tapped my arm, I looked back at him. The girl in his arms had half her face missing, she was maybe 2 years old, I caught her eye, my heart jumped. The poor girl looked like her face had been run over, blood soaked a make shift bandage and her head was raw to the point she must have been close to death. Yet she still blinked, looking at me in absolute desperation. I begged the man, her father to take her to hospital. I invited him into our car, asking him to let us take the girl to hospital. He refused, he just wanted money, trying to show me a piece of paper with things written on it I didn’t understand. Our driver drove off. Tears streamed down my face, it was the most heart-breaking thing that I had ever seen. It haunts me still as I beat myself up wishing I had done more, wishing that I could have done more.
With 1.25 billion people, India is the 7th largest economy in the world and is powerhouse lunging towards those before it. Standards have definitely improved in even the 6 years since we first visited India and what has really surprised me is that the drive towards equality of sex is prevalent more than ever. Singing to a woman on a train for example is classed as ‘sexual violence’, and the fines and prison sentences are not light. In the bigger cities women certainly seem far more empowered, but there remains a long way to go as segregated queues and railway carriages are still the norm across the country.
If Delhi is the first stop on your India itinerary you may be forgiven for thinking this represented India, it doesn’t. Most of the people you meet in India are resourceful, hardworking individuals that will always have the time to stop and talk to you, to help, be inquisitive or simply to welcome you to their country. On the many occasions on this trip and those before, if I have looked lost, someone has come along to help. Walking the streets people stop and say hello, they welcome you to their country and take an incredible pride that you have chosen to visit India.
Our journey across northern India is now at an end as we move onto the next chapter; Nepal. We arrived in India knowing we needed a sense of humour, patience and a whole load of tolerance and that has all been tested, numerous times. India has given us some amazing memories that will last for the rest of our lives and so here is a round up of some of my own personal favourites:
I got punched in the head by a monkey, Toby was head butted by a cow, Megan slipped in front of a load of guys and then blamed the footpath. Jack and Abi went zorbing on water, I went white water rafting with Charlie and Megan where we realised a level of cold I had not known off of mountain peaks. Toby had about 100 selfies taken with him and loved running around Delhi zoo looking for animals. We all fell completely in love with the palaces and forts of Rajasthan, and walked miles and miles trying to take everything in. Megan needed oxygen in Leh, I almost blacked out in Khardungla and then cycled from the highest road on earth accompanied by Megan and Charlie and some good music. Gemma fell in love with the mountains of Manali and ended up spending 13 hours in a taxi just to get there. We saw the Taj Mahal, wild elephants, monkeys, camels and the girls did yoga in Rishikesh. We hushed through temples, jungles, deserts and slept on trains 18 hours long and smiled every step of the way.
More than anything, India has brought us together whilst giving us an amazing journey through an amazing country. This summer we went back to our backpacking roots and I am stunned at how easy it has been. Tolerance and patience has surely been tested, but as I wind up our journey through India and head to my wife and son in the Himalayas I do so with a warm smile and gratefulness to everyone that we have met, the friends that we have made and to India for keeping us safe, making us welcome, and showing us a life less ordinary.
Next stop Nepal.