It’s the 6th time that we’re travelling through India and I will never ever forget my first two days there. It was only a stopover in Delhi, coming from Australia (must be at least 15 years ago). Back then stopovers often had accommodation included (at least for one night). Airlines used to give away very good deals on hotel rooms to keep their customers at bay. So anyway, we arrived in Delhi and were on our way to a a nice hotel (as far as I remember it was called “Centaur”). We got a beautiful room for almost nothing.
Since I had travelled through Africa many times already, nothing could really bother me any more. I was not particularly excited to see India. Back then I was more focused on Africa.
It was a windy January day and after checking into the hotel, Nisa and I took the free shuttle bus to Connaught Place. From there we hired a Tuk-Tuk. “Where do you want to go?” the driver asked. “Well just drive around for a while. I want to see the real life in India.” I replied.
Then the trip started; first of all, I didn’t feel all that comfy in this little 3 wheeler with all the traffic but no risk, no fun. Right and left were big buses and the driver had the nerves like a leading lion between his flock. He seemed to know what he was doing. With his driving skills, he squeezed through the smallest loopholes in this gigantic traffic-mesh. I held Nisa and just thought that if it has to happen, it has to happen. Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to get used to the fact that Tuk-Tuk drivers in India are drive the way they drive.
On the first roundabout with a concrete pedestal in the middle, a bunch of kids – not older than 6 years – were sleeping around a traffic sign post; dirty, filthy, wrapped in rags … this was one of those sights that I will never forget. I looked at Nisa (who was around 10 years old back then) and cold shivers went up and down my spine.
Estimated a quarter of the Indian population live in slum areas and nobody knows exactly how many people there actually are … But one should never forget that there is a very small minority of really (!) wealthy Indians too. Sometimes you’ll read about these in the news papers around the world. For example: “Richest Indian built multimillion dollar skyscraper in Mumbai!” When reading these headlines, I wonder what these richies actually think of their fellow citizens?! To build something gigantic like the most expensive home in the world (with a price over 1 billion US$) in a city that has hundreds of thousands of homeless people doesn’t seem appropriate at all! What a douche bag! I wouldn’t feel comfy in my billion dollar home when I saw what was going on right around the next street corner … but that’s just me. Oh and while we’re talking about millionaires … there’s absolutely no such thing as a real “Slumdog Millionaire”. It was a weird example, created by Hollywood screenwriters sitting in their luxury houses while writing such nonsense to just make more money. Some of the child actors still living in slums. Seriously?! Many years ago on a trip through California, we bought a fridge sticker which said “Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich“. If you’ve ever been to India, you’ll know it’s true …
Anyway, many years have passed now and we’ve been to India a few times and many very strange sights have crossed our path. For us Westerners, it’s not normal to see people dying in the streets, bodies being transported on roof racks, watching kids sniff glue which they found in the rubbish or even seeing corpses floating by while your eating breakfast – in India this is reality and part of the daily routine.
Usually the deceased are lowered from the roof of the car and carried to the cremation area by relatives or friends. Only holy people, pregnant women and children are not cremated – these bodies are “buried” directly in the Ganges river with the result, that a lot of them surface after a while and float down with the stream. People bathing right next to a body is not unusual, especially in the very holy cities like Varanasi or Hardwar along the River Ganges. And believe it or not, you can also have the … unexpected experience of seeing a dog gnawing on left over hands or feet of not fully cremated bodies (maybe because the rain interrupted the process).
Yes, you need to be a tough fella if you want to experience the real side of India …