What comes to your mind when you think of India? Perhaps the Taj Mahal, Naans, Roti’s, Varanasi, Hindus, Muslims or cricket? These are just a few common reasons many international tourists flock to India every year. However, for me, one of the most intriguing and eye-opening experiences I did while travelling in India for the first time, was visiting a Delhi Slum.
1-6 people live in a slum in India
Slums are everywhere in India; in fact, according to C.B.C. 1 in 6 people in India live in an unsanitary slum. After seeing the global hit film Slumdog Millionaire, I was fascinated by slum life all over the world. Likewise, the same thing happened after I read Gregory David Roberts Bestseller, Shantaram. My attraction to slums wasn’t just the poverty; it was the sense of community I read about. How Boyle and Roberts portrayed the lack of privacy, yet the overwhelming friendliness from neighbours, the criminal underworld and the overall power of community.
My First Visit to India
Back in 2017, I was visiting India for the first time. The first and also my final destination was Delhi, India. Of course, I wanted to see well-known destinations such as Chandni Chowk, The Red Fort, Lotus Temple, Humayun’s Tomb and many others. However, one particular attraction was that I could spend time and walk around a Delhi slum. Obviously, I wanted a more real experience and not just visit the standard sites. Luckily for me, I’d come across an N.G.O. called P.E.T.E. India. Which fully aims to provide education to everyone in the slum they oversee. They support women, children and the community of the Kathputli colony in Delhi.
P.E.T.E. run tours to other parts of India, volunteer programmes and operates a school, which funds education to the slum, supplies with clothes, games, notebooks and jobs. After browsing some time on TripAdvisor, I chose to take a tour after seeing them being voted travellers choice for four consecutive years 2014-2017. I took a day tour of the Delhi slum Pandav Nagar; I loved my experience so much I ended up doing it twice!
When you take part in slum tours, you can either choose to do in the morning or afternoon. Likewise, if you wish to go on a private or in a group, you can do that also. Due to my budget and time restrictions, I chose a morning group tour. Here is my experience with P.E.T.E. India.
My Experience in a Delhi Slum
On the morning of the tour, I met one of the heads of the N.G.O, Shiva outside a train station. He brought me to the office and a nursery, where I had tea, chatted for a bit and had a briefing. Following this, a youth from the slums an aspiring professional cricket player came to meet me and led me around.
The walk started, by walking into the Muslim area of the slum where I met gym owners, tailors, garage owners and barbers. The warmth and welcome of the community were incredible, I got invited into homes and workspaces. Unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the creativity and the labourers. As because the work was in the slum, it was illegal, low paid work, and some of the small fashion houses were supplying to big distributors around the world. However, what I witnessed that day showed that education is essential. However, humans are equally skilled in learning on the job.
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Smiles All Around
The more I walked through the slums; the more people came to grace me. Babies were handed me to hold; photos were taken of people and me who were swarming around me. Luckily, I had bought a lot of candy so I had a lot of delight giving them to children. I was invited into peoples homes and sat watched magic shows. One house, I climbed some bricks to get up and sat inside. He was a young dad, with a wife and a newborn baby. He performed a magic show for lots of children in the slum to keep them entertained.
Similarly, I saw others trying to perform for me, and it was quite sad. People wanted to perform to grasp money from me. As Pete is an N.G.O., I knew I did want to donate items; however, I didn’t want to give money in the wrong place because some areas for me was off-limits, as there were quarters renowned for drug abuse and domestic violence.
Finishing off the Delhi Slum Walk
The lead tour guide Shiva was so informative and showed precisely how the N.G.O. helped the slums. I’d seen the school they had built, nurseries and also was informed about how they empowered women, teaching them how to sew. As I concluded the tour, I decided to purchase some items made by the women and also get henna done. Two lovely sisters came and did it. However, after having some conversation with them, my heart sank.
One was 13, and the other was 15, they were both going to get married in 3 weeks. Their mum was marrying them off and another sister on the same day. I couldn’t help, but think if it was for financial reasons getting married so young to another family and also on the same day. I just gritted my teeth and smiled. Because of this, I returned to P.E.T.E. on the last day of my trip to India and donated all the clothes I had, to give to people and the girls. Likewise, some friends of mine also donated stationery.
Happiness is completely up to you
No matter how many times I visit India, this experience will always stay put in my mind. Yes, I feel lucky for being born where I am from in the world. However, also disconnected by family and friends. Where I live, we only know a few neighbours, not the whole street on a personal level. In those slums, there was a lack of space. Yet everyone shared a common goal, which was to survive, to be loved and to be happy. No doubt, money is essential in life, to survive. But not for happiness.
All of those Pandav Nagar showed it’s what you make of it, through yourself, through others and how you live to become happy. If anyone travels to Delhi, I recommend you connect with P.E.T.E. India to visit the Delhi Slum.