Delhi to Varanasi
I had a really eye opening second day in India yesterday. I checked out of my little Inn in Delhi and then went to find the tour guide for a charity called Salaam Balaak Trust. It's a charity that helps street children (a major widespread problem in India), by means of educating them, providing food, clothing and entertainment and eventually hopefully work. I met up with one of the volunteer guides Setender, who took me and a nice Danish couple on a 2 hour tour of the backstreets of the main bazaar in Delhi and told us all about street children in general and also about his own personal story of how he ran away from home in his early teens he thinks (he doesn't actually know his own age) to get away from his abusive alcoholic father who beat his mother to death and managed to hide in train toilets for 8 hours until he reached Delhi. There he spent a while pick-pocketing and begging for food until he was approached by a woman from the Salaam Balaak trust who took him to one of 7 contact points around Delhi (also some in Mumbai) where they take children off the streets. He is now about 18 years old (he has made up his own birthday) and works as one of the staffed tour guides at the Salaam Balaak trust. The tour was a great experience (if anyone ever goes to Delhi look it up!) and was really interesting to hear how many children end up on the streets mostly because they run away from countryside homes to the big cities because they want to be Bollywood movie stars or to find work to support families. Unfortunately they end up begging like the two little girls who knocked on my taxi window while we were at the traffic lights in Delhi. The older one (not more than 12) knocked on my window to get my attention then she banged a little drum while the younger girl (about 8) did cartwheels and danced on front of the car, they then asked for 10 rupees (about 13p) it was awful to watch, I have seen that kind of thing in films but to see it first hand is heart wrenching and I had a real dilemma wether to give them money or not. I ended up just saying sorry and shaking my head and not giving them the measly 13p, harsh you may think but later I discovered it was the right decision. Sentender told us that street children have easy access to food as they will steal it or just beg for food. The money they pick-pocket is actually spent in video game shops, cinemas (where they watch the latest movies and also have a place to sleep and glue which they sniff to numb pain as they are often beaten badly by policemen as it's illegal to sleep in the streets! Many of the girls end up prostituting themselves for 200 rupees (£2.70) and can have up to 250 customers in one day! Sentenders explained that a quarter of their earning goes to their pimp, another quarter for rent, another they may send home to family and the rest they have to spend by the end of the day or it will be robbed when they are sleeping! So if you really want to help street children, it is best to give them food (open food, otherwise if it's packaged they will sell it) or to donate to a charity that is dedicated to helping them get off the streets. Although it was really sad at times (especially hearing about Sentenders mother) he had a really good sense of humour generally and loved showing us his bicycle which he was very proud of and said he lives it more than his girlfriend :-)
Later that afternoon after lunch (my 4th vegetable curry I think, losing count) I got a auto-rickshaw (same as tuk tuk in Thailand) to the Red Fort, a famous sight in Old Delhi but as it was closed on Monday's I took a walk through the markets of Chandi Chowk, a bustling crowded area famous for being well... that. After a sensory overload I took a cycle rikshaw (after much persuasion and bargaining) to the Ganghi memorial. There I had to take my sandals off before going up to the memorial stone and reveal my dirty feet at great embarrassment! Was really nice and peaceful there and had many visitors paying there respects to one of the most famous people in the world.
I then had to rush to take get back to the hotel to pick up my bags and head to the train station for my 18:45 train to Varanasi the holiest city in India where people come from far and wide to bath in the Ganges, something I won't be doing as the excrement content (as well as dead bodies) is off the scale!
I found my cabin surprisingly easily with the help of one of the train staff and settled in, I was sharing with a nice man from UPS and his parcels until I got asked to swap (think the other guy knew the UPS man) and instead shared with a very antisocial but pleasantly quiet man who I believe was a doctor if my Indian eavesdropping serves me correctly.
After what seemed like quite a short 13 hours (I slept most of the journey and had a neat little meal tray for dinner) I arrived in Varanasi and was met by a young man from my hotel 'Ganpati' who has offered to show me around Varanasi and to take me to see the ceremony down at the Ganges shore this evening (all at a cost of course!). I said I wasn't sure (never just accept these offers, there are most certainly catches and costs) to which he replied "don't worry chicken curry, no pressure, no p**** " Mega LOL.