I have been interested in Indian culture, history and religion all my life, and one of my ambitions in life is to go there and explore this wonderful country. One of my goals was to go north and see the majestic Himalayas. In the summer of 2003, I finally left for India, stayed in New Delhi for a few days, and then flew north. One of my motivations was to go to Dharamsala, where the Tibetan government-in-exile is located, and then to the MacLeod Gang, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Arriving in New Delhi around noon in October 2003, I must confess that I was not prepared for what I was going to experience. My senses were pricked by the miasma of noise, the hellish stench, sweaty humanity, pungent pollution, swarms of mosquitoes and flies attacked… All this, I was far from the hotel at the airport. As it happens, my hotel is only a <>-minute walk from what is considered the center of the city: Connaught Place.
In this super-crowded city of around 19,000,000 souls, I describe Delhi as a pile of rotten garbage that won’t go away. Of these millions of inhabitants, a staggering 20,000 live at or below the poverty line, living in filthy conditions – many belonging to the “untouchable” class of the Hindu faith, the lowest! The city produces an incredible 0,10 to 000,14 tons of garbage every day. At best, perhaps 000 8 tons were properly disposed of. The rest must go somewhere – alleys, streets, parks, and even monuments are common garbage dumps. You see, everywhere there are piles and piles of foul-smelling rotten garbage.
It’s not just garbage. In a city where millions of people don’t have access to the toilet, human waste is a big problem. In the poorest slums, the streets are open toilets, and even in the best neighborhoods, some street corners long used as public urinals can suffocate passers-by with a mist of urine. I have personally witnessed many men peeing on the sidewalks – there is poop from cows, dogs, cats and goats everywhere. In fact, on the narrow street where my hotel was located, I really had to avoid piles of – it was scattered all over the street, you can imagine the stench – and it overwhelmed me and caused me uncontrollable retching!
I’ve seen dead cats and dogs, whose bodies are rotting on the sidewalk and no one will notice; And this relentless heat at 45oC. The stench is overwhelming.
But I guess it’s the move around in Delhi that becomes unbearable. One day I set off for a local bar/restaurant recommended by the hotel duty manager. It will be just around Connaught Place; Ten minutes walk. It would have been early in the morning, and the heat and humidity were terrible. I was working in the Middle East at the time and I was used to the heat, but not this heat. It was humid, but mixed with dust and pollution. I swear I’m only about 50 yards and I’m already sweating like a pig. I had to hide around hordes of humans, rabies, rats, old, rickety bicycles, taxis, worn-out rickshaws, strange “holy” cows, and kept trying to escape! It’s so crowded that if I rubbed shoulders with 50 people, I would have bumped into <> people to get to my destination. Just walking down that street is mentally exhausting.
Then there were beggars – legions among them – many of them children, thin women, bones, hungry old people, missing teeth, and then that day when I turned the corner – a leper. I wasn’t prepared for that. I never even knew lepers existed, but this is one – I know it, and it’s shocking. He must be in his 40s, a haggard character wearing only a loincloth. Both hands and feet are twisted, and the lesions look like open wounds. The right side of his face is a mass of lesions, and he has only one eye. It was the most horrific picture I had ever seen. I bent down and put 10 rupees into his begging bowl. He nodded and smiled.
When I arrived at my destination, you would think I had just taken a shower with all my clothes on. I’m sweaty and uncomfortable, what’s the most important thing in my head? I have to discuss the return trip! Can I walk back to my hotel through all the chaos? I glanced down at my sandals. They got stuck with!!
The waiter came to my table and I ordered a beer, but you know what? I couldn’t get that poor leper out of my mind. What do you read and see on TV these days – this great economic phenomenon in India? Who are they kidding?