Trail of the unexpected: Where to dally in Delhi

A tour led by the capital's street children shows Harriet O'Brien a different side of the city

All life was crammed into the micro-lanes. Barely the breadth of the average person, the implausibly narrow alleys of Delhi's Paharganj district were lined with tailors, saucepan traders, one-man goldsmith workshops and mini cyber cafés overhung with washing. There was even a tiny garage mending motorbikes. As we snaked along, our guide, Tabrez, stopped beside an egg merchant who was precariously cooking in the path on a portable gas ring – a triumph of balance and spatial ingenuity.

I was on a walking tour of the backstreets near Delhi's main railway station, an offbeat excursion arranged by a charity for street children. I had visited the city's greatest sights on other trips: the remarkable Humayun's Tomb (precursor to the Taj Mahal); the majestic 17th-century Red Fort; lovely Lodhi Gardens and more. Partly through fear of getting lost, mainly through apprehension about what I would encounter, I had shied away from exploring the other-world of India's capital. But now, with a small group shepherded by Tabrez, I had turned off a leafy New Delhi avenue and plunged into a densely populated web where extraordinary enterprise helps to alleviate extreme poverty.

It was undoubtedly vibrant, but the scenes in the Paharganj lanes were rendered a sideshow as we became absorbed in finding out about the world of the street children. Twenty years before Slumdog Millionaire moved global audiences, another director, Mira Nair, brought the plight of India's homeless children to the world's attention with Salaam Bombay, a compelling film about street kids, acted by street kids. It was nominated for an Oscar and won three awards at the 1989 Montreal Film Festival. As we set out, Tabrez, a former street child himself, explained that with proceeds from the film, Nair and her mother, Praveen, set up the Salaam Baalak Trust, a non-profit organisation that supports street children through residential care, drop-in centres, healthcare and education. Since then, it has supported more than 50,000 children. In Delhi it operates five residential shelters and 11 day centres – and since 2005 it has organised city walks. Tabrez, now 20, trained as a guide just months before.

Tours start at Delhi's Rail Reservation Centre on Chelmsford Road. Every morning, workers bring children found newly arriving in the city to the charity's station office. The children get health checks and, if possible, are taken back home or to a shelter.

From here, the tour went to a backstreet refuge, via tiny bazaars, a potters' market, temples and video shops. Along the way, Tabrez paused to add intriguing insights. Around the corner from the egg man he pointed to a series of tiles along a wall, each painted with a religious symbol: the Hindu gods Ganesh and Vishnu, Christ and the crescent moon of Islam. "They've been put there to create greater sanitation," he told me. We were non-plussed. By putting up holy images, he explained, you effectively make a shrine that everyone respects. "Until recently, people used this lane as a latrine – but they don't any longer."

Collecting rubbish is a business for many street children. They are paid Rs30-35 (35-40p) per kilo of plastic. Basic survival is easy for street kids, Tabrez told us. They will always be fed at temples. But drugs, alcohol and inhaling adhesives are real dangers. Gambling too. All of which can lead to prostitution.

We entered the stairwell of a corner building and climbed to the fourth floor where a large apartment is now one of the trust's refuges for boys. Some had been painting; others were in a school room that doubles as a dormitory. They clustered around us, showing off and fooling around. Noticeboards outlined the achievements of recent leavers such as Nitish, who works for Delhi's metro, while Faizal pursues dreams of Bollywood and has acted in a movie.

Tabrez acknowledged, as he escorted us through the tangle of alleys back to the main road, that the trust helps only a tiny number. But it's been the saving of many – like him. We said our goodbyes; it had been a profoundly inspiring tour. And with that he disappeared back into the passageways, past a pop-up barber shaving his client in the open air.

Travel Essentials

Getting there

Harriet O'Brien travelled to Delhi with Greaves (020-7487 9111; greavesindia.co.uk). A three-night break including flights from Heathrow, transfers, a Salaam Baalak Trust walk and a stay at the Oberoi New Delhi, which supports Delhi-based charities, costs from £1,199pp. Delhi is served from Heathrow by British Airways, Air India, Virgin and Jet Airways.

Visiting there

Salaam Baalak Trust, New Delhi (00 91 11 23584164; salaambaalaktrust.com). Guided walks Monday to Saturday 10am-noon; contributions Rs200pp (£2.30).

More information

British passport-holders require a visa to visit India, which costs £92.20 for a tourist (0905 757 0045, calls 95p/min; in.vfsglobal.co.uk).

incredibleindia.org

 

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
glastonbury
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shock of the news: Jake Gyllenhaal in ‘Nightcrawler’
filmReview: Gyllenhaal, in one of his finest performances, is funny, engaging and sinister all at once
Arts and Entertainment
Shelley Duvall stars in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
filmCritic Kaleem Aftab picks his favourites for Halloween
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington has been given a huge pay rise to extend his contract as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
tv
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
Taste the difference: Nell Frizzell tucks into a fry-up in Jesse's cafe in east London
food + drinkHow a bike accident left one woman living in a distorted world in which spices smell of old socks and muesli tastes like pork fat
Sport
Luke Shaw’s performance in the derby will be key to how his Manchester United side get on
footballBeating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Life and Style
Google's doodle celebrating Halloween 2014
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Don’t send in the clowns: masks and make-up conceal true facial expressions, thwarting our instinct to read people’s minds through their faces, as seen in ‘It’
filmThis Halloween, we ask what makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?
News
peopleFarage challenges 'liberally biased' comedians to 'call him a narcissist'
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager - Commercial Cable & Wire - UK

    £60,000 - £75,000: Recruitment Genius: As a top tier supplier to the major Aer...

    ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Junior Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

    £23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

    Day In a Page

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

    Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
    The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

    Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

    Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
    Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

    What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

    Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
    A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

    Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

    Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
    Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

    'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

    A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

    Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

    The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
    Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

    Paul Scholes column

    Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
    Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

    Frank Warren column

    Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
    Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

    Adrian Heath's American dream...

    Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
    Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

    Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes