Backpack to Buggy

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Tourism by Walking Around: Lost and Found in Delhi Neighborhoods

March 30th, 2011 · No Comments · Destinations, Experience

When traveling, especially since Mirielle joined us on our travels, we spend more time just walking around different neighborhood than visiting sights listed in a tour book. Sometimes it’s because we get a little lost, other times it’s misinterpreting distances on a map, confusing addresses led us ‘astray’ in Delhi, but, usually it’s just that strange need to walk around more when we’re not at home.

Wandering around neighborhood near Hauz Khas metro in Delhi.Wandering around a very nice neighborhood near the Hauz Khas Delhi Metro station, we saw how Delhi’s rich live while trying to find an address (that was no where near the Metro, I mean, why would Hauz Khas village be near the Hauz Khas Metro station?)

Adjacent to the ritzier neighborhood, this middle class housing block has a large Muslim community including a mosque, goats grazing in the parks, women and men with head coverings, and kids playing everywhere.

The urban Dehli version of the tire swing?  A couple of bicycle intertubes tied together and around a tree limb.

This very friendly resident of the housing block switched with her friend, above on the tire swing, to come meet us and practice her English.

Delhi Park with kids playing, women talking and goats grazing.

For all the stereotypes I can conjure about a “third world” country (seriously, is that a relevant term anymore?), playing with 18th/19th century toys was not what would come to mind.  Using old bicycle tires and sticks, the boys would chase the tire around the field, propelling it with a swat of the stick.  The last time I saw anything like this was visiting Old Sturbridge Village, a living history museum where an 1830’s New England village has been preserved.

Most park entrances had these little gates to keep motorcycles off the fields and theoretically, to deter animals from grazing.  It was tricky navigating with Mirielle in the Ergo, but she was being stubborn about walking, and we weren’t ready to let it slow us down. (Plus, we were too lost to find a cafe to take a break.)

My husband works for our local power company, so he was excited to see Delhi’s own (very well maintained facilities he said, though local residents think very highly of the reliability.)  Was the trip now a work-related tax write off?

Trash and pollution do lead the list of stereotypes about developing nations (trying different expressions.)  Behind one of the markets, we found this puddle of radiator fluid surrounded by motorcycles and scooters. How many gallons does it take to make it that green?

Visiting markets or grocery stores where the local residents buy their daily provisions has always been a favorite activity of mine.  While it’s often to check out local products or regional packaging, the kiosk filled markets in Delhi were about people watching, picking up a few things and learning how the supply chain works.

While there might be 10 different kiosks selling personal products (shampoo, toothpaste, shaving cream), each kiosk carried different brands, sizes or products.  There was some overlap and competition, but looking for shampoo, each of the first three kiosks we stopped at had different merchandise.  It was similar for other products as well.

The markets were filled with the forbidden “street food” including donuts.  Okay they had another name, maybe gulab jamun, but fried dough sprinkled with sugar?  Of course I can’t tell you how good they were, no matter how much I want to.

Most of the places we walked, especially where tourists were uncommon, people would come and say hello.  Young children and mothers were friendliest. Generally, if someone could speak or understand some English, we would talk.  President Obama’s visit to Delhi coincided with our visit, so we were always able to talk current events and US-India relations.  Most of the time, people just wanted to say hello, find out where we were from, ask about how we liked India, and pose for pictures like these kids.

There is a myth about travelers who want to really connect with the local people/culture, see the real country/people, or not be tagged a tourist.  We weren’t trying to be those travelers.  But, through tourism by walking around, we glimpsed the everyday life of Delhi-wallas. Talking with a unusual range of people did help us learn more about India and connect with local people.

Mostly though, it was relaxing, fun and interesting.

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