We left India after visiting three major cities, Delhi, the second largest in India with 27 million inhabitants, Jaipur 3-4 million, and Varanasi, 1.4 million and nearly as many visitors each year. As tourists, we visited only the old parts of each city.
These cities are frenetic with activity, dusty with age and history, full of vitality. Life is squeezed in everywhere. Half-built houses already have shops on the ground floor. Well-appointed Indian houses sit cheek by jowl with hovels. There are many street people, some whole in body, others not. Sadly, mothers sometimes use their babes in arms as accessories when begging and tots are coached to ask westerners for money. What struck me the most was the enterprising people who work hard each day to earn a living for themselves and their families.
Our tuk-tuk driver in Delhi is a good example. He is from a rural community in northeastern India. His family has farmland that was flooded and severely damaged several years ago. It doesn’t produce enough now to support the extended family, his mother, his wife and two children, and his brother’s family. His father passed away a few months ago. Our driver now works three months at a time in Delhi. He worries about his teenaged kids, he spoke about his 16-year-old daughter for whom he wants to have a marriage arranged by the time she is 19.
The cities are also home to flocks of pigeons and communities of dogs, monkeys, goats, the occasional pig and cows, who truly do have the right of way even on major roads. The ease with which they’ve integrated into city life is surprising, foraging in garbage and knowing where to get handouts, where to sleep, and especially how to avoid cars and trucks. People accept them casually and respectfully. They are as much a part of daily life as the cars and rickshaws.
It’s chaotic; I found it overwhelming at times but always fascinating.