Salaam balaak Trust & Akshardham temple – and making friends in Delhi

So back in Delhi, at Stops hostel, I enjoyed the best hostel breakfast I have had ever. First I was so happy they had vegetables for the toasts, but then you could also order either pancakes or omelets – and they made it for you right there! Mmmm.. banana chocolate pancake, made me full for all the day! Haha.

Mmm... chocolate banana pancakes :)

Mmm… chocolate banana pancakes :)

So at 10.00 I had a special walking tour booked with Salaam Balaak Trust.
It’s an Indian non-profit and non-governmental organization which provides support for street and working children in the inner cities of New Delhi and Mumbai. I took a tuktuk close to the New Delhi Railway Station and met up with the guide Sabir, I was early, but we waited like 20 minutes and nobody else showed up, so I got the tour all by myself :)

Sabir was a street kid earlier, he is 18 years old now, not completely sure because he didn’t know when he was born, but the government has made some tests on him and put his bodys age to 18 years. His father died when he was 2 years old, and his mother left him and went back to her Mumbai, and they’ve never had contact since then. He lived with his uncle which treated him badly (didn’t want him to go to school and beat him), so when he was around 11 years old he got tired of it and just jumped on a train to Delhi, which as about 6 hours train ride from his village. A man helped him when he arrived here and showed him that he could earn money by gathering together paper or plastic, you can earn about 1-150 rupees to collect bottles and 70 rupees for paper. So he survived like that and eating at temples where they offer food. Then one day this man was gone and Nader was alone again. He got in contact with the Salaam Balaak trust and started to live in one of their shelter homes until he was 18 (it’s for kids up to 18). He is now studying last year in high school and working as a guide for the Salam Balaak tour.

He was sweet, spoke English very well after studying it for one year, his dream is to become a tv-host. :)

He told me that the most common reasons why kids run away from their parents is that they have alcoholic or drug addicted parents, another reason is that many kids gets lost when there are parades or parties, and they don’t know their parents phone number or what street they live in, and they end up being street kids. Another reason is also that many kids have dreams about becoming a bollywood actor, so they think it’s a bigger chance if they leave their village and move to the city. The problem is that a lot of kids later start using drugs by themselves, because if they earn some money one day, either working or pickpocketing – they have to use all that money that day, because if not – others will steal it. If you are a girl, you will most probably end up as a prostitute, but some also get sold to domestic.

We visited one of the contact homes just by the railway stations where there had some kids playing games. After that we walked around in the narrow streets of Delhi. We saw a place where they had a lot of second hand clothes, they gather together old clothes, sew them and sell them cheaper in second hand for the poor people.

Second hand clothes

Second hand clothes

We passed by a very narrow street with a lot of different gods on the wall. The reason why they have put it there is because before – everyone peed on the wall all the time, they tried to put up signs but it didn’t help, not until they put up all these gods on the wall. Now nobody pees there, because they feel that they are being watched by the gods. Haha. Good idea!

The Narrow street with the gods on the wall

The Narrow street with the gods on the wall

Nader, my guide, in the narrow streets of Delhi

Sabir, my guide, in the narrow streets of Delhi

 

It was quite quiet and peaceful inside on the small streets, far away from the big roads with traffic. No cars would fit here, but there are bikes and motorbikes, and lots of markets selling vegetables, shops, restaurants, hotels and everything. I wouldn’t have walked here by myself if I was alone, so I was happy Nader showed me around. We even went in to a small temple. They have temples everywhere, but this was not a separate temple but more like a room in an apartment building.

 

Selling vegetables

Selling vegetables

Two dogs chilling by their bikes ;)

Two dogs chilling by their bikes ;)

The inner streets of Delhi

The inner streets of Delhi

Walking around in Delhi

Walking around in Delhi

We visited one of their shelter home for boys, it was very colorful with many paintings on the wall, and the sign “Merry Christmas!” which they never take down (anywhere in Delhi, I’ve seen it in many restaurants too). They had a quite busy schedule! They were in a class when we visited them, so sweet, so good students as well! Either quiet listening or laughing at something the teacher said.

I’m very glad I got to visit it.

at the shelter home

at the shelter home

Having a class on a saturday in the shelter home!

Having a class on a saturday in the shelter home!

The day schedule at the shelter home

The day schedule at the shelter home

The diet schedule for the shelter home

The diet schedule for the shelter home

Then we wen’t out to one of the main shopping streets where many tourists go too, I wouldn’t have imagined that it was a tourist street! Haha. There was a lot of rubbish on the streets, I got explained that it’s usually cleaner but the government haven’t paid the cleaners in 3 months either (as the nurses) – so they have just stopped working!

One thing that surprised me was to see that all the houses have a BIG water tank, usually on the roof of the building. Apparently delhi only has running water a couple of hours per day, so if you want to use during the whole day, you get a tank where you can store water and use for the day. There’s not enough water for the whole city!! Weird!!

The big shopping tourist street

The big shopping tourist street

The government only gives them 2 hours of water per day, so they have water tanks connected to the houses - so that they can use water during the whole day instead.

The government only gives them 2 hours of water per day, so they have water tanks connected to the houses – so that they can use water during the whole day instead.

We ended the tour in their main office, I met the other guides and heard some more about the organization. The tour is actually free but recommended a minimum donation of 300 rupees, and it’s a donation to the whole organisation. You can donate more if you wish. I wish it had been longer! If you are going o Delhi, I definitively recommend it, check their website: www.salaambaalaktrust.com/

The guides and former guides at SBT :)

The guides and former guides at SBT :)

 

After the tour I was going to the Akshardam temple. I had to take the big shopping street to the Metro. While I’m walking along it a lot of people stopped me along the way to ask me where I’m from and a lot of people said “please, come and look in my shop”. But one man was really like “Mam, sorry, mam!” from the other side of the street, and I kept walking like “no, no, not interested” – but when he kept walking after me I turned around, and he just wanted to know where I bought my pants. Apparently he had a factory, so he was the one who had made these pants, but I hadn’t bought that in his shop. We started talking and I went to his shop (without buying anything) and we talked for like 2 hours, he just wouldn’t stop! Haha. His brother lives in northern Sweden with his Swedish wife, very close to Kalix where I used to lived. He showed me many pictures, asked a lot, always looking for business opportunities around. He sells fabrics to friends allover the world who has their shops, haha.

Anyhow, I really had to go so finally I went to the metro. You had to buy a token for about 15 rupees, and then go through a metal detector (there are separate lines, one for women where a women searches through your clothes and body, and one for men where men searches through) and put your bag in a x-ray security bag scanner. This is on every metro station!! The metro was really nice, I was in the first wagon which is a special wagon only for women. There it was spacious, while in the other wagons it was super crowded, haha.

At the metro, the first wagon is only for the ladies!

At the metro, the first wagon is only for the ladies!

I went to the Akhsardam metro station where I met 2 swiss and we walked together to the temple. It was quite complex there too, didn’t understand anything. You have to put your mobiles, cameras, usb memories and other valuables in a box, and one security guy crosses how much of everything you have in your bag, and then you store your bag there. The only things you can bring inside is a clear water bottle and money, sort of. To bad cameras are not allowed, because the temple was fantastic, so many details! But I also enjoyed actually seeing everything through my eyes and not thinking about photography.

Akshardham or Swaminarayan Akshardham complex is a Hindu mandir, and a spiritual-cultural campus. It has complex displays of traditional Hindu and Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture. It’s inspired and developed by Pramukh Swami Maharaj, the spiritual head of the BAPS.

 

The stunnishing Akshardham temple in Delhi. Picture from Wikipedia

The stunnishing Akshardham temple in Delhi. Picture from Wikipedia

Picture from the Akshardhams tempels website. The artwork is amazing – look at all the details and sculptures! Amazing!

Amazing gardens with a big 8 petal lotus flower!

Amazing gardens with a big 8 petal lotus flower!

About 3000 volunters and 7000 handcrafters worked to construct the temple for 5 years. It’s a really remarkable place, with a lot of carved details. Every piece is unique, and they are millions of sculptures!

The swiss didn’t have any cash and didn’t want to loan anything either, so I went to the exhibitions alone, which cost 250 rupees. But it was so worth it!! There were 3 different exhibisitions and a watershow included in the price.

The first one was a 50 min show with robotic dolls that shows scenes from Swaminarayan’s life. It was very interesting, we moved from room to room and saw different sceneries portraying his message about the importance of peace, harmony, humility, service to others and devotion to God. I thought the maning was beautiful, in the Hindu culture they promote non‐violence, vegetarianism, perseverance, prayers, morality, and family harmony.

After that I had a boat ride through 10.000 years of Indias history and heritage, about 15 minutes long. It shoed the contributions of Vedic Indians to various fields such as science, astronomy, arts, literature, yoga, mathematics. Got to know that chess was invented in India, and that they also invented airplanes and knew about the gravitation theory like 500 years earlier than when the rest of the world found out about it.

 

Then it was a 40 min movie with over 45000 casts about the life and pilgrimage of Swaminarayan through India, which was very interesting. It was a large format film, the screen was huge, about 26x20m, and it was packed with people.

I had one free space beside me, and a little girl asked if she could sit there. Sure I said. Then we started speaking. Here name is Palak.

Palak and Starsh!

Palak and Starsh!

Her family was there with us, and said that Palak should come and sit with them, but she didn’t want, she wanted to sit with me. She is 12 years old. She spoke fluently English, self taught, she has learned it by reading newspapers, books, watching movies and an app on the phone. Impressive! She said that she was happy that I spoke to her, because other foreigners didn’t like to speak to her. Probably they think she is trying to sell them something, but she just wants to converse and practice English, she is a very curious and smart girl. When she gets older she wants to make a master in science in UK, or be a scuba instructor. :)

After the movie she took my hand and presented me to her family, mother, father, fathers friend, fathers sister and her brother. Every weekend they usually go and do something, like today. They live about 40 kms south of Delhi. Her brother, Sparsh, is 8 years old and reminded me of my brother sooo much, full of energy, trying to run, race and tackle all the time.

They invited me to some tomatosoup and we watched the water show together, it was amazing! It had projections on another temple and and actors and water and colors and story, awesome. Palak translated everything they said in the show to me, so I got to know the story.

the water show – impressive! picture from the akshardham temples webiste

She also told me a lot of things, like the dowry – when a man and a woman get married, the woman have to give a gift or money to the husbands family, like a house, a car or something. If her family doesn’t have enough, the husbands family will treat her badly. Horrible. That’s why many Indians want to have sons, to receive the dowry, and not woman, because then they have to give it away.

Palak told me her mom doesn’t like her as much as her brother, but that her father loves her very much. Her father is a businessman and works with gold and diamonds. The fathers sister is only 22 years old and studies business communications. Both the sister and the mother was very interested in my hair, couldn’t believe that it was “created” and not natural, asked a lot about it. I said “don’t you know reggae? Rastafari? Bob Marley?” and they had never heard anything about any of those subjects. People here really only know Bollywood actors and indian singers, haha. So no, they had never seen dreads, more then on some guru that got it naturally. Usually very wise men has it, but that’s because they never comb their hair.

Palak tells me that it’s not good to be a girl, because you get easily raped, and that it is very shameful for a woman to have short dresses and have many boyfriends.

We talked a lot and she was very aware of the situation and the differences between man and women in India for being 12 years old. She also asked me how old I am and why I’m not married, haha. She asked when we get married in Sweden, I said that it’s not that common to be, that it depends, but where I live it would be around 35 probably. She was all “Whaaat! Mama mama, in Sweden they don’t get married until 35!!” haha. Here it’s weird if you are not married when you are 25. You also have to marry someone of your own cast, that has the same surname as you, she said. Not sure about that. But I was invited to go to her wedding, in 13 years :)

Me, Palak, Palaks mom, Starsh, and their aunt (fathers sister)

Me, Palak, Palaks mom, Starsh, and their aunt (fathers sister)

She said I was her best friend now. I asked if she had many friends, and she said she doesn’t, because here they don’t encourage you to have friends or allow you to be with them, you are supposed to be with your family. When you go to school, you get a school name, so they don’t even know your real name!

She gave me a bracelet and I gave her one of mine. After the water show, we entered the temple again, had some food around there (they made me try something new indian, don’t remember the name) and then went out, around 21, so I had really spend my whole day there! Outside the temple we changed whatsapp numbers, and yes, she is bombarding me with texts now, haha.

I took the subway back to Chawni Chowk and took a tuk tuk to the hostel and was very happy with my day. India is very interesting, people are so pacific and really kind here too.

The Akshardham temple seen from the metro

The Akshardham temple seen from the metro

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