Walk to the secret lakes of Delhi

Free time is something Delhi’s elite (which calls itself middle class) normally spends at home with family, in restaurants, in malls, in homes of relatives, in bars, in more malls, in homes of friends, in cafés. You get the picture.

Usually unheard of: Sitting on a bicycle and ride to a jungle. Walk through the Aravalli hills just south of the city. Spend a day at the river Yamuna.

This has many reasons, but foremost people are not feeling safe out there. This is not some unsubstantiated fear, but very real. The chances to get raped, robbed, threatened, pushed around, asked for money, told to go away , or all at once, are very real.

So if people from Delhi do venture out into the wild, they only go in big groups. With someone, who has been there before. Who has talked to the village elders as a backup, and got someone along from the village as a guide.

I joined the group “Delhi by Foot” to explore five secret lakes in the Wild Life Sanctuary Asola Bhatti.

We found: sandy beaches, pristine blue water in the valleys that were rock quarries some 15 years ago, sun that made it through the less dense smog out there. Along the way, we met locals going about their everyday lives, which included the chopping of shrub, walking somewhere with camels, and tending cows.

It was more a stroll than a hike, as the elite in Delhi, even if they are interested in outdoor activities, is so not used to walk on unpaved surfaces. So any climb up a dirt trek with two roots sticking out, or a step higher than 15 centimeters takes it’s own sweet time.

 

One place, two worlds

In the midst of nowhere in Rajasthan, somewhere behind Alwar, lies one of the sought-after Heritage Hotels. A fort from the 14th century had been transformed into a palace for royal experience. Every stone there exudes luxury. Or, in the words of the hotel’s PR guys,it is  a “monastic spaces to detox you from the world”.

So I sat on my balconies, one of them being in a bastion with only shooting-slits to see the barren land outside, I swam in the pool, ate regional delicacies in AC cool rooms, listened to Rajasthani folk music in the lush gardens, and watched the stars from the rooftops.

The scene changed immediately when I stepped out from the fort early the next morning and wandered through the fields. Water buffalos dozed next to one-story huts built from bricks, women cooked in the open spaces before them, or washed clothes at the hand pump, men were sitting or sleeping on charpoys, kids ran  between heaps of dried cowshit and stacks.

When I came to a field where women were cutting buffalo fodder, they put their sickles aside, came over and started questioning me relentlessly. Curious, they wanted to know what I had stored away in my bag, and took one strange item after the other out.

They tried the fan, the earplugs, the cream (which they thought was whitening), the lip balm (but were disappointed when it didn’t colour their lips red), the pen, the lighter – and laughed a lot. When one put on my sunglasses, she removed her scarf, and straightened her hair, before I was allowed to click a picture.

Hand in hand, them carrying heavy loads on their scrawny bodies, we finally walked over to the village, where a plastic chair was organised from somewhere, and I was placed next to a group of men for some talk. As my Hindi is very limited, I excused myself pretty soon, and started climbing the hill (which was the original idea for the morning walk).

While coming down, I was greeted by more than 40 kids – called together from every nook and corner of the village, I suppose. They not only ran after me, but also shoved me, pawed and groped me, and even made some sexual comments. None of them being older than twelve (and looking like nine), I guess.

When it all became too wild, I walked off, but they followed me. Until a villager, who’s buffalo was scared of the mob and threatened to tear the rope it was leashed with or even the pole that hold it, intervened with all his authority and told them to get lost.

Nearly two years in India – and beleaguered by children for the first time.

Sharing is caring

on a donated bedMany stray dogs in Delhi are not really stray. They live on the streets, okay, but they have poeple looking after them – who then boast about how caring they are. Most of the dogs seem to be well-fed and in the winter time they get blankets to sleep on, or they are even made to wear pullovers.

Indians also spent a lot of money to buy grains for birds. On some flyovers or in front of the town hall at Chandni Chowk, there are always dozens, if not hundreds of pidgeons – and even they can’t eat all the handouts, so that the ground is always full of grains. Other people feed birds of pray with buckets full of meat, for example around Jama Masjid in Old Delhi or at Lodhi Gardens.

I often wish these people would spent the money to buy food for the very poor who often live underneath tarpaulins just a few meters away from their doorstep. Or even as domestic servants inside their houses.

In the lanes of Old Delhi

Shouting, undressing and the use of pepper spray

India’s parliament set all sorts of unwanted records in the five-year term that just ended.

Never before in India’s history did a parliament work fewer hours, and this house was also passing the least number of bills. Proceedings were in fact disrupted so often, that the productive time of the lower house, or Lok Sabha, stood at only 61 percent.

Among the more frequent forms of protests were shouting down the speaker and each other, snatching papers from officials and waving placards in front of the speaker’s chair.

At one point some parliamentarians also got rid of their clothes to protest with their chests bared. Others pushed each other around, uprooted microphones, smashed a glass and a computer, and one guy even used pepper spray.

Every now and then some MPs formed a wall or circle around someone who was holding a speech to protect him or her from other democratic leaders. Even the Prime Minister was fenced off like this, while his words were inaudible as the protesters didn’t even stop their shouting for him.

the house of democracy

Gandhi watching the house of democracy. If he would have approved the proceedings inside?

PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based research organisation, meticulously compiled the data on this parliamentary session and pointed to the democratic flaws stemming from all the adjournments and disruptions. “Of the 116 Bills passed by the 15th Lok Sabha, a significant percentage of Bills were passed without adequate debate in the House. In the Lok Sabha, 36% of the total Bills passed were debated for less than thirty minutes. Of these, 20 Bills were passed in less than five minutes,” they write.

Another point of concern: “With the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha having ended, a total of 68 Bills will lapse.” These include the Women’s Reservation Bill (one third of the seats of all elected bodies, including the parliament, were to be reserved for women), Direct Taxes Code, Micro Finance Bill, Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill and the Bill enabling the introduction of Goods and Services Tax.

But why on earth do the parliamentarians disrupt the sessions? Well, any reason seems to be justifiable. I saw protests against the government reaction after the detention of Indian fishermen in Sri Lanka, the answer after the death of an Indian prisoner in Pakistan, the perceived lack of retaliation after an incursion by Chinese soldiers, missing official papers after a debated allocations of coal mining rights, alleged financial scams involving the federal government, and so on, and so forth.

Do politicians from the opposition or the ones in the ruling coalition who have deviant opinions think there is no other platform to make their voices heard if they disagree with the government?

Here is a suggestion: Just talk to us. So far, hardly any top politician grants media houses interviews and uses this way of speaking out. Are you afraid of our questions?

Even the birds run for cover

All is set for the trilateral rooftop terrace fitness therapy to take place this evening. But the weather doesn’t fit our party schedule.

bird taking cover

Morning walk

geese

Did they stop here to oil their wings?

Things to know about Republic Day parade

Republic Day rocket launcher

Republic Day is when India shows all it’s military might on the widest road Delhi has to offer, and when the nation can boast about it’s achievements. (Originally though it was the day the constitution came into force back in 1950.)

Republic Day, camels

It’s also the day when people applaud stuntmen on motorbikes and soldiers with big funny hats marching in step, swinging their arms simultaneously, resembling rows of jumping-jacks.It might be the only day of the year when the public can listen to marching bands that’s musicians – other than at weddings – actually know how to play – even the clarinet and the bagpipe (the amount british influence is simply unbelievable; I didn’t see any Indian instruments at this day). Another treat for the audience: They can admire at the cultural heritage of the country, jammed on a couple of floats.

Republic Day, culture

But to be allowed to the spectacle at Rajpath in the heart of Delih, one is “requested not to bring” (meaning: DON’T YOU DARE) the following items: bags, brief cases, food (actually, the wrote “eatable”), radios, tape recorders (do they still exist?), palm-top computers (whats’s that? and what about other computers?), remote controlled car lock keys (and how shall we lock the car then?), arms and ammunition, daggers, explosives (oh, really!), water bottles (but no water was available inside, and everybody was sitting there for hours), cigarettes, bidi (as if this weren’t a cigarette), perfume, handicams (???), wires, and so on, and so forth.

Republic Day, pencils rocket launcher But: to “establish the identity”, everybody needs an identity card, like a passport – or a weapon licence. No joke.

Well, anyway, Nikoleta and I got in, with our mobile phones tucked away in the underwear. Unfortunately the big camera had to be left behind, as even all my waving around with my press identity card didn’t help (often it does, as it has a very impressive government stamp, but this time the security guys were unrelenting… well I didn’t try to bribe them).

So after seeing a lot of mitary uniforms and more uniforms and even more uniforms I went back to where my bicycle was standing – but it wasn’t there anymore. With all my Hindi scraped together I asked the policemen who were standing around, and found out they took it away – because someone could have placed a bomb inside! (The frame has diameter of not even 3cm, and it weights less than 8kg, but what to do.)

Republic Day, jet

I was told to wait, so I waited, but then other policemen came running towards me, telling me to get out of the roundabout where I was sitting. When I refused to go, as I was told to wait, they pushed me with their guns. We argued back and forth, and finally they made me sit down together with another bunch of people. The armed men guarded us, weapon at the ready, like we were criminals – until the motorcade with the president had passed by, and all the tension suddenly vanished. They very friendly even apologised. “We are only doing out job, madam,” one said. Note: Never come in the way of the VVIPs.

Republic Day, sealOne police guy who spoke some English and made it a point to help me, told me to walk over to Tuqlaq Road Police Station. So I walked there, passing dozens or even hundreds of very bright seals on gutters, locks, lampposts, doors… you name it. The whole area was secured, square kilometer for square kilometer.

At the police station, I was told to go to the “women’s help desk” – mine was not a women’s issue, but well, it helped anyways as the policewomen spoke some English. But first, I had to drink some tea. Then once I had relaxed, she had talked to ten other people, I told her the story of my bicycle again. Her problem was, what held her from filing some papers: I didn’t know the number of the bike frame. It didn’t matter I told her ten times the bike is very colourful and unique in Delhi and I have the key to the lock.

I was lucky once more as a guy walked in who overheard my story and knew about the bike. The traffic police on the spot hat brought it back to the roundabout – and the information to go to Tuqlaq Police Station was actually wrong, I was supposed to stay. Well, now the prpblem was solved. A very senior and gentle policeman, accompanied by a young policewomen (you can’t let a woman alone with a man in India) drove me back in a police car. And I was reunited with my bicycle.

Republic Day, horsesAfter that we lived happily ever after. And the police never demanded a fine from me, even though I parked the bicycle in the security zone. Nor was someone angry about my being so stupid and leaving it there. In fact, I found the police to be very nice (apart from the incident when the men secured the ground for the president – but hey: nothing is more important in India than the VVIPs).

Living at a friends place definitely has it’s upsides

cats

It’s raining cats and dogs… no, wait!

elephant in the rain

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