In general, slums don’t have a very positive image, and conditions may not look best in Western eyes. But when you take a closer look, it’s just like any other place. In New Delhi, 48% of people live in a slum, and here people live a daily life as well. There are schools, doctors, temples and markets, people go to work and visit each other. There are people talking and dreaming, like everywhere else in the world. Reality Tours Delhi invited me for a unique experience: the Sanjay Colony Delhi slum tour. Guided by Saggy, I was able to visit Sanjay Colony, one of the slums in New Delhi, during a half day tour. To get an insight view and learn more about daily life. Read everything about my experiences in the next article, including tips & tricks and what to keep in mind when booking such a tour yourself.
Introduction to Sanjay Colony Delhi
Sanjay Colony Delhi is a small slum located in the south of Delhi (near the Bahai Lotus Temple and Iskcon temple). A 20-minute metro ride takes you from the high-end luxury Khan Market to the isolated Harkesh Nagar Okhla Metro Station, and the difference between these places couldn’t be bigger. This is the place where I’m meeting Saggy, my local friend for today. Saggy immediately makes me feel excited and curious to start this New Delhi slum tour. He is full of positivity and energy and has been doing these tours for years.
I ask Saggy what people think when they see foreigners in their neighborhood. He explains that when he’s walking around alone, people ask him “where are the people?”. He concludes by saying that in India, they have an expression that represents a fundamental principle to the locals: “our guest is a god”. His answers make me feel good and ready to start.
Before we continue, Saggy gives me a quick introduction about Sanjay Colony Delhi and our schedule. More than 50.000 people currently live in the colony. People started coming to the area from different parts of India in the 70s, when it was still a forest. Their main reason to do so was the lack of services and work opportunities in the regions where they came from. In the colony, the government provides water tanks, public toilets and electricity. Even though medicines need to be paid, doctors are free.
Saggy explains: “This New Delhi slum tour is a half day tour and a way for visitors to have a better understanding of Delhi-ites’ everyday life, breaking down the negative stereotypes associated with slums, while raising funds for local projects. It’s also a way to realize the importance of learning, understanding and respecting each other”
Starting the The Sanjay Colony Delhi slum tour
As soon as we start walking, I immediately notice that people are open and friendly. Everywhere I go, I am warmly received. People are smiling at me as they pass by, I get asked what my name is and where I come from. As I walk in the streets, children shake my hand as they cross me on their way to school. Everyone is dressed up, they look so beautiful!
Saggy explains that pictures are not allowed during the tours to respect the privacy of the people. They make an exception for me, as they want me to write this report and share the story of Sanjay Colony Delhi. As soon as I tell local people that they will be part of my blog story, they ask me if they are going to be famous and get very excited. It’s very touching and welcoming. As I pose in the street, a man stops by and poses beside me while laughing.
Recycling street | Sanjay Colony New Delhi slum tour
Our first stop is on the recycling street, where several small businesses are located. Each one is responsible for large piles of worn clothing. Delivered with large trucks, they are sorted by colour, size and style to be resold for further processing. Margin for this kind of work is of 30 rupees, which converted amounts to less than 50 cents. But for people living in the colony, this is a lot. People are eager to talk to me, some of them explaining that they have been doing this job for 10 to 30 years. As most are untrained, they’re grateful for this opportunity. Though it is not the best work, something is better than nothing.
Residential life | Sanjay Colony Delhi half day tour
We then get a glimpse of residential life. There are streets vibrant with sounds, colours, and smells. I hear music and notice a wide-eyed child dragging his mother to some sweets being sold. I take a picture with a boy wearing a Hulk t-shirt and a girl wearing a Frozen one. Also, I meet the local parrot, walk along markets and meet more beautifully dressed up people. We visit the doctor, but he seems to be with on a job and his wife is receiving the patients, until he comes back. Most people don’t speak English well so Saggy is full time translating
Reality Gives | Sanjay Colony Delhi half day tour
Our next stop is to Reality Gives, Reality Tours sister-NGO. I meet with the volunteers and they explain what the NGO is doing, in terms of education to support the local community. Classes include English, computer, life skills as well as how to deal with different cultures among others. The project started in Mumbai, where Slumdog Millionaire was filmed, and became a big success as local people began to appreciate it. Every day, they have 60 to 70 students coming. Sometimes, it amounts up to a 100. One volunteer says students are very excited to learn English as they know its importance for travels and job interviews.
My tour ends on a stunning view of Sanjay Colony Delhi! We go into a home and climb up the stairs. Saggy brought me on a rooftop from where I could admire an overview of the maze-like tour route. On the roofs, there are hanging laundry and aerials television. From up there, I can’t get the impressions of today out of my head. I am so happy I was able to experience these hours in Sanjay Colony.
New Delhi slum tour | Sanjay Colony
During a New Delhi slum tour, by Reality Tours, you learn about working and residential life in Sanjay Colony Delhi and how it’s not so different from other places. In this Delhi half day tour you discover a different culture and ways of living. By meeting the locals, you’ll realize how despite living conditions that may be challenging, this community is charged with positive energy.
Foodie alert: It is possible to extend your tour with a vegetarian lunch at a family home. Or if you feel like cooking yourself, you can even experience a cooking workshop with a resident chef. You will source the ingredients directly from the local market, learn about the spices, and get hands-on with the traditional food preparation and cooking! Not only will you get additional insight into Sanjay Colony, but you’ll provide a local family with some extra income.
Yes or no to a slum tour
Opinions about slum tours are divided. I personally think it’s an unforgettable experience, if you travel with a responsible company and visit for the right reasons. There are many tour operators offering these type of tours but not everyone is respectful and incurs positive impact in the community. You want this tour to have an ethical and sustainable way of working, making sure you are able to support the local community where possible. Here are some tips for considering the right company and get the best out of your visit.
First of all, make sure you are doing some proper research in advance. These are some questions you want to get answered.
- Who is the organization behind the tour? What is their relationship with the community you are visiting?
- Is there a NGO involved?
- Is the tour community driven? Does the community support the tour?
- Does the community benefit from your money?
- How will you be able to engage with the community and its people during your tours?
- What is the price of the tour? Does the community benefit from your money? (don’t go on a free tour, as you want to support the locals)
- What do other people say after taking the tour?
- How does the company deal with photography and filming? Do they respect the privacy of the people living in the community?
- What will your transportation be? You don’t want to travel by bus, you want to walk through the alleys and interact with the locals.
Ask yourself why you want to take this tour?
- Do you only want to take pictures, or can you put this aside and focus on connecting with the locals? Personally I think it’s a good thing if it’s prohibited to take pictures, meaning the company is respecting the privacy of the local people. Imagine yourself sitting in or around your house and strangers pass by on a daily base to capture your life. Not cool!
- Are you afraid to visit because of the negative stories about a slum, such as it being a dangerous place with a lot of poverty and dirtiness? Or can you be openminded and put all those prejudices aside? Most tours provide interaction with the community and provide context and understanding about the history, development, living conditions and people .
If most of the answers on the above are yes and positive, go for it and have an amazing time!
Is it safe to go on a slum tour?
Yes, a tour in the slums is definitely a safe experience. Just make sure you follow the guidelines and rules, provided by your guide and respect the privacy of the local people. Never enter a slum by yourself.
How to prepare and what to bring?
- Good and comfortable shoes, preferably no sandals, as part of the roads can be wet and dirty.
- Make sure to dress properly and cover yourself, respecting local beliefs. Tip: a scarf is always a useful item and quick way to cover your shoulders or legs.
- Souvenirs from your own country. It’s a nice way to interact with the locals.
Reality Tours Delhi
Reality Tours is a social enterprise that uses a profit-sharing model to fund sister-NGO Reality Gives. Eighty per cent of post-tax profits go directly to Reality Gives, which runs high-quality education programs in areas where Reality Tours works. The NGO’s goal is to benefit from tourism as a force for local development and to enable travelers to learn from different cultures and ways of living. Many of Reality Tours’ team members and tour guides started as students with Reality Gives.
If you want to do a Sanjay Colony Delhi slum tour, definitely consider being guided by Reality Tours. It’s the perfect Delhi half day tour and a great experience, where you support the local community as much as you can.
Do you want to read more about India? Read more about the most beautiful palaces and fortresses in Rajasthan, the pink city of India – Jaipur, the desert city of Rajasthan – Bikaner, and the Karni Mata rat temple in Deshnok.
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