Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Paharganj Bazaars

Immediately west of New Delhi railway station, Paharganj, centred around the Main Bazaar, provides the first experience of the subcontinent for many budget travellers. Packed with cheap hotels, restaurants, caf├ęs and dhabas, and with a busy fruit and vegetable market halfway along, it's also a paradise for shoestring shoppers seeking psychedelic clothing, bindis, bags and bronzes and essence of patchouli and sandalwood. A constant stream of cycle and auto-rickshaws, handcarts, cows and the odd taxi squeeze through impossible gaps without the flow ever coming to a complete standstill - the winding alleys where children play among chickens and pigs seem worlds away from the commercial city centre only just around the corner. Beware of opportunist thieves here, though, and the attentions of touts, offering dubious hotels, overpriced tours and spurious charas.

As you wander through the mayhem of Paharganj, you may well find your clothes being gently tugged by some of the local street kids begging for rupees. Most of them are runaways who've left difficult homes, often hundreds of kilometres away, and the majority sleep on the street and inhale solvents - any money given directly to them is likely to further their fixes. A (non-registered) charitable organization working in the main bazaar, the Ujala Project, run by a Mizo-Swiss couple, is dedicated to helping street children attain a brighter future. Their main achievement so far has been the establishment of a centre in the heart of the bazaar where the children can meet, study, bathe and wash their clothes in a caring, drug-free space. They also offer informal counselling and teaching, and advice on hygiene and nutrition, and they try to wean the kids away from potentially harmful activities such as glue-sniffing and petty crime. The charity is sustained entirely by donations, and they welcome gifts of secondhand clothes for three- to eighteen-year-olds, coloured pens, pencils and paints, and of course money. They can be contacted at 5099 Gali Sakkan Wali, off Paharganj Main Bazaar (Telephone011/5539 8967, Email:- ujalapaharganj@netscape.net).

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