Asia India New Delhi Tours

A Life-Changing Visit to the Slums of Delhi

November 9, 2016
Delhi Slum Tour PETE review

It’s funny how something as simple as walking through a city can change your perspective so significantly.  India was amazing, eye-opening and at times confronting, but I’ve never experienced anything quite like our visit to the Slums of Delhi.

Initially we were hesitant to visit the slums – the idea of walking though peoples homes felt very intrusive, especially when we considered the level of poverty that so many of these people experience.  The last thing we wanted to do was to take advantage of them or to seek entertainment by sitting in on their daily lives.

One blog turned everything around for us though – if you’ve not read it, I highly recommend you have a nosey at Andrew Roams.  The decision was made and we booked ourselves in, still a little unsure of what to expect but hopeful.

Organised by PETE (Providing Education To Everyone), local guides escort small groups through the slums of Delhi – in particular the Kathputli Colony of street performers in one of the poorest parts of Delhi, near the Shadipur Depot.  To be shown around by someone who lives in this remarkable community was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one that we won’t easily forget.

For the past 60 years, this colony has been home to families of magicians, singers, painters, puppeteers, dancers, acrobats and storytellers and it is now estimated to house over 20,000 people in close quarters.

My initial trepidation quickly melted away as I found myself incredibly surprised by the slums in the very best of ways.  We were amazed by the positive outlook that each and every person we encountered shared with us – how is it possible that people with so little can appreciate life so much?

With that said, I am mindful of over-romanticising the slums.  Cramped alley ways weave their way in between the small shacks that house entire families.  The buzzing televisions and charging cellphones sit in stark contrast to the rest of the environment.  Women sit outside washing clothes and cooking meals whilst children bathe in buckets.  Goats are scattered throughout the colony and cats stalk rooftops.  Water gushes in between shacks and all manner of smells drift up and over the community.

I do not doubt that life in the slums is challenging…

But it is also clearly rewarding for its many citizens.  I’ve never met a group of people as warm and welcoming as I did that day and all for no reason other than to welcome us into their lives for a brief point in time.  Colours, beauty and kindness abound, turning any doubt I had into a distant memory.

Mothers greeted us with warm smiles, men treated us with the upmost of respect but, what will stick with me forever, were the beautiful Indian children.

Racing around, following us through the maze of alleyways, these gorgeous kids wanted nothing more than to shake our hands, high five us and, to their great delight, have their photos taken.  We took with us some snacks to hand out and though they were graciously accepted, the kids really did just seem excited to see us – even now, a month on our trip, thinking about my morning with them brings a massive smile to my face.

Some experiences affect you at your very core and our visit to the slums of Delhi did exactly that.  Humbling, eye opening and enlightening, I can’t imagine anyone walking away unchanged.

The biggest question for me is how those of us fortunate enough to have everything we need in life and more can hang onto lessons like the one I learnt that day.  It’s all too easy to slip back into old ways of thinking… to forget how fortunate we are.

I don’t have any answers but I do know that the more I travel the more I feel fortunate for what I have in every sense.  I have shelter over my head, food in my belly, all the personal possessions I could ever need, my personal safety and the ability to explore other parts of the world.

Without doubt, I am lucky, but my visit to the slums reminded me that although I’m fortunate, there’s plenty I can learn from others… there is so much more to life than what we all-too-often place importance on.


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Delhi Slum Tour PETE

A visit to the Slums of Delhi (the Kathputli Colony specifically) can be organised through PETE for a minimum donation of 750 rupees each.  The funds raised from these ‘slum walks’ gets put directly back into the community through the schools and programmes that they run – money well spent in my books.   Throughout the ‘tour’ you’ll have the opportunity to visit different artists in the community but the decision is entirely yours.  Our group of five elected to enjoy a traditional puppet show (for a small additional fee) but to be honest, the highlight of the day for all of us was simply walking through the community, interacting with the locals and gaining a small insight into their lives.  There’s no right or wrong way to go about your visit, as long as you do so in a respectful way.

For more information or to secure your spot on a tour in Delhi, get in touch with PETE.  We cannot recommend it enough – don’t leave India without connecting with its amazing people.

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3 Comments

  • Reply erikastravels November 9, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    I’ve felt the same conflicts when visiting slums in the past–specifically in Katatura, Namibia, Cape Town and the streets of Hebron. It can feel uncomfortable and intrusive to wander around the living quarters of others for your own entertainment. And yet it can also be such a powerful experience–so humbling and eye-opening. I’m happy to hear that proceeds from the tour get reinvested in the community too!

  • Reply shy November 10, 2016 at 12:14 am

    It’s always rewarding to go to the off-beaten paths as opposed to the tourist landmarks. I’m sure you came out of your experience, humbled and grateful.

  • Reply Carolina Colborn November 12, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Such beautiful people. Thanks for taking me on this tour with you.

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