I thought I was ready. I’d read the guidebook, some history (though not much sunk in without the context of being there), travel blogs and gotten a lot of advice from friends who traveled there previously. Intellectualizing India, particularly when one is there on a humanitarian mission, does little to prepare you for the real thing.
It began with my airplane descent into Delhi through a smog layer so thick the normal visual cues of a descent (skyline, runway lights) were invsible. Delhi has recently been designated the most polluted city in the world.
However, the pilot took pains to assure us over the loudspeaker that the conditions were milder than normal; our landing would be safely completed. My fellow passengers, most of them Indian, began pulling down jackets out of their luggage as the plane taxied to a stop and I knew immediately that my packing had underestimated the weather. Note to self: guidebooks do not take into account global warming changes in that chapter about weather.
My immersion into the work of The India Group humanitarian project began immediately at the Delhi Airport after a 24 hour sleepless flight. We work with Hindu families of one of India’s lowest castes, the farming caste and one struggling family of Sikhs. I sponsor Amandeep, the only child of the Sikh family and it was his father and another father in the project who could translate who met me at the airport and got me to my lodging in downtown Delhi
Since I arrived two days earlier than the rest of the team it gave me a chance to meet Amandeep and his mother and to be given a tour of Delhi’s largest Sikh temple with them and a basic understanding of their religion. The temple is a beautiful white marble complex. Despite all of it’s oppulence, it is a place of refuge for Sikhs and vistors who wish to live on the temple grounds for some time.
Langar is the Sikh practice of having a large kitchen staffed by volunteers that feeds all visitors no matter what their religion. In the Delhi temple only vegetarian food is served to honor the beliefs of other religions allowing everyone to eat as equals. The Gurdwara is the eating hall and volunteers were serving hundreds of people at a time while hundreds sat patiently outside the Gurdwara waiting their turn.