Meet Mukesh. The cycle rickshaw waller or riksha-wala. Among the hustle and bustle of Old Delhi he plies his trade, seven days a week, up to 14 hours a day, pedalling his trade outside the tourist hotspots. Unlike most riksha-walas of the area, he is not aggressive or pushy but calmly waits to be approached, using his smile and friendly appearance to get his fares. Fit as a fiddle, a speedy journey along the bumpy, potholed roads doesn’t leave him breathless or sweating in the heat and humidity of Delhi’s summer.
A trip in the rickshaw costs forty Rupees, little more than fifty pence no matter how far, though the shorter the distance the better as its bone-jarringly jolty, hold on tight or risk getting thrown around as wheels lurch from one giant pothole to the next, one moment on tarmac the next over rubble.
Old Delhi is not the oldest part of Delhi but was a main centre before the British moved its hub south, its a mainly a Muslim area boasting the biggest mosque or masjid in India, holding 25,000 people on occasion.
The area is a hive of bustling everyday life, a warren of small lanes and alleyways stuffed full of shops and a major tourist destination with the huge Red Fort to see among countless other things. This attracts many of the dishonest and the disreputable to prey upon obvious visitors.
A friendly man, asking if he can help and point the way also offers some ‘free’ advise and a warning. Be careful of your bag, carry it on your front to make sure nobody gets their hands inside, put you money in a front pocket and also watch out for people wanting to have their photo taken with you. They will put an arm round you like this…and while you are distracted with the photo they will pat your pockets down. No charge for this advice, it’s just friendly but would you like to buy postcard? No thanks. OK goodbye.
So clever, so deft, so astonishingly quick. Minutes later, looking for the forty Rupees for a rickshaw, there is just an empty pocket! Impressive, look round but of course he is gone. Only a few Rupees is lost, for his victim was wise enough to hide the rest where even his hand wouldn’t go, being a victim before on a previous visit to Old Delhi, that time losing all monies…in of all places the mosque! Rather spoils the visit to have to be so wary 1000% of the time and untrusting of everyone. Not real India, Old Delhi, real India is somewhere like Govind Puri where shopkeepers will trust to bring money tomorrow if there is no change, people are genuinely being friendly and invite you into their homes for a cup of chai.