Our next destination was Punjab and H had been waiting for this all year, it’s where K’s family live so she couldn’t wait to meet them and see where he spent his childhood holidays. It was also going to be Diwali during our time with them making it extra special.
We spent our time between K’s Uncle and Aunties, the days were filled chatting, eating and of course drinking lots of chai. They live on a farm so we were in our element, spending time with the baby animals, learning how to milk cows, and even driving tractors. We made a special friend on the farm, Moo. A little stray puppy that had wandered in and befriended the baby cows. It was one of the cutest things we have ever seen, and we made a really special bond with him, feeding him and playing. Our only regret is that we couldn’t bring him home with us!
A trip to Punjab wouldn’t be complete without visiting the famous Golden Temple. On our travels we have seen some absolutely perfect things in our world but have also experienced heart breaking moments, and unfortunately at the Golden Temple we witnessed one of the worst. H was expecting marvellous things after the many stories she had heard from K and other travellers but was beyond disappointed.
When we arrived, through the hustle and bustle of busy passing people we noticed a small child, no older than three curled up in a little ball, no adults in sight with hundreds of flies buzzing around. We approached the child and as we got closer noticed she was a little girl and smelt awful. K gently nudged her, asked if she was okay but she didn’t move, continuing to nudge her our hearts sank as we actually thought this girl might be dead on the floor as people were just passing by. One well dressed, religious man stopped and said to us she is fine, he shook her as if she was a toy. Clearly she was not fine. K felt her skin and she was still warm and scooped her into his arms. This was when she opened her eyes and we have never felt more relieved.
She did not speak and looked terrified. She had filthy, mouldy old clothes on, and faeces coming out from her trousers. We took her to a quieter area and tried to talk, she said nothing and wouldn’t drink any water that we offered. We got a towel and stripped the clothes from her, washing her with wipes, antibacterial hand gel and water. She was absolutely covered in defecation which was days old and needed scrubbing off. We were extra careful to cover her modesty as passers-by had begun to stare, some just looking, some smiling admirably and some confused. K was annoyed by this and questioned why they were looking, what did they want to see? They were quite happy to walk past this dying girl five minutes ago. We started to get the feeling they were looking at H as if she was a rich foreign woman doing a fantastic thing for this poor child, as they were smiling?
K bought her some clothes and when she was completely clean we dressed her and she started to trust us finally drinking some water, she was so dehydrated. Clinging to H she was obviously upset by so many people staring. We took her to the local police, did they care? No. They laughed in our faces saying you can’t help everyone.
We then took her to eat before deciding what to do next. She ate but still did not speak, K went to see if anyone was looking for her or if the police had decided to do anything about this situation and he came across a woman crying, searching with other children. He approached her and discovered she was the child’s mum, informing her she was safe with H and the woman was hysterical with relief, she kissed H’s feet and thanked us. The mum had been begging whilst the little girl was sleeping outside the temple, and explained how the girl had been very unwell and needed to sleep and that she needed money for medicine. She presumed the girl would be safe outside this holy temple. Thank goodness she was.
We’re sure your first reaction will be to judge this mother for leaving her child, it was ours, and we certainly told her she should never do it again. However, before you do judge this woman please think what could have happened to her. Like thousands of homeless Indian women, she could have been raped many times on the street, she herself could have been an orphan growing up as a street kid. For these people there is no opportunity, no benefits, no council housing, no NHS for sick children… nothing. The rich stay rich whilst the poor will always stay poor. We watched so many wealthy, well respected religious people walk past this small child like she did not even exist, and then donate money to a temple made of pure gold? To us we cannot comprehend this at all. Something for sure is that travelling certainly was opening our eyes and experiences like this are the ones that will never be forgotten and truly make you realise how lucky you are.
On a brighter note, Diwali was beautiful. K’s mum took H shopping and treated her to a stunning pink Indian suit, as everyone gets dressed up for the special day. We ate delicious food as all of the family joined together. As the night fell we lit candles around the house and outside, and it looked like a fairy tale come true. Some of the boys lit of fireworks (to our horror with no safety precautions in place!) but looking back it was all great fun. We played with sparklers into the night and it was just as we imagined it would be.
Our time in the north was an emotional one, full of ups and downs, and plenty of different experiences. It was beautiful though and showed us yet another side to India. More memories created whether they were good or bad. Travelling is the best form of learning and we certainly learnt a lot whilst travelling here.