Sunday, September 30, 2012

The cyclerickshaw-wallahs of Delhi

The cycle rickshaw is really the only sensible way to negotiate Old Delhi's narrow lanes. Especially if you have some distance to cover and don't fancy getting pushed around in the crowd.

Typical Old Delhi street, just wide enough for two rickshaws

Cycle rickshaws first appeared in Delhi in the 1940's. Before that, there were only hand-pulled rickshaws, as well as "ekka-gadis" (single horse tangas). The cycle rickshaw was considered a technical improvement over the previous hand-pulled version, where the rickshaw-wallah "ran" with his passengers and used the soles of his feet as brakes!  

Today, there are more than 700,000 cycle rickshaws in the Delhi region (according to a government study). Most are passenger rickshaws, and they have two types of seating, which you can see in the photos below:

The regular variety that seats 2 people
Rickshaws with extra seats at the back. Can take 4 people
There are also rickshaws that ferry goods rather than people. There are far fewer of these around, but you can still spot them in wholesale market areas.

Wedding cards being delivered by goods rickshaw at Chawri Bazaar
A lot of people just use the regular passenger rickshaws to carry goods.
If you can balance it all, this will work just fine!
Rickshaw pullers are typically migrants from other states - usually they are agricultural labourers or marginal farmers who can't make a living in the village. Or they are craftsmen and tradespeople whose traditional occupations no longer sustain them. They usually leave their families behind and come to the city. 

Rickshaw-pulling is an attractive option for new entrants to the city, mainly because it needs no investment. Very few rickshaw-wallahs own their rickshaws. Instead, what they do is rent them for the day from owners.  Rentals range from Rs 25 to Rs 50 per rickshaw per day. Typically, a rickshaw-wallah earns Rs 200 to Rs 250 per day, out of which rent must be paid to the owner. The owner is usually responsible for maintenance of the vehicle. To become a rickshaw-wallah, all you need is an introduction (usually by another rickshaw puller) to the owner. Deposits are not required.

My estimate of monthly earnings for a rickshaw-wallah is around Rs 5000 (about $100). After taking into account living expenses in Delhi, he probably saves Rs 1500 or Rs 2000 a month, which is usually sent to the village. 

Rickshaws are not expensive to buy. A second-hand rickshaw costs only about Rs 2000 or so. So I initially found it surprising that so very few rickshaw-wallahs own their rickshaws. When I did some reading, I found the real reason - there's a nice little extortion racket going on. The Muncipal Corporation of Delhi has issued only 90,000 rickshaw-puller licenses. So - more than 600,000 rickshaw-wallahs you see are actually illegal and are not supposed to be driving rickshaws. If they are caught, their rickshaws can be confiscated and destroyed any time. This means the only guys that can afford to own rickshaws are those who have the ability to pay off and "manage" the cops routinely. Having 600,000 unlicensed rickshaw-wallahs suits the authorities very well...a nice steady source of income! 

This also explains why the rickshaw rentals are so high, Rs 25 per day means Rs 750 per month, a very crazily high rent for something so cheap. It's because the excess rental is going into paying off the cops and to get back impounded rickshaws. What a crazy situation! 

If you want to read more about the rickshaw-wallahs and the cops and their daily struggle, you should head over to the Manushi page. Lots of stuff there, and some of it very positive. In April this year, the Supreme Court lifted the ceiling on rickshaw-wallah licenses and further ruled that rickshaws could not be impounded or destroyed. Let's wait and see if that actually improves anything.  Meanwhile, the next time you sit in a rickshaw, think about the hard life they have and tip a little extra!
Elderly rickshaw-wallah, Kinari Bazaar 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Deepa's Guide to Delhi's Bazaars

Shopping in Delhi can be fun, but it can also be a little bewildering.

So here are my picks for what to buy from Delhi's dazzlingly diverse bazaars!

I'm updating it every couple of days, so you can either follow it on Pinterest, or you can bookmark the page and check every now and then.

Enjoy :) :)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Day trip to the Taj Mahal (by the new Yamuna expressway)

Article Updated: 20-Sep-2015

A lot of folks are asking me about the new Yamuna expressway to Agra. Here's a post with a map and timings for how to organise your visit:

Yamuna Expressway Map - Delhi to Agra marked

In the map you can see the expressway marked in blue. The yellow line with the number 2 is the National Highway 2, which used to be used earlier for this trip, running via Faridabad.

If your hotel is in Gurgaon, you can go by the old highway, but the new expressway makes for an easier trip these days.

Assuming you are staying in Delhi, then the road trip is best done like this:

If you want to see only Taj Mahal and Agra Fort:
Depart Delhi 7:30 a.m. after breakfast (By expressway)
Taj Mahal tour 11:30 to 1:30 p.m.
Lunch 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.
2:30 to 3:30 Agra Fort
Return to Delhi by 7:00 p.m. approximately (by expressway)

The Taj Mahal (look at the tiny people!)

Hall of Audience - Agra Fort

If you want to see Taj Mahal, Agra Fort and Fatehpur Sikri
Depart Delhi 5:30 a.m. by new expressway
Arrive Agra in 4hrs, can have breakfast in Agra or bring packed breakfast
Taj Mahal and Agra Fort tour 10:00 to 2:00 p.m.
Quick Lunch 2:00 to 2:30 p.m.
2:30 to 3:30 drive to Fatehpur Sikri
3:30 to 4:30 tour of Fatehpur Sikri
Return to Delhi by 10:00 p.m. approximately (you can return by the Old highway because of how Sikri is located, but the expressway is better)
Fatehpur Sikri

If you want to go to Agra by train rather than road
This tour depends on train tickets availability. See for train tickets status.
Leave the hotel Delhi at 5:00 a.m. (or earlier, depending on the location of the hotel) and transfer to the railway station
Express train to Agra departing at 6:00 a.m.
Pick up at Agra station at 8:06 a.m. and tour of Taj, Agra Fort (8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)
Relaxed Lunch from 1:00 to 2:30 p.m.
2:30 to 3:30 p.m. drive to Fatehpur Sikri, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. tour of Fatehpur Sikri, 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. drive back to Agra
The express train back to Delhi departs at 9:15 p.m., so you have a 3-4 hour wait time in Agra. You can visit shops or go to a café / restaurant until 7:00 p.m., then be dropped at Agra railway station by 7:30 p.m. Or you can go to see the sunset view of the Taj from Mehtab Bagh before returning to the train station.
Arrive Delhi railway station at 11:30 hr and transfer to the hotel by 12:15 or 12:30 p.m.
2016 Update - there is also now another express train, the Gatiman Express. Departs Delhi 8:10 am arrives Agra 9:50 am. Departs from Agra at 5:50 pm and reaches Delhi by 7:30 pm. Please write to if you want to make a trip by this train. 

If you want to stay overnight in Agra, then:
Day 1 - Leave Delhi after a relaxed breakfast, drive 4hrs to Agra, check in and have lunch. Around 4 p.m. visit Agra Fort and drive to the other side of the river for sunset views of the Taj Mahal from across the river. Overnight Agra
Day 2 - Visit Taj Mahal at sunrise, return to hotel for breakfast. Check out and drive 1hr to Fatehpur Sikri. Return to Delhi via the old expressway.

It is pointless to go by train if you want to stay overnight in Agra.

Here is the sunset view of the Taj Mahal from the other side of the river:
The Taj Mahal as seen from Mehtab Bagh across the Yamuna River

To book a tour to Agra with us: Please see

Article Updated: 20-Sep-2015