North Tour: Delhi: When modernity and India meet

Monday, 14 March

AGRA TO VARANASI: As the two-lane highway eased into four Saturday afternoon, heavy traffic gave way to open road, and as I awoke from a compulsory afternoon nap, I wondered aloud if we were still in India.

Delhi is unlike any other city we’ve visited in India thus far. Cyclists wear their helmets. A well-maintained new metro connects major parts of the city. Not only do the roads have well-paved tarmac and well-painted lines, but the drivers even stay between them most of the time.

You have the 2010 Commonwealth Games to thank for much of Delhi’s infrastructure, but the relevance of India’s capital goes far beyond its modernity.

For one, Delhi might be the best place in India through which to go sightseeing. Our bus stopped at numerous locations on Sunday including the India Gate, The Red Fort and the Lotus Temple. Each landmark we visited was monumental for its own reasons, and for some we could do nothing more than stare through the window. Every three minutes or so, as our neck muscles relaxed and our heads swiveled down, the guide would point out some famous area on one side. If the bus’ speed allowed us to do so, we’d open our eyes and take pictures.

Best, arguably, was something for which we left the bus. We visited a huge new temple Sunday afternoon, and stayed until sunset for a light and water show. After the subpar Golkunda Fort light show from the South Tour, we were skeptical, but this performance was a pleasant surprise.

Our hotel was just a short walk from one of the busiest shopping streets in Asia. Chicago’s Michigan Avenue it wasn’t, but this had a distinct Indian flavor, absent of highrises but high on variety of clothing, souvenirs and food.

Still, something about Delhi – or at least the parts we visited – left something to be desired. Maybe it’s a big city phenomenon, something that has nothing to do with Delhi. But compared to our other stops on the tours, the city appeared sterile – crowded yet monotonous, modern but lifeless. The tourist traps we saw were Delhi’s haven of culture – the traditional kind, anyway. Otherwise, it was curiously like an American city.

Modernity and India don’t always mix. And they don’t always mix well.

But well mixed or not, in Delhi lies an example of the product when they do.



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