Leaps And Bounds

Sep 1, 2012
2012

Delhi is not one city, it is many. Historically, administratively, culturally, economically and socially, India’s capital is a complicated puzzle. The current metropolis is reputed to be the eighth city to occupy this strategic position on the plains of northern India. For hundreds of years, the area has been a natural hub for traders and armies. Each city of the past left traces in the present. Here or there you will find remnants from the 10th-century city of Qila Rai Pithora, or from 13th-century Mehrauli, or from the spectacular Shahjahanabad of the 17th century. Every time you turn a corner, you skip between the rich layers of Delhi’s long history.

Modern Delhi often appears to be bursting at the seams. It is not an illusion. Having broken through its historical boundaries, the city fanned out in every direction, giving rise to four major satellite cities: Gurgaon, Faridabad, NOIDA (New Okhla Industrial Development Authority) and Ghaziabad. In all, 22 million people live in the National Capital Region, which sprawls over an area of nearly 13,000 square miles.

Once you have come to terms with the eight cities of history and the five cities of the NCR, you must still grapple with the social layers — each as distinct as a city — that chaotically coexist on the teeming streets.

Delhi is a city of the poor and of the mega-rich. It is a place in which you can step out of a cuttingedge, climate-controlled IT center directly into scenes unchanged for decades, even centuries. The latest SUVs jostle for road space with handdrawn carts. Taxis compete for customers with cycle rickshaws. Cows sift for food through piles of garbage at downtown intersections. Children beg for pennies beneath giant billboards advertising the latest smartphones.

On the streets of India, the past and present, poverty and wealth, tradition and technology collide more dramatically than anywhere else on Earth.

In previous eras, when the local rulers were faced with times of tumultuous change, they relocated and started afresh. Hence, the eight cities of history. But today there is no such luxury. Not even the burgeoning satellite cities can accommodate Delhi’s breakneck growth. As India awakens as an economic superpower, the planners of Delhi struggle to propel their huge, antiquated, third-world city into the 21st century.

The scale of the task is encapsulated by the Yamuna River, which is fed by a Himalayan glacier and flows with crystalline purity down from the high mountains, through the foothills, onto the sweltering plains. By the time it reaches Delhi, its sacred waters have turned murky brown. When it flows out of the city, it is one of the most polluted rivers in the world, infused with industrial effluent and millions of gallons of sewage.

Dozens of municipal schemes attempted to address the problem of the Yamuna, and yet it became ever dirtier. But now, at last, authorities have embarked on a major plan to tackle the underlying causes of the Yamuna’s predicament.

Work is under way on an extensive drainage system that — it is hoped — will reduce pollution by up to 70 percent within three years. That is merely the start. An ambitious blueprint, the Yamuna Action Plan, aims to turn a 1,000-acre stretch of riverside into an ecopark, with bird-rich wetlands, formal gardens and walking trails.

India’s impressive economic success in the last two decades engendered a new, can-do mindset as the country tackles and finds solutions for problems which once seemed insurmountable.

Of all the city’s problems, one of the greatest is traffic. For newcomers, the first journey on Delhi’s anarchic roads is tantamount to an initiation. The basic rules of physics no longer seem to apply. Vehicles squeeze six abreast on two-lane highways. Overtaking maneuvers are executed with split-second, inch-perfect precision (or occasionally are misjudged and end badly). Only a masochist would call it fun.

But today there is an alternative. The Delhi Metro was inaugurated in 2002 and continues to expand. Line by line, station by station, an extensive network is steadily reaching out to cover the entire city. It already carries more than 2 million passengers per day.

There are ambitions to introduce futuristic, wheel-less trains running on magnetic tracks, which will make the Delhi Metro not only the world’s fastest-expanding rapid transit system but also one of the most advanced.

The run-up to the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi precipitated a host of infrastructure projects. The city’s international gateway, Indira Gandhi International Airport, received a significant overhaul with the unveiling of the new Terminal 3, the world’s 24th-largest building and one of the world’s most advanced passenger terminals. The Delhi Airport Metro Express, linking downtown to the airport in just 18 minutes, launched in 2011.

On the heels of two early August power failures, India’s mission to embark on its 12th fiveyear plan is a neccesity. Infrastructure failures continue to complicate the lives of the country’s inhabitants, as nearly half the population lost power when three of the five transmission grids collapsed, resulting in one of the world’s worst blackouts. Moving forward, Delhi’s transformations are likely to accelerate. There are plans to further improve the transport system and regenerate the slum areas. The plan includes more than $1 million in infrastructure investment and aims to stimulate economic growth of around 9 percent.

These phenomenal numbers become even more mind-boggling when transcribed in the Indian subcontinent’s indigenous numbering system. Local newspapers and annual company reports do not always use international numbering systems, so visiting business travelers should familiarize themselves with common terms such as lakh (one lakh translates as 100,000) and crore (one crore is 10 million; 100 crore equal 1 billion).

The quirky numbering system is just one of many elements that contribute to the culture shock experienced by most first-time visitors to India. In the streets of Old Delhi, the sights, sounds and smells can be overpowering.

At the heart of downtown is Connaught Place, a huge traffic circle hedged with colonnaded buildings from the British colonial era. Roads converge from every direction, and momentarily, the disparate strands merge. But then the pedestrians, street hawkers, carts, livestock, private vehicles, rickshaws, taxis, buses and Metro trains diverge, moving apart again geographically and socially. Delhi has always been many cities and always will be.

Diversions

You will occasionally see tourists nervously loitering in the plush lobbies of Delhi hotels, summoning the courage to venture out. This is not a city for gentle strolls and quiet contemplation. The instant you venture onto the streets, your personal space is invaded. You will be bombarded with offers of transport and bargain souvenirs, as well as being targeted by wily scammers with 1,001 methods of extracting money from obvious newbies. But for every visitor who finds Delhi intimidating, there are many others exhilarated by the vibrant chaos.

Perhaps the best approach is to just dive in. Take a taxi to Shahjahanabad — Old Delhi — and walk along the main route, Chandni Chowk. If your senses cope, you will be well on your way to adjusting to Delhi.

Every newcomer is shocked by the poverty, especially in the old town. The Salaam Baalak Trust offers city walks guided by street children. It’s a great opportunity to see the backstreets through local eyes while also contributing to a program helping to alleviate some of the worst problems.

Adjacent to Old Delhi is the magnificent Red Fort, a sprawling sandstone relic of the 17th-century Mughal Empire. The extensive grounds within the fort’s formidable walls provide a rare haven of peace, especially in the morning. The complex features several remarkable buildings, including the Pearl Mosque, the marble-decorated Diwan-i-Khas and the emperor’s private apartments. For reasons not entirely clear, there are usually vendors at the Red Fort entrance selling false beards — one of Delhi’s many little mysteries.

To the south of the Red Fort lies another peaceful haven, the Raj Ghat. This simple black-marble memorial set within neatly cropped lawns marks the spot at which Mahatma Gandhi was cremated in 1948.

One of the highlights of New Delhi is Humayun’s Tomb, a 16th-century masterpiece of Mughal architecture. Beautifully symmetrical and topped with a gleaming dome, it served as a prototype for the Taj Mahal.

Southwest of downtown are the remains of Mehrauli, one of the early forerunners of the modern city. The area’s prime attraction is undoubtedly the World Heritage-listed Qutb Complex, dominated by the 239-foot Qutb Minar, an ornately decorated brick minaret built between the 12th and 14th centuries.

Delhi serves as one point of the Golden Triangle, the classic Indian tourist route. From here, travelers progress to the Taj Mahal at Agra and then to the city of Jaipur, with its hilltop fortresses and beautiful palaces. The complete circuit takes about a week.

Lodging

Hotel Diplomat

A contemporary, minimalist take on the British colonial style offers 25 individually designed guestrooms in the heart of New Delhi. 9 Sardar Patel Marg, Diplomatic Enclave, Chankayapuri $$$

The Imperial New Delhi

Beautifully restored to its British Raj splendor, the Imperial is more than just a hotel: It is an integral part of the Indian establishment. Janpath $$$$

The Park New Delhi

Located close to Connaught Place, the trendy hotel includes The Residence, a luxury hotel within a hotel with super-deluxe rooms and private lounges. 15 Parliament St. $$$

Dining

Indian Accent

The recipient of numerous awards, including Best Restaurant in India 2011, has an inventive menu that draws on Indian and international influences. Manor Hotel, 77 Friends Colony (West) $$$–$$$$

Moti Mahal

Essential for lovers of Indian cuisine, this no-frills restaurant is famous for tandoori specialties. Visit the original, not the spin-off franchise outlets. 3704 Netaji Subhash Marg, Daryaganj $$

Oh! Calcutta

The décor is inspired by the dining clubs of the British colonial era; the cuisine is firmly Bengali. International Trade Tower, E-Block, Ground Floor, Nehru Place $$

Checking In With Sajid Desai

Group Director of United Business Media India and organizer of SATTE

What Are The Key Opportunities In Delhi For American Investors?

American investors can find a diversified economic base for investment in surface transport, aviation, logistics, power and energy, nanotechnology, biotechnology, homeland security, software development, hardware manufacturing, education and health care industries. Delhi’s hospitality and tourism industry also provides immense opportunities for investors. For instance, the Northern Capital Region needs 15,000–20,000 hotel rooms.

What Cultural Differences Should Foreign Investors Be Aware Of When Doing Business In India?

Being traditionally a caste society, Indian culture places importance on authority and status. There is almost closed communication between superior- and junior-level staff in an organization.

India created a society run on the basis of a set of assumptions. Even though rules do exist, the low level of adherence to them creates huge challenges for organizations. Criticism about an individual’s ideas or work needs to be done constructively, without damaging that person’s self-esteem.

How Important Is The Business Sector To Delhi’s Tourism Industry?

Business travelers still contribute more than 75 to 80 percent in total inbound arrivals to India as well as to Delhi. Almost all the star hotels in Delhi get 80 to 85 percent occupancy from the business travel segment.

What Are Your Expectations For Satte 2013?

SATTE — South Asia’s leading B2B travel and tourism event, now in its 20th year — will be held at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, Jan. 16–18, 2013. We are looking at 15 to 20 percent growth for SATTE 2013, with many new entrants expected and many returning participants wanting to increase their space. We are working very closely with the U.S. Commercial Service of the U.S. Embassy in India to explore strong participation by U.S. organizations.

Which Local Attractions Do You Recommend For Visitors?

Being one of the most historic capitals in the world, Delhi has many tourist sites. My recommendation is to visit the majestic Red Fort, Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb.

Shopping opportunities are also plentiful. Dili Haat brings together artisans from across the country to display their crafts in a traditional environment. Shantushti is a place to indulge in the works of renowned Indian designers. Cottage Emporium, managed by the government of India, offers a wide range of Indian handicrafts. The city is a perfect mix of traditional and modern India, with plenty of nightlife to enjoy after a hard day of work or sightseeing.

Weblinks

Cottage Emporium
Delhi Tourism

Salaam Baalak Trust

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