India is an enigma: a country rich in history and tradition, it is equally exotic, colorful, congested, maddening, vibrant, romantic and helpless with countless diametrically opposing images. A destination suffocating under the weight of its own population.
Wherever you go in India there are two worlds. From an air-conditioned motorcoach, reality is just beyond the windows where sacred cows roam the streets, barbers cut hair at the side of the road, camels share the highway with scooters, pedestrians and “tuk tuk” auto rickshaws while beggars reach out with crippled limbs for a scrap of food or a few rupees.
Then suddenly, the bus disappears behind concrete walls and comes to rest at a luxurious hotel with elaborately dressed doormen, marble floors and flowing fountains. Gone are the desperate masses of humanity.
New Delhi is the capital, calling itself “a city of cities” because it is comprised of seven districts that have been individual cities over the centuries and which still retain individual identities today.
New Delhi and Old Delhi are the most familiar, and they are a metaphor for the identity of the country. New Delhi features spacious, tree-lined boulevards with stunning architecture and magnificent government buildings. Old Delhi, once the capital of Islamic India, is now a warren of teeming, ever-diminishing streets and the spaghetti of electrical wiring.
Yet for all the attention India receives in the media as a tech-savvy place, it is still a Third World country. Sequestered as we are in the West from the awesome poverty that exists throughout much of the world, India is a place that can overwhelm you with sensations of helplessness and despair.
Often, visitors say they are thankful for the experience, but once is enough. Only time will tell whether India can elevate itself back to those sporadic periods of a glorious past.