Travel Tips to India

India Personal Writings

            Delhi      Often coming back from foreign travel, I would answer my father’s questions when I would return when he would ask me to tell him something that would interest him about that country.  Having been in India on the birthday he shared with George Washington, which we used to kid him was his own holiday, he would have been 103 or so now, so none of these tips will be of use to him, but it’s a family tradition now, so hopefully it will be useful for someone. Anyway, here goes.

India under Prime Minister Modi has been a huge investor in infrastructure, but there seems to be another side to it that involves weird security and data collection infrastructure.  It was most noticeable in the new international terminal at Delhi.  There had always been a passport and boarding pass check by the military before you could enter the terminal, so that’s not news.  There had often been up to three or four different security screenings before you got on the plane, especially domestically, so that’s pretty old hat as well.

What’s new is the photo technology.  Entering the terminal as the solider looked at my passport, usually he would have been looking at me.  Not this time, I noticed he was looking over my shoulder.  There was a five-foot told obelisk of sorts with an enlarged image of my picture and passport to verify that it was one and the same.

In this ultra-modern facility, there was supposedly free internet, but when you tried to get on, bizarrely, you were sent to queue up at a kiosk to get a coupon with your ID.  Why?  To access the internet in the Air India lounge, they had to take your passport and make a copy as well.  When checking in at the YMCA Tourist Hostel at the counter they had to copy your passport as usual, but they also had to take a picture.  When I checked in after returning from Katmandu, they didn’t care about my passport, but they made me come back to the checkout counter to take my picture again.  There’s no way this is random.  These photos are being collected by the state.

Going through the “real” security was a timely and chaotic process.  Even in this new facility manned by the military, the scanner was old school and separated men from women.  A passenger had to be screened again before going through, and then collect a bunch of small plastic boxes in order to disgorge all electronics.  There was no automatic recovery for the bins, so they were constantly running out.  It was all as if it was an afterthought and not real security at all.  One soldier handed a large plastic water bottle back to a woman behind me after screening.  The soldiers let me go back without screening to look for something I thought I had left behind in the chaos.  The takeaway from all of this modernization in the Delhi airport was clear:  for some reason data and photo collection had become the priority, not security.  How about that for a headscratcher?

Who knows?   The smog and pollution in Delhi are no joking matter.  One of our team had asthma and wore a mask the whole time.  Once I saw the moon.  Another day, I saw the sky for a bit.  Taking a couple of taxis to meetings, I have to admit that despite the horrendous, anarchistic traffic, some parts of the city were beautiful with flowers planted and blooming everywhere.  I’ve often kidded Dharmendra Kumar, ACORN India’s Delhi director, who claims that Delhi is a city of parks, when I have visited in other seasons in the heat and dust, but I started to believe this visit that he might be right, and I am surely wrong at least in parts of this megalopolis.  Crossing the river into East Delhi is still a horror of sights and smells, though.

India is so important to the global future that it’s worth a visit and a lot of worry these days.