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UPDATED: June 12, 2012 Web Exclusive
Tales of Two Cities
How India looks like through Chinese eyes
By Lu Anqi

SMILING FACES: A flower booth in front of a temple in Mumbai, India (LU ANQI)

When my 80-year-old father heard I was about to visit India, he urged me to take as many photos as I could, and bought me some ageratum capsules which he believed was the best cure for upset stomach and sunstroke. My aunt subtly tried to persuade me to change my mind about going. She had never been to India, but she seemed convinced that the country lacked good sanitary conditions and safety.

No doubt, to the majority of Chinese people, India is a mysterious country with a long history and ancient oriental civilization, one that they actually know very little about.

Before leaving for India, I spent a lot of time searching information and videos on the Internet. Still, I was unable to form a coherent picture in my mind from contradictory fragments.

Seeing is believing. The best way to find the truth is to see it with your own eyes. I visited India with another five Chinese journalists in April. We spent eight days in Delhi and Mumbai, two Indian cities that are often compared to Beijing and Shanghai in China.

Beijing & Delhi

Before the journey, I read Imaging India — The Ideas of a Renewed Nation, a book by Nandan Nilekani, founder of the Indian software giant Infosys Technologies. Nilekani has been extensively quoted in Thomas Friedman's book The World Is Flat, and he is a well-known figure in India. Nilekani wrote in his book that he was surprised by Beijing during his first visit in 2005, and that everything there exceeded his imagination. In his eyes, city planning and construction of Beijing distinctly contrasted with India.

On the flight from Beijing to Delhi, Sanjeev, a middle-aged Indian man sitting next to me, discussed Beijing and Delhi. As a technician with an Indian company involved in a joint project with a Chinese company, he shuttles between the two cities more than 20 times each year. He said that the two cities were comparable in many ways.

Gazing down from the airplane window, it seemed to me that New Delhi was more spacious than Beijing, but in reality, it has a higher population density.

Before dawn, our plane landed at Indira Gandhi International Airport, 16 kilometers southwest of downtown New Delhi. The airport named after the former prime minister of the country. A bus carried us east across the city to Ghaziabad. No roads like the Beijing-Tianjin Highway could be found on the route, but the road conditions ensured a smooth ride.

However, daytime traffic conditions in Delhi were worse than in Beijing. Our trip from Delhi to Agra, a city some 220 kilometers away and well-known for the Taj Mahal, took more than six hours weaving through narrow roads in 30-kilometer-per-hour traffic.

Delhi is a famous city with more than 3,000 years of history as a capital, where visitors can discover its past glory as well as its modernity.

New Delhi is a well-designed beautiful garden city with broad roads, spacious squares, high-rises, good urban infrastructure, and parks and greenbelts provide greenery with various trees, bushes and flowers. Atop Raisina Hill downtown stands the magnificent Presidential Palace. The National Boulevard begins at the palace gate and leads all the way to the India Gate. The boulevard is flanked on both sides with trees, flowers and patches of grass, as well as palace-style buildings with red sandstone facades. Many agencies of the government of India, such as the Ministry of External Affairs, Ministry of Defense and Parliament, are located in these buildings.

It is a pity we didn't have time to visit Old Delhi, but our tour guide comforted us by explaining that it is similar to Mumbai, which we would visit later.

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