1. The Grand New Delhi, located on Nelson Mandela Rd, New Delhi, 110070, is an amazing hotel. I've never stayed in a 5 star hotel before, but this had to be a 5 star hotel. The building is beautiful, reasonably near the airport, and customer service is consistently fantastic. Although customer service in India generally leaves much to be desired, The Grand New Delhi delivered perfect service. I highly recommend it for everyone, including disabled travelers--the hotel went out of its way to accommodate my hearing impairment (personal wake up calls, etc.). Thank you to everyone at The Grand New Delhi.
2. At the last minute, I wanted to see a dentist to get a basic checkup. I ended up at Ganga Ram Hospital, where I saw a line of people waiting to see dentists. The dentist spoke perfect English, took a look at me, and was able to answer all of my questions. When I tried to pay him for the short consultation, he refused payment.
Doctors and dentists who work in charitable hospitals are the real heroes, if you ask me. The dentist I saw probably assisted 20 to 35 people that day, either at no charge or low bono. Most dentists in India are also available if you want to hire them for something more than a checkup. Prices are much lower than in the United States, and many dentists are trained in the United States' best schools.
3. If you go to India, remember that elders are respected. I liked how everyone called older people either Auntie, Uncle, Sir, or Madam. Maybe Sidney Poiter visited India before he starred in the excellent film, To Sir, With Love.
4. India's film industry has true diversity. Almost all the Indian movies I've seen include Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, etc. India is very diverse, and one reason the country works is because no one seems marginalized in the media.
Also, although India doesn't get along with Pakistan, its government and media do an excellent job separating Indian Muslims from Pakistani Muslims. America could learn a thing or two about fighting terrorism from India. Despite its own 9/11--the 26/11 Mumbai attacks--India's government and media have steadfastly refused to castigate its own citizens. Perhaps the 2002 Gujarat massacre of Muslims in India may have played a part in India's softer tone--I don't know.
5. India has freedom of speech and freedom of press. Newspapers in India are fantastic. Almost every issue slams government corruption. WikiLeaks was front-page news, and all the articles had substantive analysis. America's founding fathers would be proud of India's media. I am sad to say this, but India's media is clearly better than the pablum America's media passes off as "news."
6. You can feel India's energy everywhere. As Robert Kunzig wrote in National Geographic (Jan 2011), "People, people, people, people--yes. But also an overwhelming sense of energy, of striving, of aspiration."
7. Fareed Zakaria has a brother, Arshad Zakaria. I recently read Gasparino's Sellout, which mentioned Arshad. (Sellout is an excellent book, by the way.) I searched and searched for speeches by Arshad, and finally found an interesting roundtable discussion where Arshad summarizes India very well:
Let me start by giving you some of the three or four interesting things that you will see, which are different from some of the other Asian economies. The first thing you see is that the Indian culture is essentially like an occidental culture. It is a Western culture. So in simple ways, when we have investors over, they feel completely comfortable with the Indian business community and to a smaller extent with the political community, mainly because India has a large agricultural population. But you do have a culture where it's very comfortable for Westerners to fit in on a social basis.
That ties in with what I think is the second point, which is that the language of business in India is English. I think one of the big changes that’s taken place in the world is the language of the global multinational is now English. That interestingly gives India an advantage not just over other emerging markets, but over some of the European countries as well because a lot of people learned it in school to the extent where they’ve not only mastered the language but also the nuances of system and culture — it’s sort of like being in London or the United States. When you travel on roads where you may see a bull or a cow on the side of the road, you’re reminded quickly that you’re not in London, but once you get into a new building, which is being priced at New York or London prices because of this infrastructure issue, you will see from a societal basis that India has quite an advantage.
I think the other thing you focus on is the fact that India, again, is truly a democracy, where you’ve had smooth transitions of power, which allow you to see all the ups and downs of democracy. You have a free press, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. You’ve got TV channels sensationalizing everything, very much like Westerners are used to. There is very much a strong Western influence.
I'd say the biggest issue other than infrastructure that you'd find when you go there, especially if you go to northern India, is the poverty and the scale of poverty. It is, I think, incredibly telling when you look at it and it’s something that people aren’t used to. I would say that’s why there are a decent number of people who will leave feeling uncomfortable without being able to pinpoint why. It’s unlike a lot of places because the poverty sits right next to the wealth. So you’ll see the best roads in Bombay with slums right next door. The proximity of poverty with incredible wealth is something you see clearly in India, and the scale of it is tremendous. And that’s just something that, no matter what you’re expecting, tends to shock some people.
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Bonus: I wrote a five part series about my experiences in India. The first part can be found here.