Masterplanning in India! The Road from Delhi to Agra
by Tony Chavira
Unlike the way I haphazardly decided to try and travel through Spain and Italy in my past, booking hotels the day of and hopping from one train to the other without regard to the thought that I had pulled a massive loan to pay for my schooling/vacationing in Europe, I thought I’d try and travel through India’s Golden Triangle via official tour. The way the tour program looked, it would be something like a showcase of the best the area had to offer, so how could I pass that up?
Naturally, I booked the tour the night before I flew out without realizing that the company only provides customized schedules, so the moment I arrived (in the midst of a fog crisis that wrecked three trains and delayed many other flights), I received a flurry of phone calls from the agency trying to breakneck figure out all of my reservations on the fly. I figured that, at the very least, I wasn’t doing any of that kind of stuff this time around.
When they said personalized, though, they definitely meant it. A driver picked me up from the airport and another drove me and my own tour guide all around the city of Delhi, rapid-fire attacking twenty monuments at a time with absolutely none left to waste. I quickly realized that Delhi is two distinct cities smashed into one. First, there is the semi-open, somewhat suburban cityscape with large buildings separated from each other in long and wide boulevards. Each of these buildings (in Delhi’s case, mostly government offices) is enormous and designed to give the viewer an idea of what it’s meant to do. This huge structure with a beautiful garden and gold trim on the gates? The President’s Palace, obviously. That super-massive and imposing brick and concrete building? The National Courthouses. Easy to figure out, and really not that surprising when you think about it.
Alongside these structures are huge and serene park spaces, most notably the site where Mahatma Gandhi’s ashes now rest. From the views these spaces provide, one would think that the city was all open and empty, but the other half of Delhi is maddeningly compact, filled to the point of overflow with vendors selling every brand of everything from everywhere in the world. Densely-packed in, Delhi feels like a city of history and marketplaces, although the two are very clearly different and separate parts of the city. At the very least, it was generally easy to figure out where each part of the city was ... there was some foresight, some planning, and some arrangement to give you a good idea of where you were and where you were going. Unlike Mumbai, it should have at least some bureaucratic organization to it. It is the capital of India.
Once my day-long rapid-fire Delhi experience came to an end, the long and interesting drive to the city of Agra was up. Agra, small relative to India’s mega-cities, is most famous for the Taj Mahal and least famous for their many other random entertainment venues designed to lure in hapless tourists such as myself. Luckily my driver/guide ended up being a hilarious and good-natured guy, and showed me where and what I should do while speaking throughout the trip about life, love, money, culture, and religion in India. Needless to say, he made the process of sitting in a car for six hours far more bearable.
The drive to Agra, past immense roadside marketplaces that overflowed onto the clogged highway, a gigantic statue of the Hindu God Shiva, several awkwardly congested road tolls, and lots of road interference from tractors and livestock, singlehandedly made me a convert to P3 Projects for new highways. These highway repairs cannot come fast enough, and busy roads between busy cities need highways where drivers won’t have to worry about a cow blocking the road in front of them.
site of Gandhi’s ashes
That said, it was interesting from a project management point-of-view to walk through the tomb of the King Akbar in Agra. The size and scope of that project was fantastic, and although King Akbar wasn’t able to complete his tomb by the time he died, you can trust me when I say that it was done right. And yet there is no other route to Agra from Delhi except for the congested one. Someday I’m sure that it’ll be built, but maybe the need for quick political payoff is keeping these kinds of road projects from getting as much attention as they clearly need. In the case of King Akbar, the payoff was death ... but I guess “smarter traffic management” isn’t something we can conceive of as inevitable. In terms of planning for a future without an immediate payoff, America obviously has the same problems.
At the end of the day, my guide/driver told me about a few fantastic shops in Agra with connected warehouses where they hand made marble furniture and beautiful carpets. Not fully adjusted to the time zone and having either been walking huge areas or sitting in endless traffic all day, I agreed to see the spaces but not to deal with incessant salesmen who desperately tried to convince me that paying $1,000 for a carpet was a steal. I guess you can only say “no” so many times before you just have to walk out of the store to prove you’re serious. Also, I’ll have to watch out for my driver from now on: he might be an awesome and hilarious dude, but he’s totally getting a kickback from these guys ... laughing it up with them outside of their store was definitely a red flag. I just should’ve seen it sooner.