What’s the deal with the Delhi Games?

September 23, 2010 in India, Social/Political Commentary, Sport, Travel by pacejmiller

The collapsed footbridge (source: cnn.com)

I haven’t used my blog to rant for a little while, so I thought I’d give the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games a go.

With a little over a week before the opening ceremony, all we’ve been hearing in the news lately is how awful everything is.  First there was the footbridge that collapsed, injuring around 30 people.  Then there was the ceiling that collapsed.  Today, pictures of a shocking looking athlete’s village were unveiled, with disgusting toilets, animal stains on beds and filth just about everywhere.  And of course, there’s the constant reminders of the potential terrorist activities, which has caused athletes to pull out and whole countries to delay or reconsider (today there was a report about heightened dangers because terrorits have abandoned mobile phones).

Seriously, are things really that bad?  Every single time there is a major sports event, there will always be media reports of things going wrong, things being rushed to completion and security scares (especially since 9/11) — from memory there were definitely such concerns at Beijing, Athens and even Sydney back in 2000.  I recall similar things for the Olympics at Atlanta, Barcelona and the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

So is this just another case of the media blowing things out of proportion?  And let’s not ignore that these concerns may stem from the fact that a lot of people have a preconceived image of India that is not very flattering.

But let’s put things in perspective here.  For starters, we’re still 9 days away from the start of the Games.  As many of us know, the majority of the touching up and cleaning of the venues are done right at the last minute — there’s no way they would allow athletes to live in rooms like the ones we’ve seen in the pictures.  You can’t expect a place still in the thick of the construction to look spotless (though the animal prints are undoubtedly a cause for concern).

Source: smh.com.au

Source: smh.com.au

Secondly, papers were quick to point out that the ceiling of a venue had collapsed, but the reality is, it was a ‘false’ ceiling, a temporary thing while they connected the cables.  On the other hand, the bridge collapse has no excuse, even if it was still being worked on.

And thirdly, you’re always going to have terrorist threats at major sporting events.  The problem with India, however, is that the threat is not only very real, the potential terrorists have also been very vocal in disseminating their warnings.

So yes, Delhi is encountering common problems with an event of this kind, but they do appear to be having more difficulties than expected (or was all of this expected?).

Will everything be ready in time for the opening ceremony in 9 days?  I’m pretty confident it will be.  There’s just too much at stake here for Delhi to stuff this up.

I remember when I was there in mid-June and the city was a chaotic, dusty mess with workers working around the clock and sleeping on the sides of the streets in tents.  Looking at how far everything was from completion, I asked our driver whether it was going to be problematic getting things finished in time.

He nodded confidently and said, “Of course.  It’s a 24 hour, 7 days a week project.  Failure is not an option.”

I believed him then and I still believe him now.  The whole world (well, at least the Commonwealth countries) is watching and much like it was for Beijing, they’ll make sure whatever needs to get done is done and done in time.  It’ll go down to the wire but it’ll happen.  Besides, with what seems like an infinite number of people over there, surely they have the requisite manpower to put things in order.

Let’s hope so, anyway.

Indian Journey Finale: India in Pictures

July 19, 2010 in India, Travel by pacejmiller

The spectacular Taj Mahal

Well, my Indian journey finally came to a close after my last meal at Bukhara.  It was a relatively short trip with the wedding in Hyderabad and a brief stay in Delhi with a day-trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

I wouldn’t say India is for everyone, that’s for sure, but it was certainly an eye-opening experience that I’ll remember for a very long time.  Here is the finale of my Indian journey — in pictures.

(to see the pictures click on ‘more…’)

Read the rest of this entry →

Indian Journey Part XVI: Bukhara!

July 18, 2010 in Food, India, Travel by pacejmiller

For lovers of Indian cuisine, no visit to Delhi is complete without a trip to the “world famous” Bukhara, named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world and the finest in Asia by Restaurant magazine.

As pigs, we of course made the special trip to ITC Maurya New Delhi Hotel, where the restaurant is situated.  It was going to be our last meal in India, so we decided we might as well have the best.  We mentioned it to Kumar (our driver) and he gave us one of the biggest smiling head wobbles of all time.

(to read on and see the pics click on ‘more…’)

Read the rest of this entry →

Indian Journey Part XV: Shopping Heaven!

July 12, 2010 in India, Travel by pacejmiller

Photo from Panoramio

The last place I expected to be shopping (and actually buying things) was in Delhi.  However, if you know where to go, you might be shocked that the malls in Delhi have almost everything you can buy from your home country, but significantly cheaper!

Getting there wasn’t easy.  In my last India post I mentioned how tour guides love to take you to their “special” places to shop, regardless of whether you actually asked for it or not.  And so it was somewhat of a struggle in getting our driver Kumar to agree to take us to what must have been one of the biggest shopping complexes in Delhi.

So this is how it went down.

After driving around Delhi all day, we were sick of the heat (even in a slightly faulty air conditioned car) and just wanted to relax.  Kumar’s biggest mistake was that he drove us past this megamall , which is really a cluster of giant shopping malls.  One of them was called Select City Walk.  Next to that was MGF Metropolitan.  Beside that, DLF Place.  Each one was bigger than the one before it.  All of them are along the same strip, which I believe is Press Enclave Marg in Saket.  If you can’t find it then ask to go to the Sheraton New Delhi or Hard Rock Cafe or Hilton Garden Inn because it’s around about there.

Anyway, we told Kumar that we wanted to shop (and by that we meant proper shopping, not souvenir shopping.  We said we wanted to buy branded goods.  There was no mistaking our intention.  Kumar said he knew “just the place”.

After a long drive he pointed to what looked like a cross between a tiny court house and dilapidated brothel on the other side of the road and said that it was the shopping palace he wanted to take us to.  One look at the place and our alarm bells were ringing.  It looked nothing like the mall we drove past earlier in the day.

We cringed and said no thanks, we want to go to a proper mall to shop for casual clothes, shoes, stuff like that.  Kumar then said we should go back to where his office was (a local shopping strip), the exact place where he told us was too dusty because of the Commonwealth Games renovations and was full of hustlers trying to rip you off.  There’s lots of branded stuff there, he insisted.

No thanks, we said again.  Just take us back to that mall we saw earlier.

Oh THAT mall.  That mall is too far.  It’s out of the city (even though we only drove past it again 20 minutes ago).  We should go back to somewhere near the city centre, near our hotel (because we had dinner reservations at 7pm).  There’s lots of nice shopping places near our hotel that sell traditional Indian clothes, scarves and jewellery.

No, we don’t want traditional Indian goods.  And it’s only 2:30pm.  Take us to the mall!

As you wish, Kumar said with a fake smile.

When we saw the mall again after some of the slowest driving I’ve ever witnessed, we knew for sure we had made the right decision.  This was what we were taking about!

The thing with Indian shopping malls (actually, hotels and offices too — pretty much any enclosed building) is that they have metal detectors that you have to walk through.  I wouldn’t mind it so much had it been a real attempt to ensure the safety of the patrons, but it was nothing more than just keeping up appearances.  You are almost always guaranteed to set the thing off, and then some security guard will pat you up and down.  There is a separate one for the ladies, but if there is no female security guard for the body search then they just let you through anyway.

The inside of the mall was a different world.  It really was.  Outside, it was 45 degrees plus.  Dust filled the air, cars, buses and tuk tuks zig zagged the roads, people slept on the streets and poverty raged right before your eyes.  Inside, it is icy cool.  Everything is clean and tidy.  Everybody is well-dressed in fashionable outfits and all smiles.  The contrast is remarkable and frightening.

But if you can put your guilt aside, these malls are truly a shopping heaven.  All the shops and brands you look for back home are there.  Look, I’m a bit embarrassed because I don’t know/remember a lot of them, but I’m sure I’ve seen them around!  I’m certain I saw brands like Mango, Mothercare, The Body Shop, Tommy Hilfiger, Crocs, Levi’s, Nike, Rebook, Swarovski and Zara (for full list click here).  And that’s just one of the malls.

The best part about it all is that the prices (or at least the prices I encountered) are dirt cheap compared to those in Western countries.  Say a pair of Pepe Jeans might cost around $200 back home, but in India it would cost me around $60-$80 for the same pair (or what I think is the same pair…).  I’m not making this up.

And so it became a redemptive exercise of trying to buy as much cheap stuff as possible to make up for all the years of getting ripped off in Australia and the UK.

Unfortunately, time rushed by us like a flowing tap and before we knew it we had already been there for more than two hours.  And we had only seen two of the many malls there.

Tricked by Kumar’s statement that we needed some time to get back to the hotel and then to the restaurant (which I will detail in our next post), we headed back to the car a little after 5pm.

Darn it.  I wish we had more time.  A full day there and I wouldn’t have to buy anything back home for the rest of the year!

Indian Journey Part XIV: Delhi in a Day

July 10, 2010 in India, Travel by pacejmiller

Roadside markets in Delhi

It’s impossible to see any city in a day, but we gave it our best shot when we only had a solitary day to see as many sights in Delhi we could.  Luckily for us, we had our own driver (Kumar) who could take us wherever we wanted (within reason).  Besides, after almost suffering heat stroke on our long day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal the day before, all we wanted to do was go to a landmark, take some happy snaps, and then get back in the air conditioned car to have some more water.  We were confident we could do it.

(to read on, click on ‘more…’)

Read the rest of this entry →