India, May 1, 2010
The New Delhi mass transit system "Metro" is a modern Taj Mahal in its beauty, scale, and achievement for the nation of India. This I have come to believe after riding it through the city center and visiting its newest stations, still under construction.
First the act of riding the New Delhi Metro system
Unlike so much in India, the New Delhi metro system is amazingly efficient. You can buy a ticket from the automated kiosk or from a station attendant. Prices are dirt cheap - maybe $0.30 per ride, anywhere along the system. And well worth the money.
Each station I visited was modern and clean, with smart kiosks' on the main level selling every item subway rider could need. Then the trains themselves were sleek and fast, whisking me to my destinations in less time that it took to haggle with a taxi driver.
Now there were odd moments - like the mandatory pat down by security officers (with separate lines for men and women) and the often maddening lack of signage to lead you to a metro station to start your journey.
Next, the accomplishment of construction
The New Delhi subway and elevated track system is not being built in a rural area - this is one of the most densely populated location on earth, and the construction process is on a grand scale. Each station is a city into itself - either underground or in the sky.
To create the mass transit system, there is as much destruction - of homes, communities, society, and construction of new rail lines, stations, and supporting infrastructure. And yet even here there is beauty.
I look at the intricate latticework of the scaffolding and I am reminded of the marble screens in the Taj Mahal. I see the elevated track lifted into place by giant steel insects and I imagine the same ingenuity to align each tower and dome of the Taj Mahal complex.
Finally, the benefit to India herself
Few tourists are transit foamers like I am, so I doubt that the New Delhi mass transit system will be worthy of a pilgrimage like the Taj. Yet there still will be queues to get in, a reverence for its presence, and few in New Delhi will feel they could live without it once its in heavy usage.
For while mass transit in itself isn't sexy, its very practical. And when I can cross New Delhi in 20 minutes, in air conditioned comfort far removed from traffic jams and sprawl, I am in awe as much as the Taj Mahal.