The Taj Mahal is truly a wonder of this world. Few such monuments are as spectacular in the flesh as they appear in the glossy travel brochures. But the Taj is the exception. Its beauty is breathtaking as it shimmers in the Indian sunshine; it changes color as the day progresses; and by moonlight, it is beyond description.
But like the rest of India, within meters of this piece of stunning architecture are the most abject poverty, the most appalling conditions and the most diabolical infrastructure.
With the world's second-largest population - approaching a billion people - and large, well-educated middle class, it would not be unreasonable to expect India to have a much higher level of sanitation. But the adage 'Don't drink the water, eat salad or any fruit you can't peel yourself' still holds true.
It's no surprise then that the awaited explosion in the car industry still has not happened. To date, poor roads and almost universally low incomes have prevented the rapid growth many had predicted. Total car sales at the end of this year are expected to be just 450,000.
The smart money is shifting back toward China, but the potential in India remains considerable, making it one of the most highly contested areas of the developing automotive industry. There already are 14 vehicle manufacturers with wholly owned or joint venture facilities here.
Given the problems the country still has, why are they doing it? Just take a look at the statistics: The ratio of cars per head is one of the lowest in the world at nearly four cars per 1,000 people.
To put this is in perspective, Thailand has about 100 cars per 1,000 people, Mexico about 140 and most Western European countries between 500 and 600. Bringing India up to the average ownership level of developing countries (39 vehicles per 1,000) would require the sale of more than 35 million vehicles.
According to the latest figures from the Society of Indian Automotive Manufacturers, a rapid rise in sales could be just around the corner. In the second quarter of 1999, car sales increased 38 percent, to 129,418, over the same period last year.
But then again, it could be just another false dawn. Although India relaxed its rules on foreign investment and ownership, leading to the rapid development of wholly owned and joint venture facilities, the paperwork involved is a labyrinth. They say the British introduced bureaucracy to India, and the Indians perfected it.
Even if car sales were to explode, there still is nowhere to put vehicles, and traveling by road is no fun. Most road surfaces are bad enough to shake the fillings out of your teeth.
As we stand on the verge of the 21st century, India is a country, in many respects, still waiting to burst into the 20th. It will get there, though. Workers in some of the most modern automotive factories in the world are probably better educated overall than anywhere else.
One abiding memory for this English reporter was catching site of a group of young boys playing cricket on a piece of waste ground. Here amongst the squalor, one of them bowled a devilishly fast ball that pitched short, heading for the batsman's head - until it was met with the most technically perfect hook shot, the likes of which you never would see on the playing fields of Eton. There is little doubt there is plenty of talent in this country.
International Editor Chris Wright visits India on a regular basis.