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Bright and boisterous

Showing true colors – India celebrates “Holi”

Everyone went crazy, but it wasn’t a surprise. It happens every year, after all, on the first full moon in the Indian month of “Phalguna”. This year the festival fell on March 25 of the Gregorian calendar. We’re talking about India’s Holi festival, the most flamboyant, colorful and boisterous festival to be found anywhere on the whole continent. 

Two days when order is turned on its head

According to tradition, the Hindu festival of Holi commemorates the triumph of good over evil, in the form of the destruction of a demon woman named Holika, with the help of the Hindu god Vishnu, the preserver, who also liked to intoxicate village maidens with water and colorful pigments.

And while there are a number of other myths about the origins of this festival – one thing is always the same: for centuries Holi has stood for unrestricted boisterousness, the transgression of boundaries, overturning the rigid caste system, and therefore Hinduism’s sacred cosmic order, for just two days out of the whole year. Gender, age and caste make no difference on these days. All Indians are one. Anything is allowed. Everything is possible.

Here, at the largest street party in the world, people celebrate with exuberant dancing and music, cover each other with gulal, the famous vibrantly colored powder, and pour colored water by the bucketful from balconies or into thronging crowds of people.

Colorful and flamboyant, but with a dark side

The collection of names the diverse inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent have for this springtime festival is as rich as the festival is colorful. The term most often used in the West, “Holi”, is what the festival is generally called in North India and Nepal, but it is known by other names in other regions. But regardless of name, it is the vibrant highlight of the year everywhere.

Though it sounds like unbelievable fun and the pictures look amazing, an uglier side has grown more apparent over the past few years. Pigments that are increasingly synthetic and not, as they used to be, made from natural, plant-based ingredients can cause significant health problems, such as skin irritation and asthma attacks. Women often find themselves in dangerous situations in bustling colorful crowds, which has led to strongly worded safety warnings being issued or – rather dubiously – the imposition of curfews.

Between tradition and modernity – in transportation, too

One can often see the effects in India of the not entirely unproblematic transition away from long-established traditions, alongside the realities that come with being the second most populous country in the world.

One striking example: India’s infrastructure, which in large part still relies on the achievements of the colonial era. Although much has improved over the past 20 years, there is still a lot of catching up to be done. A representative example: in the World Economic Forum’s ranking of infrastructure quality, the subcontinent comes in 66st in 2023.

Change is urgently needed, given the fact that this is the most rapidly growing economy in Asia, with growing urbanization and an almost unbelievable expected population of 1.7 billion people by 2060. The Indian government has recognized this need and is planning massive infrastructure initiatives. The challenge is clearly gigantic.

Gigantic country with a gigantic transport network

Conveying goods by rail, road, air and sea is still rather inefficient. Rural locations are difficult and expensive to reach. Nevertheless, with a total length of 5.4 million km, India has the second-largest road network in the world, after the US. Admittedly, most of these streets are not paved, and the number of accidents on them is incredibly high. The government not only intends to build new roads, but also more traffic guidance systems, CCTV and electronic toll systems.

State-owned Indian Railways (IR) operates the fourth-largest railway network in the world, with around 66,000 km of track, and handles most of the country’s rail traffic. With an annual volume of cargo of over a billion tons, the company dispatches around 7,000 freight trains daily, transporting a staggering 1.4 billion tons of cargo each year.

Ever seen a double-stack container train?

“Dedicated Freight Corridors” (DFC) are a special feature of the Indian rail network that are meant to relieve the burden on existing lines. The first sections of the 1,504 km long Western Corridor and the 1,856 km long Eastern Corridor were opened to traffic in the fall of 2018. The first is meant to relieve the Mumbai–Delhi line and runs from Jawaharlal Nehru Port to Dadri, which is situated 35 km west of central Delhi in the federal state of Uttar Pradesh. The Eastern Corridor runs from Ludhiana in the northern state of Punjab via Dadri to Dankuni, near Kolkata. Both corridors were being opened in stages and got finished in 2020. The tracks are of course completely electrified, allowing for average speeds of 70 km/h and are used by double-stack trains. Moreover, new industrial and logistics centers are expected to be built along the corridors. The concept has already met with preliminary success and so it is no wonder that four additional corridors traversing the country’s length and breadth are already in the planning phase.

By water and by air

Insufficient infrastructure means that the full potential of inland waterway transport has not been fully exploited – in spite of the fact that the country boasts an impressive 9,200 km of navigable waterways. The water mark and flow rate are seldom consistent, and can be downright problematic given the monsoon, but some have started to think about this in a new way with an eye to harnessing the power of large rivers such as the Ganges and Brahmaputra. Last year saw a first container transport, and port facilities in many locations are being renovated and modernized.

At the same time, it is obvious that airports serving the country’s large cities have reached their limits. India is a market with great potential for the aviation industry. Domestic passenger volume alone increases constantly and that will also increase demand for associated infrastructure.

Logistics costs in India are relatively high overall. The government is investing intensively in transport infrastructure with good reason and aims to reduce bureaucratic red tape – no small feat in a country with 21 official languages and 29 relatively independent federal states. Be that as it may – everyone eventually shows their colors. And not just at the Festival of Colors.

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