The immensity of India Being a foreign writer in India may just be the best job in the world. As The Economist's South Asia correspondent, my brief is broad â€” and India is generous back to me. Free to potter in distant corners, i get to tell the world what i see going on. Outsiders have a great appetite to know. Nearly three years into my posting, four experiences strike me. The first, a rail journey, confirmed how diverse and big this place is. Around midnight one Saturday in January, in the chill of Dibrugarh, northern Assam, i boarded the weekly Vivek Express â€” the ninth-longest railway journey in the world â€” that ran broadly southwards for most of the next four days. We passed over 4,200 km, through 615 stations, across eight states. With no allotted berth, i hopped around as spaces became available. So i met a changing cast of characters, people patient with our slow trundle and with an inquisitive foreigner, who showed a side of India otherwise easily missed. Those aboard were neither the elite who flit by airlines, but nor were they the village-bound poorest. So i met members of an emerging middle class, its migrants: teachers returning from posts near the Bhutan border; soldiers on leave from the northeast; Assamese students heading to catering colleges in Kerala; patients from West Bengal making their way to hospitals in Tamil Nadu. By the following Wednesday when i stumbled on to the platform, squinting in the bright seaside sunshine of Kanyakumari, at India's southern tip, my notebook was stuffed with characters i would never otherwise have met. One hangs in my mind especially: a tipsy, talkative trader, who had sipped furtively on Old Monk rum for the entire length of India, who chattered about religion and told how he lived by trading coconuts. A second trip i`ll treasure, though i still feel the bumps from an awful road. This was a two-day drive from Guwahati, in Assam, up the Himalayan foothills to the Tibetan border town of Tawang. Its immense monastery, and various sites along the way, were unlike any other spot i've seen. Pristine, colourful, the light extra dazzling in the high altitude, with Buddhist prayer-wheels spinning and tinkling. It felt almost like stepping into a Tintin story. The looming presence of China over the border, and the whirl of Indian army helicopters, were reminders of its fragile peace. Other mountain trips have been thrilling, an interview with the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala especially. But Tawang sticks with particular intensity. The reason: seeing the incredible toil of thousands of people we met on the road, from women chipping at rocks with tiny picks, to soldiers guiding immense machinery that coaxed a winding track from the steep mountainside. Years of neglect of those roads meant less trade, tourism and migration by Indians to the remote, beautiful Arunachal Pradesh. Perhaps better ones will mean the end of its isolation: for the locals that should be welcome, though the region may lose some of its charm. To my friends back in Britain, i like to tell of a third experience that goes against outsiders` expectations of India. This was a day-long visit, in the steaming heat of July, to a sewage works and municipal rubbish dump in the city of Surat, Gujarat. Not so glamorous, i admit, but it was revealing. Over the years i`ve seen â€” and smelt â€” some unappealing things. A dawn boat ride on the Yamuna river in January was reminiscent of bobbing on an open sewer. The town of Gorakhpur, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, struck me as a vision of an apocalyptic environmental collapse, as cows munched on plastic litter. Even an otherwise delightful hike in Kashmir, joining pilgrims of the Amarnath Yatra, was blighted by mounds of smouldering rubbish. Yet on a sweltering day, guided by local officials, i toured the water works and municipal solid waste unit of Surat. To my surprise there were no flies, no smells, no litter. Given India`s immense ecological challenges, it was strangely thrilling to see how a booming town could manage its rubbish and its water supply. By burning trash and generating electricity, Surat also helps to power its water purification, helping restore the river to health. It is so rare in India to see a successful example of a well-run urban place. Others need to know about it, and to learn how some basic things can be done well. India will only develop fast, cut poverty, raise education, create much-needed tens of millions of jobs, once far more people live in cities. That will only happen once the cities are run properly. And my final, favourite experience? This i have repeated at least 100 times, at the end of all my other trips. It is coming back to Delhi after those journeys: seeing familiar sites and meeting friends, catching up on political gossip, passing the tombs on Delhi`s roundabouts, hearing the birdsong in my neighbourhood, even walking on those strange, brown carpets of Delhi airport. I may be an outsider in the city, but almost everyone else is one too. And with enough returns i can start to think of Delhi in an important way â€” as home. The writer is the South Asia bureau chief of The Economist. The immensity of India - The Times of India *************************************** An interesting commentary about India by a British correspondent of The Economist and of his train journey and his various travels within India.