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The Warsaw Voice » Other » February 4, 2009
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Affinity and Diversity
February 4, 2009   
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Chandra Mohan Bhandari, India's ambassador to Poland, talks to Hilary Heuler.

What are the primary fields of cooperation between India and Poland?
India and Poland enjoy wide-ranging and close bilateral relations. Both countries regularly exchange visits of ministers and senior officials, and visits of heads of state also occur on a regular basis. There is a close affinity between the two peoples because they share common family values and both have rich cultural heritages. Polish universities have Indian Studies programs and two Hindi and Tamil professors are maintained at Warsaw University at the expense of the Indian government. Poland also maintains a Polish language professor in Delhi University at its own expense. Bollywood films provoke a great deal of interest in Poland, and the flow of tourists is increasing in both directions every year.

Is trade between the two countries still on the rise, or has it been negatively affected by the financial crisis?
Trade and economic relations have continued to increase, and there have been bilateral investments as well. But it's true that the financial crisis in the Western world and resulting economic slowdown has indirectly affected the Indian economy. The GDP growth rate for 2008 has been scaled down to about 7.5 percent (compared to 9 percent or more in previous years). Despite that, bilateral trade, which was already over 800 million dollars in 2007, is likely to cross the billion-dollar mark in 2008.

Do you find there's a growing interest in India as a tourist destination for Poles? Are Indians also coming to Poland as tourists, and if so, what are they coming to see?
India is an enigma of sorts to foreign visitors. They find it no less than a miracle that 1.15 billion people with diverse languages, religious practices, and ethnic traditions, and with a sizable rich-poor divide, can still unite in a secular democratic framework and provide socio-economic stability to the entire sub-continent.

The 5,000 years of Indian history is vividly on display at archaeological sites, in historical monuments and in living cultures and religious practices. The past contrasts strikingly with the highly developed technological, industrial and business centers of modern India. Then there are also the contrasting images of the urban centers and the traditional villages. Modern lifestyles are contrasted against classical music, dances and costumes, and high-end consumer society is contrasted against the very basic means of the poor masses and tribal people. All of this needs be explored. It is no wonder that tourists are flocking to India in larger and larger numbers every year, and Poles are no exception.

The middle class of India is rapidly growing, and this, along with India's expanding air-connectivity with the rest of the world, has encouraged Indians also to explore overseas destinations. Poland's entry into the Schengen Zone nearly a year ago has boosted the country's attractiveness for more and more Indian tourists, who come to Poland to re-live a part of WWII history. But Indians are also coming to Poland for higher education and economic opportunities. There are many Indian-Polish couples now who are living with their families in Poland, and family visits in both directions are on the rise.

What do you personally think a traveler to India should absolutely not miss?
Travelers to India should not miss visiting the Himalayas, exploring rural India, tasting traditional Indian cuisine and shopping. But India is too large to be covered in a single trip. So, I would suggest that you focus on one region or one theme at a time, and explore India's wealth through its diversity.
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