India / Living in India

Vizag: A City in Search of its Destiny

The tagline for Vizag, short for Visakhapatnam, is “City of Destiny”. A lofty tagline, though I am not entirely sure what destiny it is aiming for. For now it is a prominent city in the state of Andra Pradesh but I wonder what will happen once the new state capital is built at Amaravathi. Will Vizag chart a new path to maintain its prominence or will it fall by the wayside?

Though of course given the way things are and the speed at which things happen here, I imagine that will be some way into the future (an astute waiter at a local hotel told me things here take time because “that’s democracy”). For now, it is a city in search of its destiny.

The other day, a local business manager shared an amusing hypothesis of why there is no McDonalds in this city. Apparently, the presence of McD is a good barometer of how developed a city is and the lack of one is a good way to start a presentation that explains lacklustre performance. The hypothesis? McD in India is divided into North & East, and South & West. The two groupings are managed and operated separately. His cheeky opinion is that Vizag quite possibly fell in between the cracks. It is not in the north and neither is it considered east which are mainly the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Odisha, even though it is technically on the eastern side of the peninsular. It is in the southern state of Andra Pradesh but it is really located in the north-most part of the state, and of course it is not west. Almost seems like an identity crisis and a compelling explanation of why there is no McD here (though I am sure it is not the real reason).

I am still trying to understand the city. My Indian friends back home were not familiar with it and a colleague who was from India only told me it was “a lousy city”, whatever that means. Lonely Planet was not helpful too and provided two measly paragraphs which almost suggested that tourists should skip the city. To that end, I hardly see foreign tourists here. Most foreigners are either here on a work trip, conference or visiting friends/family. It makes me stand out like a sore thumb – being stared at every time I step out of the apartment is the expected norm.

To a foreigner, the city is isolating – it is neither friendly nor threatening, it just excludes you because relationships are built over connections and community groups and if you have neither, you are just a passing object of curiosity. I am hoping that if I could find a local community group to be a part of, this might be less of an issue in future.

My impression of Vizag so far is that it is a fairly unremarkable city but I do not mean it negatively. It is a functioning working class city – comfortable enough, not too chaotic – with limited tourist sites even though it has its temples, hill stations and beaches. When tourists visit India, I guess they want to see the best, the quintessential, the exotic, and for better or worse, Vizag has none of these. It also does not have the chaos, the pollution and the touts that are present in some of these other more popular Indian tourist destinations. The city infrastructure is also not so taxed, reducing the likelihood of blackouts and other ills associated with overcrowding.

So to friends who are thinking of visiting, I will say that India has a lot to offer but sadly, it is not in Vizag. To substantiate my point, I was on route back to Vizag from Trivandrum and the airport security officer looked at my e-ticket and went “Vizag? Really? Why?”

That said, I found parts of the city to be rather charming like the fish market – authentic and real – though it is more for dried fish than fresh seafood. I am looking forward to taking a closer look at it but for now, here is a small glimpse of the small fishing industry.

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