It was my first visit to India and I'd followed all the clichd advice: don't drink the water, be careful what you eat, and if you get into a local taxi, say a little prayer and hope God is listening. For five days, my trip was trouble-free, until I decided to party.
I've always believed you can learn a lot about a country by going out and getting drunk in its bars. Alcohol is a great leveler (in many different ways) and you're often surprised by where you end up and who with. On this occasion, I found myself at a Mumbai house party thrown by a Dutch diplomat at five in the morning.
Three hours later, I woke up to catch my flight. This was a bad moment. My head felt like it had spent an hour in a juicer and my stomach was trying to flee my body. Six vomits later, the haze started to clear and I knew I was in trouble. My pathetic state was not just the product of a JD too many-I had caught the dreaded Delhi Belly.
Somehow I dragged myself to the airport and onto the plane, but the 10-hour flight home was the longest of my life. It was four days before I was able even to consider a slice of toast. If you want to lose weight, forget all that no-carb, bio-digestive nonsense-just catch a flight to Mumbai. I lost eight pounds.
On the face of it, my experience would appear to confirm the traditional stereotype of India as a land of poverty, chaos and suspect hygiene. But behind the shabby veneer lies a country on the march. While the media has focused on China's economic renaissance, India has quietly got on with the job of turning itself into a significant global force.
In the industrial city of Pune, I met Dilip Chhabria, India's equivalent of Enzo Ferrari. Chhabria once worked in the US for GM, leaving in 1993 to found DC Design. His big break came nine years later, when Aston Martin asked him to build the Vantage concept car-shown at the Detroit auto show in January 2003.
More concept car work followed, but DC also moved into luxury goods. Wealthy individuals or companies can commission a one-off design, be it a supercar, the interior of a private jet or a plush motorhome.
Recently, DC re-bodied a Rolls Royce Silver Spirit for a rich Indian living in London. The guy already had a Lamborghini Murcilago and a Bentley Arnage, but he wanted something different. Such projects would cost millions in the West, but Chhabria reckons most of his customers spend $300,000 to $400,000.
He took me on a tour of his workshops, which were an untidy mass of humanity, tools and debris. "We have 30 projects on the go at any one time, so we don't have time for housekeeping," he says. If this were the States, the Heath & Safety bureaucrats would have shut it down in minutes.
DC staffers are paid $17 an hour, which Chhabria claims is more than "an Indian senior manager receives-the people are hungry and aspirational. No one is afraid to work an 80-hour week." He has no trouble finding labor or money. "Getting money is the easiest thing. Pininfarina might struggle to raise $100 million, but I wouldn't."
Chhabria might need all that money and more if he's to realize his most ambitious project to date: the production of his very own supercar. This is no fanciful vision-he's already invested $2 million and hired an ex-Lotus employee to develop the chassis in England.
The engine, a supercharged 4.2-liter V8, is being sourced from Jaguar. This is the 420-hp engine used in the XKR, but here it'll be tuned to develop over 500 hp. The car will also use the same six-speed ZF automatic gearbox as the Jag.
In essence, this will be a European supercar, styled and built in India. "It will be a two-door, mid-engine coupe, and it will be as big as a Murcilago," says Chhabria. "We have no brand, so the car must be gorgeous-looking and have great quality."
He hopes to have a prototype running by the end of the year and the car could make its debut at the Geneva auto show next March. The target price, no more than $60,000 to $70,000, is roughly half the European price of an XKR.
DC's bathroom might have a nasty case of damp, but the business is growing at a rate of 25 percent per year. "What the Italians do in 10 years, we can do in one," he says, and you almost believe him. India's "greater focus on individuality" might also give it a key advantage over China.
Ten years ago, the idea of an Indian supercar would have sounded absurd, but nobody's laughing now. Don't be too surprised if, in 20 years' time, you find a copy of Indian Car sitting beside this magazine on the newsstands. It's not just the curry that's giving Europe's car bosses a dose of the shits.