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Malls with no roads: A photo journey through an Indian boomtown

Jamie Manley

There's no denying the fact that India's economy has come a long way in recent years.

Asia's third biggest economy now enjoys growth rates comparable to those of China, and all that torrid growth has helped lift 160 million of India's poorest people out of extreme poverty since 1993, according to figures from the World Bank. 

India's progress isn't always even, however. Like a teenager after a growth spurt, the country's economy has had growing pains. Throughout India, gleaming new developments butt up against stark poverty, and the country's infrastructure can barely keep up with the explosive growth of its cities. 

Jamie Manley saw this firsthand while helping develop solar energy projects in India as part of a yearlong fellowship with the International Innovation Corp. The California native is also an avid photographer, so he brought his camera along for the ride and came back with dozens of photos documenting the people and places India's growth has so far left behind.

Jamie shared the following photo essay with Global Citizen. Scroll down to see how India's rapid development is shaping the city of Gurgoan. 


India_development_photos_body_1.jpgA man checking his phone on Golf Course Road, Gurgoan. In the background, a Mercedes Benz dealership, microbrewery, Dell offices, and the skeleton of a new metro line look out over a barely-paved road.

When I first got off at the Sikanderpur metro stop in Gurgoan, I was greeted with a sweeping view of the surrounding area. “Gurgoan was supposed to show off the New India, but they forgot to remove all this,” a friend told me, gesturing to the shantytown and trash piles lined up next to the metro station. Of course, there’s plenty of New India in Gurgoan, too. Just behind the shantytown, Gurgoan’s “Mall Mile” stretched into the distance, filled with cafes, designer clothing stores, and hip restaurants. The rest of the night would further reinforce my friend’s observation: we took an auto rickshaw to a microbrewery in an ultra-modern glass building that also housed a Mercedes Benz dealership, but the road in front of the building was half asphalt, half dirt and was pitch dark because there was no street lighting. Inside the bar, we were greeted with IPAs and Miley Cyrus at full volume.   

India_development_photos_body_2.jpgAn informal open-air market alongside Gurgoan's "Mall Mile" - a stretch of malls built next to each other. Gurgoan has over 25 malls that largely cater to wealthier segments of the population.

Situated south of Delhi in the state of Haryana, Gurgoan sprouted up from farmland, and over the past 25 years the city has grown into a commercial center for Northern India. Today, half of all Fortune 500 companies have a presence in Gurgoan—drawing many middle and upper class professionals to the city. Gurgoan’s quick rise is attributed to a combination of cheap land, lax development regulations, and its proximity to Delhi. Much of the private land in Gurgoan was developed by DLF Limited, one of India’s largest private real estate developers, and it can sometimes feel like the company owns the entire city. A Gurgoan resident could easily live in DLF Phase IV (a residential colony), work in DLF’s Cyber City (an office complex, pictured below), and go out for dinner in DLF’s Grand Mall (or, alternatively, DLF’s Cyber Hub, which is attached to Cyber City). 

India_development_photos_body_3.jpgDLF's Cyber City, a private development with corporate offices and a large mall, rises above residential developments in Gurgoan. DLF Limited is one of the biggest real estate developers in India.

Private development transformed Gurgoan into the economic powerhouse that it is today, but it has also resulted in a city with practically no public infrastructure. Gurgoan is plagued by poor roads, insufficient waste disposal systems, weak power infrastructure, and a government that is struggling to fix it all. Inside a gated community or mall in Gurgoan, it is easy to forget that you are in a country where nearly 60% of the population lives on under $3.10 PPP a day—but step into a public space and you are immediately back in India.

Cambridge economist Amartya Sen warned that India is at risk of becoming, “half California, half Sub-Saharan Africa,” and this dynamic is abundantly clear in Gurgoan. These photos hope to show some of the perplexing scenes that one encounters on a daily basis in Gurgoan, with special focus given to the surreal transitions between the city’s public and private spaces. 

(If you’d like to read a more comprehensive description of Gurgoan’s development and the problems it faces today, I would highly recommend this New York Times article.)

India_development_photos_body_4.jpg... the roads outside Cyber City are still a work in progress.

India_development_photos_body_5.jpgThe gate to DLF's Cyber City, one of the largest private commercial developments in Gurgoan. The interior of Cyber City feels completely removed from the public areas that surround it.

India_development_photos_body_6.jpgA rickshaw peddles along a dusty highway in Gurgoan.

India_development_photos_body_7.jpgHigh winds kick up dust on Gurgoan's Golf Course Road. Many roads in Gurgoan are partially or completely unpaved, which contributes to poor air quality.

India_development_photos_body_8.jpgWorkers carry building materials along a road outside of Cyber City.

India_development_photos_body_9.jpgAmbience Mall in Gurgoan. Malls in Gurgoan are similar to malls you might find anywhere else in the world.

India_development_photos_body_10.jpgA storeowner in a shantytown behind DLF's Cyber City.

India_development_photos_body_11.jpgThe excise duty on alcohol in Gurgoan is considerably lower than in Delhi, which has allowed large liquor stores in Gurgoan to attract customers from across the state border. However, in March the state of Haryana announced a higher excise duty.

India_development_photos_body_12.jpgA stray dog outside of Cyber City. In 2015, an average of 28 people were bitten by dogs every day in Gurgoan.

India_development_photos_body_13.jpgLightning strikes above luxury high rise apartment buildings under construction in Gurgoan.

India_development_photos_body_14.jpgAmbience Mall in Gurgoan

India_development_photos_body_15.jpgCycle rickshaws and gas-powered auto rickshaws wait for customers outside of a metro stop in Gurgoan.

India_development_photos_body_16.jpgPratap, a security guard working in for a construction site in Gurgoan, stands on the median of Golf Course road.


Growth and development go hand in hand with ending extreme poverty, but only if they empower those in need. Go to TAKE ACTION and help power much-needed development for 50 million African citizens. 

Check out more of Jamie's work on Flickr