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A new theme park offers a Bollywood fantasy version of India, minus the dirt.
In that respect, Zangoora fits in snugly with the rest of the theme park. Billed as "an incredible Indian experience," the Kingdom of Dreams sales pitch hinges on community and tradition, just as Zangoora's main touchstone is the neighborhood productions of the Ramayana — called Ramlilas — which take place on the holiday of Dussehra. This month, for instance, the park's outdoor stage will feature nightly performances of Gujarati dandiya dances for the nine nights of the Hindu Navratri festival, punctuated with its own lavish Ramlila.
But as the slogan suggests — conjuring memories of the selective photography of the Ministry of Tourism's "Incredible India" ad campaign — the community offered here is an ersatz India that has been cleaned up for the upper middle class. And by all accounts, it's better than the real thing. The consensus: It's beautiful.
"It's a beautiful place," said Neha, a 23-year-old Delhi resident who'd come to celebrate her birthday with her boyfriend. "If you can say India has been summed up in just one place, under one roof, I would say that would be it."
Take the Kingdom's version of the Indian street. Culture Gully is an air-conditioned stage set with six themed restaurants, street food stalls, a massage center, an astrology complex, retail stores selling products from India's most iconic regions and — yes, Mahatma — three street bars. A false blue sky overhead ensures that it is always twilight, and there is no evidence of the real bazaar's thickets of dusty electrical wires and crumbling buildings.
Everything is clean and sparkling and colorful. At one end of the street, a houseboat from the backwaters of Kerala lies grounded on a playground's worth of white sand. Mid-way down, you can board a train bound for Mumbai's erstwhile Victoria Terminus (now called Chatrapati Shivaji), then step across the street for a Chennai filter coffee.
It's strangely unreal, and (actually) rather fun. But there's something disturbing, too, about the idea that an Indian street where everything works is such a popular fantasy — and charges about double the daily minimum wage for entry.