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My husband and I were recently in Raipur, India for our son’s wedding, followed by a few days visiting our daughter-in-law’s friends and family in Mumbai.  The entire trip was an eye-opening experience and gave us an opportunity to see a country that makes up 12% of the DFA emerging market portfolio holdings.

India is second in total population to China, but its individual cities are even more populated than Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen China.  According to USA Today, Mumbai is the most densely populated city in the world, with 76,790 people per square mile and a total population of over 14 million people.  Four other Indian cities; Bangalore, New Delhi, Chennai, and Kolkata are included in the 20 largest in the world.  For comparison, not a single city in the United States ranks in the top 50.

All those people represent opportunities for companies looking to market their products.  China has the most cell phone users of all countries with 60% of its larger population owning a smart phone, and India ranks second, but only 25% of India’s population currently owns a smart phone.  Chinese companies such as Xiaomi, Oppo and Vita control 60% of the Indian market with Korea-headquartered Samsung controlling 20%.  Apple controls less than 3% of the market share with 5 other companies.

Walking in parts of Mumbai we were shoulder to shoulder with people, with passing buses crammed with riders and auto rickshaws racing motorcycles to fill in any spaces between vehicles.  Drivers stay left as they do in the U.K., but traffic rules are only considered guidelines.  On our first cab ride from the Mumbai airport to our hotel, my husband sat in the front seat next to our driver and let out an occasional yelp as we played chicken with oncoming vehicles.  He refused to sit in the front seat for the rest of our trip.

An unusual 27-story structure stood out in the skyline as we traveled around the city.  We learned the high-rise was a home, not a corporate headquarters, and is the second most expensive residence in the worldAntilia, built at an estimated cost of $1-2 billion dollars, is the home of Mukesh Ambani, the CEO of Reliance Industries.  Mr. Ambani took over management of the company from his father at his death, and continued to grow its energy, petrochemical, textile and natural resource subsidiaries into one of the largest conglomerates in the world.  Reliance is also one of the larger holdings in the DFA emerging market portfolios, but due to diversification the company still represents only .8% of the 12% the funds have invested in companies headquartered in India.

Banners advertising Jio, a Reliance Industries subsidiary, lined the Marine Drive financial district where our hotel, the surrounding beautiful art deco architecture, corporate office towers and ocean view made us feel like we were in Miami Beach.  The high-speed internet company is one of the major players in the technology space in the country.

We spent most of our meals enjoying the Indian cuisine of the region and had masala chai each morning to get our caffeine fix, but we did see Starbucks stores scattered around Mumbai.  Each location indicated that it was a joint venture with Tata, or Tata Consultancy Services, which is another of the top holdings in the DFA emerging market funds, representing .5%.  Tata is primarily a technology company that employs 418,000 people around the world – and has three offices in the greater Cincinnati area.  Its joint venture with Starbucks has worked to overcome the employment inequity that exists between men and women in the country, and recently celebrated a milestone of 29% female employment in its workforce.

The people we met and the areas of Raipur and Mumbai that we visited represented the well-educated and employed segments of society.  The country faces significant challenges finding opportunities for their young, well-educated men and women, and most parents our age have resigned themselves to the fact that their children will have to leave the country to find a better life.  At the wedding we met former classmates who now live in Australia, Germany, and the U.K. and come back home to see their families when they can.  The working class who were employed in textile factories in Mumbai and the cement and chemical factories in Raipur have also seen their jobs move to China, creating other economic challenges for the country.

But there was growth and optimism in areas like Naya Raipur, where the government has built an entirely new infrastructure of roads and underground utilities to allow new homes and businesses to expand.  The city is the seventh planned city designed by the Indian government and is intended to replace Raipur as the capital city of Chhattisgarh someday.  We drove through the streets, past the golf course, zoo and new homes and agreed it felt more like the West Chester, Ohio suburb our kids grew up in than central India.

While the 20 hours we spent in an airplane getting there wasn’t ideal, we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to India, and would encourage others to consider visiting places other than France, Italy and the other European countries that are typical international fare.  You’ll find that we are all far more alike than we are different.