The PM's headline-grabbing plane breakdown meant a scheduled function at New Zealand's High Commission turned into something of a salvage job.

With the Mumbai leg of the trip canned, some of what was to be run through at an event was tacked on to the High Commission reception in Delhi the next night.

But despite the embarrassing delay in the PM and his business delegation getting to India, guests at the reception could reflect on how far NZ-Indian relations have come.

In the same spot in 1983 a Kiwi media contingent on an official visit found and made headlines out of Babu Gomes, the site's caretaker.

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The Prime Minister at the time, Sir Robert Muldoon, had a year earlier made the shock decision to close its High Commission in Delhi, following tensions with Indira Gandhi over New Zealand's sporting contact with apartheid-era South Africa.

A low point in the countries' relationship was worsened when New Zealand attempted to sell the land allocated to it at a peppercorn rental for its diplomatic compound.

That process was frustrated by the Indian Government, and Gomes was in the meantime paid by New Zealand to look after the land 24 hours a day.

After being interviewed by the New Zealand press pack, he was dubbed "New Zealand's man in India".

The relationship was put back on track by Labour Prime Minister David Lange, who in 1985 appointed Sir Edmund Hillary as High Commissioner to New Delhi.

His Government also started the process for the new diplomatic chancery, opened in 1992 and fronting the renamed Sir Edmund Hillary Marg and Tenzing Norgay Marg.

After Lange's 1985 visit, Helen Clark followed in 2004, and Key is now back for his second visit.

It has in many ways covered old ground - New Zealand's desire to give our exporters access to a market of $1.3 billion protected by steep tariffs, and differences over India's nuclear policy.

Despite Key's optimism after his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the quest for a free-trade agreement, in its 10th round of negotiations, shows no sign of bearing fruit.

But talk to people like former Black Cap Geoff Allott, who despite tariffs of up to 150 per cent has got NZ lamb chops and wine into India's top hotels, and the message is clear: getting a result in India takes patience and face-to-face contact.

In a telling and unprompted comment to New Zealand media after his meeting with Modi, Key admitted he probably hadn't visited India enough as PM.

"I personally think if you had to roll the clock forward in a decade and ask yourself, where is India going to sit, it's going to be a very, very significant player," he went on to say, in explaining why changing that will matter.

A few more ministers could stop off in India too (flying commercial). There have been seven ministerial visits to India since 2012 - compared to about 40 to China.

Closer economic ties go some way to explaining that imbalance, and it's not of course only on New Zealand to improve links.

But the trade opportunities, not to mention the 170,000 Kiwi Indians shaping modern New Zealand, calls for faster acceleration away from the time we left the Indian subcontinent to the caretaker.

NZ-INDIA TIMELINE


• World War II

- Indian and Kiwi soldiers fight in the North Africa and Italian campaigns, including together at El Alamein and Monte Cassino.

• 1953 - Sir Edmund Hillary's Everest ascent makes him a household name in India. Sir Ed would later be appointed NZ's High Commissioner in New Delhi.

• 1955 - New Zealand plays its first cricket test in India.

• 1982 - NZ Prime Minister Robert Muldoon signs-off on shock decision to close the High Commission in Delhi, amid tensions with Indian leader Indira Gandhi.

• 1992 - New chancery in New Delhi opened.

• 2010 - Negotiations for a free trade agreement start.

• Now - Prime Minister John Key makes second official trip to India to try to give momentum to the FTA negotiations that have gone 10 rounds without result.