6/3/2009 to 6/10/2009 | India , Uttar Pradesh

Lucknow: Hell ain’t got nothin’ on the U.P. in June

Is this Hell? No it’s the UP (Uttar Pradesh) in June, a slight variation on the “Field of Dreams” line that has gone through my head these past few days. My journey started out promising, boarding a micro (mini-vans that ferry people around Kathmandu like city buses) nearly as soon as I left my hotel, getting me to the Kathmandu bus station early in the morning where I immediately hopped on a bus heading to the border town of Sunauli. Thoughts dance through my head about how good my timing was, and doing the math adding up the hours of the journey I knew well, I figured I may get to Gorakhpur in India by 5:00 pm that afternoon. Those blissful thoughts fleeted in a hurry as the bus came to a stop just outside the Kathmandu valley. The Maoist were upset that they had recently been cut out of the government, when after the attempted firing of a General all of the other parties allied against them to form a collation which excluded the Maoist. Nepali politics is a lot like a Beverly Hills Kindergarten class, full of spoiled brats, and the Maoist are the most spoiled of the spoiled brats. In true Kindergarten fashion, when they can’t have their way, then they just pickup there toys and go home and make sure they can inconvenience as many others as possible in the process. In this case they had decided to shut down the roads without announcing it before hand, which is the usual common courtesy with Nepal’s frequent transportation strikes. Thugs put stones across the road and threaten to beat, break, and or torch any vehicle trying to cross. In most countries such a stunt would land the perpetrators in jail but this is Nepal, where it is government by “Thugocaracy.” So everyone waits and just accepts it. The road was shut until five which meant my hopes of reaching Gorakhpur by evening vanished. I even tried walking through the road block and then hitching on the other side but there were no vehicles going anywhere, I later learned it was a nation wide strike. After 9 hours of sitting around because the Maoist act like little kids with goon squads when they don’t get what they want (I don’t like the Maoist by the way in case you haven’t noticed), we finally got going again and I made it to the border at about midnight. I stayed the night at an overprice place a few hundred feet from the border. Lodging was in short supply because so many had been stranded by the strike so I had to take what I could get. I even took the slightly more expensive room since I saw it had a TV, and my beloved Los Angeles Lakers were playing in the NBA finals the next morning. It turned out the TV didn’t have ESPN, making it pretty much useless to me so I just left for the border after I woke the next morning.

Arriving in India, I boarded a bus to Gorakhpur (by the way it was hot, real hot), and the bus was packed way beyond capacity, typical of nearly every Indian bus. At least I had a seat, and it was even an ok seat, in the front by a window. The flow of air through the window while the bus was moving made the journey just tolerable, but when the bus stopped the heat was intense. At least we were moving most of the time, but then we stopped. The road was closed ahead because of an accident. Fortunately unlike Nepal where there is one road and if it’s closed there is no way around, the bus driver was able to pick his way through farm roads to get around the closer. Nevertheless, the detour prolonged the journey. I finally reached to Gorakhpur to find that they had moved the reservation office a 1 km down the road from the station, so I trekked down to the reservation office in the heat (did I mention it was hot, real hot), waited in line for an hour only to find out I couldn’t get a ticket today or tomorrow, well tomorrow the only thing I could get was a 2 AC for 1,200 INR (~$25) as opposed to the 250 INR (~$5) for the sleeper class that I usually take. So I hiked back to the station and asked the tourist information lady if there were buses to Delhi, very nice lady assured me there were deluxe sleeper buses available (info that turned out to be wrong but at least she was nice when giving me the wrong information).

At the bus station I was told there were no buses from Gorakhpur but I could go to Lucknow and there would be many nice buses from there. I hopped on another bus and headed to Lucknow, which I was told would be about 7 hours (nope). I figured I could get Lucknow and then take a bus to Delhi that same night. I left Gorakhpur at 1pm. Another long hot bus ride (did I mention it was hot, real hot). I got to Lucknow about 11 pm (that’s 10 hours not 7 by my math), oh yeah and I ended up not eating either, I was so busy running around trying to find a way out of Gorakhpur it slipped my mind. I finally got a couple of samosas on the bus when the bus stopped for a train crossing. It turned out there were no buses to Delhi from the bus station I arrived at and I had to go to another one. By the way UP is the Hindi heartland and they seem to hate putting signs in English or speaking it for that matter, making finding correct information all the more challenging. I did meet a number of very helpful people; it’s just unfortunate that the helpful information they offered was wrong in every single case. I went by shared rickshaw to the other bus stand for 50 rupees I would end up making this trip a lot and later realized by breaking it up half way at the train station I could do it for 13 rupees in shared rickshaws. Anyway I got to the other bus stand (no delux buses just run of the mill Gov buses). There was a mob of people trying to get to Delhi. The buses were supposed to leave every half hour but were clearly not. When one finally showed up it was attacked by the mob and the seats were devoured like crops by a plague of locusts. I surmised even if I did mange to get on a bus that night it would certainly not be a comfortable night. I decided to find a room, and get a bus in the morning when according to a Lucknow local nice volvo buses would leave from the first station I had arrived at around 6:00 am.

I took a shared rickshaw back to the train station area to look for a cheap place to crash for the night. It was 12:30 am. I had started at 5:00 am from the Nepal border. After a couple of “all fulls,” code for we don’t take foreigners because our dump of a hotel is not suitable for rich people like you, I found the manager of one such hygienically challenged establishment who was willing to give me a room for 150 rupees, half of my best offer thus far. The cubical at least had two fairly high powered fans to go along with the beetle nut chew spit stained walls, so I took it.

I woke up early, took a shared rickshaw to the first bus stand (5 rupees, I was getting the prices down now) only to find out there were no buses from there to Delhi, I’d have to go back to the other bus stand. So back to the train station and change autos to the second bus stand again (13 rupees total just like a local). This time I’m told there is no bus until 10:30 am and the bus goes to a station in Delhi which is actually 13 km from Delhi, so I’d get there at midnight and have to find a way into town, being at the mercy of Delhi’s notoriously unscrupulous rickshaw wallahs, not a very appealing prospect (still no mysterious deluxe Volvo buses). I decided to head back and try the train. After walking around for a while, it was getting hot and I was lugging all of my luggage around with me (did I mention it was hot, real hot), I found the reservation center. It did not open until 8:00 am and it was 7:00 am now, but there was already a mob waiting outside being held back by 5 soldiers armed with assault weapons. I pulled the “I’m white card” and walked past the gun toting soldiers to talk with the head soldier. I asked if I could see a supervisor in order to find out if I could get foreign tourist quota seats here. They let me in to wait in the building so that I was first in line when the counters opened. The only seat I could get though was 2 AC, 802 INR, 400 rupees less than Gorakhpur, so the bus ride saved me 250 rupees. I resigned and took the seat. After nearly 2 years in India I would take my first AC class trip on an Indian train. With my transportation set I checked my bag in the cloak room and left to explore Lucknow, a place I had wanted to see although I would have preferred it not be during this season, it was hot (did I mention it was hot, real hot). In the morning, I checked out the remains of the residency destroyed during the Mutiny of 1857, or as Indian historians like to rename it in a bit of rosy revisionist history “The first war of independence.” In the afternoon I visited a few of the monuments dating from Lucknow’s cultural highpoint as the home of the Nawabs of Avadh, including the fairly impressive 18th century tomb and mosque complex of Bara Imambara. I’ve now been to Lucknow, a nice enough place but I’m sure I would have in enjoyed it more in a different season, and under different circumstances (did I mention it was hot, real hot).

2 comments to Lucknow: Hell ain’t got nothin’ on the U.P. in June

  • I was there in June too and you’re right it was way too hot! I stayed at my friend’s house for two weeks and going outside was like opening the oven. I’d start sweating before i’d even left the house.
    On the hand it is also monsoon season and when i was at bara imambara i was caught in a collosal downpour that went on for hours. I joined everyone in huddling under Rumi gate (the one you have a photo of).
    This time of year is good for one thing – mangos! I had a constant array of the most delicious mangos you can imagine. It’s pretty much worth visiting just for them!!
    The Lucknavi meat dishes and kebabs are amazing too

  • Yes the only good thing the mangoes are great and they are cheap.

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