Paul and Rita - India and About, 2005/6 - Uttar Pradesh


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Uttar Pradesh is at the heart of India's cultural and religious life, despite losing the sacred source of the River Ganga when Uttaranchal was formed as a separate state in 2000.  It is the cradle of Hinduism, and the cultural heartland of Indian Islam.  There's probably quite a few mosques and temples here then. We plane to do a fair bit of cycling hear, try and lose a couple of pounds (couple?) gained while slobbing out in England.  


Itinerary - click link to jump to day

17th Oct - Haridwar to Najibabad
18th Oct - Najibabad to Moradabad
19th Oct - Moradabad
20th Oct - Moradabad to Bareilly
21st Oct - Bareilly to Shahjahanpur
22nd Oct - Shahjahanpur
23rd Oct - Shahjahanpur to Lucknow
24th - 31st Oct - Lucknow


Mon 17th October, 2005

Once across the state border, the aspect changed from being a tree lined road to an agricultural outlook, with quite a variety of crops in full progress, I guess being just after the monsoons, now is a good time for crops to be maturing.  We recognised a number of crops, such as corn, barley, sugar cane and peanuts, but there were quite a few we didn't, especially being a pair of townies at heart, despite Rita being a farmers daughter.

The first town we rode into (sounds a bit like John Wayne?) we saw a number of groups of people turning big black drums set into brick surrounds with fires burning underneath.  On closer inspection they turned out to be drying peanuts in their shells.  I got up close to one of the operations and was immediately offered a plate full as a sample, I tried a few and they were fabulous.  Not roasted, as I first thought they might be, but dried to perfection, crisp and tasty.  I noticed nobody else was eating them, but then I figured it must be a bit like working in the biscuit factory, you must get fed up with them eventually.  (Fed up? maybe that's where the phrase comes from?)

Meanwhile, Rita was being entertained by a local trader, pushing a cart full of something known locally as senily(?), a funny looking plant that is related to the lily and grows in ponds.  When you break it open, it has a white heart, not dissimilar from water chestnuts.  Rita paid 5 Rs for a few and ended up with a bag full!  She tried to give some of them away, but the crowd that soon gathered didn't seem interested.  They tasted ok but we were a bit worried as to where they might have been grown, and how they might affect us.  Rita managed to "gift" a few, and we ate a couple between us, but we had to take the rest with us.

Further down the road, we came across a family group who appeared to tending a herd of goats.  Seemed a bit strange for the whole family to stood in a tight group watching a dozen goats, but who am I to argue. Especially as they seemed to be quite dressed up, by local standards, anyway.  Perhaps it was one of the goat's birthdays?  Anyway, Rita managed to palm off the rest of the senily and they seemed quite pleased, in exchange for a family photo. 

Some time later we rolled up in Najibabad, and just as we reached the crossroads on the edge of town, our old friends the combine harvesters trundled into town after us.  They all gave us a cheery wave as they inched past us, then came to a halt as they caused the biggest traffic jam at the crossroads, them being a little larger than the average road traffic in these parts.

After a few minutes of patient queuing, Rita spotted a little alleyway that must lead into the town centre (mustn't it?) so off we went.  At least we were moving, and it was a nice quiet town back street.  Quiet mainly because cars couldn't fit down it, but there weren't many bikes either.  The path was well maintained and clean, quite a surprise.  It led on to some more busy town streets, and it took us a while to find someone who knew of a hotel in the town.  15 minutes later we found the Ghai Hotel, set back from the road with a lovely grassy courtyard area.  A bit expensive at 750Rs for a deluxe room, but we fancied a bit of deluxe tonight, especially as it was a lovely big room with two sofas and a marble floor. Or was it a marble sofa and two floors.  I forget now.   

After showering and doing some laundry, we set off on foot to see if there was anything worth visiting in the area.  No.  We found a nice little bar, nice in that it had windows and you could see the other side of the bar without a torch!  The owner was a bit strange though.  We asked for a couple of soft drinks to quench our thirst, and a beer, also to quench our thirst.  But he wouldn't let us have the beer until we had finished our lemon soda's, and even then I had to ask him 3 times before the beer turned up.  I don't understand what happens on these occasions with what should be a straightforward conversion.  Me: "Could we have a bottle of beer please?".  Him: "A bottle of beer, ok".  But then he doesn't move.  A minute later, still no movement, stands looking at us, smiling.   Me: "Excuse me, could we have our bottle of beer now, please?"  Him: "You want a beer?".  Me: "Yes please.  This continued for a while longer before he finally realised we wanted a bottle of beer and we would like it now.  Back to Itinerary

Tue 18th October, 2005

Not sure where we will end up today, as Moradabad is 110km and we're not quite up to that, or are we.  Set off hoping we can make it all the way, but knowing there are 3 reasonably sized towns on the way, so there should be  somewhere to stay in each of those, surely.

The road was newly resurfaced so we made good progress, traffic was fairly light as well.  At 25km we arrived at Nagina, a bit disappointing as we thought that was only 15km away.  The road crosses the main railway line to the east here, and the barriers were down, waiting for a train.

This is one of the most amazingly short sighted habits of Indian drivers, when they get to a level crossing, instead of waiting in line, they spot the other side of the road is empty and think its an ideal opportunity to overtake the vehicles waiting at the barrier.  But of course, they can only go as far as the barrier, and so there ends up being two, three or sometimes four lines of traffic butted up against the barrier, completely blocking the road.  This happens on both sides of the crossing, and by the time you've added in foot passengers, motorbikes and cyclists, both sides of the crossings are choc-a-block.  To add to the confusion, anybody that can crawl under the barrier before the train arrives, does so and ends up on the wrong side of the barrier on the other side, unable to clamber under that barrier because there is no space to do so.

Now that the two opposing sides are lines up, the train passes, and the barriers are lifted (usually, anyway). Then all hell breaks loose.  Everybody advances at the same time and we have an instant traffic jam, which usually takes 10 minutes to start moving and is always accompanied by blasting of horns.  You've think that after this has happened to people a few times, they would learn their lesson. But no.  This happens EVERY TIME. 

The road surface deteriorated after this, goodbye nice smooth new tarmac, hello pot-holes and broken surfaces. At 50km we arrived in Dhampur, a dirty looking town with a lot of traffic.  We were feeling quite weary and decided to look for a hotel or a decent looking restaurant to have a break and something to eat.  We could find neither. On we go then.  There are normally at least one half-decent restaurants on the outskirts of towns of any size,   but not this one. Things did not seem to be going our way.  Managed to get a couple of soft drinks and a cup of chai for Rita, hen decided we would go on to the next town, only 15km away.  

10km later, we stopped in a small village for a short break.  We were approached by a friendly looking guy from a tyre repair place, near where we stood, and he produced a small notebook and asked for my autograph.  Fame, at last!  My first ever autograph hunter, and I've been practicing for so long.  But who does he think I am?  Should I ask? Probably not.  I put my squiggle in the book, making out its something I do all the time.  One good turn deserves another, so we asked where the next hotel is.  In Moradabad, 50km away!  Feeling fairly weary, and not looking forward to another 50km, we consider our options, and opt to catch a bus.  One appears, as if by magic, within a couple of minutes.  Our bikes are shoved rather unceremoniously onto the roof, some of our bags go under the seats and we're squashed into the already fairly crowded bus.  Although, once on the bus, I could see the back seat was empty, but watching the people in the next row forward bouncing up and down as the bus progressed, I could see the back seat could be a very rough ride indeed, so decided to stand.  At least by standing I could face towards the back of the bus and watch to make sure our bikes didn't bounce right off the roof!

It took the bus an hour and a half to reach the centre of Moradabad.  Rita had been chatting with a local lad about where to find a hotel in town.  He took it upon himself to not only take us to a hotel, but also to go and check for vacancies and inspect the room.  We like people being helpful, but this was going too far, especially with previous similar experiences when people try to get the hotel to pay them commission for introducing customers, commission that we end up paying with inflated bill. When he came back down from checking the first hotel and said there were no vacancies, Rita said she preferred to go and check herself, which she did.  While she was gone, I explained that we were grateful for him telling us where to find the hotels, but we have been traveling for a little while now and we're quite capable of checking out hotels ourselves.  He got the hump and disappeared.  Rita came back and said there were rooms, available, but not too good.  

We tried another two hotels before we found the Rajan Hotel, nice room but wouldn't negotiate on the price of 700 Rs.  That'll do, and its got a reasonable restaurant and a bar downstairs as well!   Had the usual problem of them not liking our bikes inside the hotel, but they relented within 2 minutes and put them the luggage room.

A couple of beers and a some reasonable  Indian dishes later, we were well tired and retired to watch a couple of films on HBO     Back to Itinerary

Wed 19th October, 2005

A rest day.  A lazy rest day at that.  Went down for breakfast in the hotel restaurant at 9am and, except for a couple of trips back to room for comfort breaks (not sure I like that phrase) we spent the rest of the day in the restaurant, reading, eating, drinking, going through our photos and updating our web site. We did enquire about locals things we might want to go and see, but were told, basically, there aren't any! Saved us going out looking for any! Big day tomorrow, 90km to Bareilly, aiming for an early start.   Back to Itinerary

Thu 20th October, 2005

We thought we would try getting up earlier and setting off in the coolness of the morning.  When the alarm went off at 6am, I almost changed my mind, but Rita persuaded me otherwise.  Checked out of the hotel and riding down the deserted streets by 7am.  I say deserted, relatively deserted.  We still managed to gather a small group of about 15 admirers (I like to think they're admiring us, they might be plotting our demise for all we know) while we spent 2 minutes loading our bags onto the bikes.

We are now on one of the main roads from Delhi to the east of the country, still only one lane each way, and surprisingly quiet, even for 7am.  The road surface was a lot better than the last road we had cycled on two days ago, just the occasional rough bit, and even a sort of cycle path down the side for some of the way. Of course, the buses and trucks felt free to use this area whenever they felt the need.

After 15km we stopped at a nice looking roadside cafe, partly because it looked quite clean but also because the waiter stood on the road side and beckoned us in.  That seemed to be when he stopped being friendly.  It took several minutes to place an order of a vegetable sandwich, a cup of chai and a coffee, then took 15 minutes to deliver it, way above the norm of about 2 minutes flat, if they take their time.  Rita got slightly annoyed by his tardiness, and made a point of not leaving a tip, even though he hung around after delivering the change, obviously thinking he deserved something.

A few kilometres down the road, we came across a long line of trucks, queuing to get passed some unseen obstacle ahead of them.  We overtook on the dirt path on the nearside, and soon realised this was a long line of trucks, interspersed with the occasional bus or car.  After about a kilometre of weaving between the trucks, sometimes on the dirt path, sometimes on the other side of the road when there was nothing coming the other way, we came across a broken down truck on the other side. This was obviously causing the tailback, we thought, especially as there were several policemen controlling the traffic flow around the stranded vehicle.  We passed the obstacle with no problem, but soon joined another queue of vehicles.  What was this, another broken down truck?  We followed the same procedure as before, using the clearest and smoothest bit of road we could to pass all the stationary vehicles, and I was using by bell most of the way just to annoy the truck drivers.  See how they like it when the shoes on the other foot, they always blare their horns right in our ears as they approach and pass us.  It probably didn't annoy them in the least, in fact they probably didn't even notice, or thought I was being friendly.

10km from where the queue had started, having crossed several bridges, passed two villages and met a couple more broken down vehicles, we reached the front of the traffic jam, another broken down truck that was just in the process of being towed away.

The next town we reached was Milack, a small roadside place that seemed to specialise in processing chillies. We passed several large groups of mostly women, sat sorting and de-stalking dried red chillies.  We asked if we could take some photos of the first group, but most of the women got up and walked away once we produced our cameras.  We had more success at the second, larger group.  I think we took them a bit by surprise, but they warmed to us fairly quickly.  Soon, many of the workers had jumped up and surrounded Rita, wanting their photo taken, joined by the usual crowd of young boys and men that seem to appear from nowhere in these parts whenever we stop anywhere for longer than 30 seconds.  I managed to stay in the background, watching the bikes, and taking a couple of photos of the people that had continued with their work.   As we were leaving, we both started coughing, and I sneezed a couple of times. It took us a little while to realise what was causing it, dust from the dried chillies.  How did these people put up with this all day long, they didn't where any kind of mask, and it must get in their eyes as well.  How painful.  I guess its only a seasonal job, but, still!

We stopped at a few roadside Dhabas, eating houses, which were painted in big blue Pepsi adverts, only to find they had no soft drinks for sale.  My sarcastic remarks and pointing at the Pepsi signs fell on deaf ears, or at least ears that didn't understand my subtle wit.  We've noticed a lot of places have crates of empty drinks bottles outside but dont have any to sell.  Perhaps there's a shortage, or perhaps we just happen to be there on the day prior to delivery day.

At 83 kilometres from Moradabad, we reached a huge industrial estate on the outskirts of Bareilly that spread for 5km along the road.  The only interesting thing we saw in the estate was a number of young lads who were stretching long lines of fine string between two trees, may 30 metres apart.  It looked like they were going to do some sort of weaving, but when we asked, the only thing we could understand from their gestures was it was something to do with kite flying.  Not sure what, but kite flying is a big hobby in India, so we'll keep our eyes peeled and see if we can spot the purpose of this exercise at a later date.

With only a couple of km to go before the centre of town, we spied a couple of reasonable looking hotels, plumped for the Hotel Sehgal, the cheaper looking one and Rita negotiated a 20% discount for an okay room at 450 Rs.  After a lovely refreshing shower we were both feeling pretty good, but rather hungry.  We'd had 3 apples and a small packet of a corn snack between us all day, as well as a couple of colas, so we felt as though we deserved a great meal.  So, with hindsight, we should have gone somewhere other than the hotel's restaurant.  Rita had a veggie jalfrazy with roti, I opted for Chinese garlic chicken and veg chow mein.  Not that they were bad, just felt we could have done better.  Never mind, at least we were fed, unlike some people not a million miles from here.

After our late afternoon meal, we thought we would chill out in the hotel reception area, instead of in our room with no windows.  Apart from us and the staff, a fair amount of fauna turned up as well.  There were a lot of flies and mosquitoes, a small mouse, various other insects crawling around the floor and a rather strange shape rat.  At least I think it was a rat, but its legs seemed too short.  It strolled around the lobby for half an hour, even though I pointed it out to the staff a few times, they didn't seem at all interested.  Perhaps it was an undercover member of staff?.

After an hour of perusing our photos and reading the paper, it got too crowded for us so we retired to our room.  We'd lit a mosquito coil earlier, but debated whether we needed the mosquito net as well.  Rita had been carrying it since we'd left England, and we hadn't used it once, yet.  We decided against putting it up, partly because there was nothing convenient to hang it from, but there were only a couple of mosquitoes we could see, so we should be ok under our silk sheet.  Only time will tell!    Back to Itinerary

Fri 21st October, 2005

 Up at the crack of dawn, or just before it, actually. This wasn't too difficult thanks to the help of one of the busiest and most important railway lines that ran alongside the road in front of the hotel, and the train drivers liked to show off their prowess on the horn as they passed through the town.  They had kept Rita awake for half the night.  The mosquitoes hadn't helped either, we were both quite badly munched upon. Knew we should have put the net up!

We checked out just after 6am, total bill of 720 Rs, that's for the room, food and drink.  It would have been a lot more, of course, if they had sold beer, so we saved a few rupees last night.  The road out of town towards Lucknow was not as straightforward as we thought it should be, we asked directions frequently and at one point we ended up in a bus station, they obviously thought we didn't want to cycle that far! Once out of the town though, the road became a little quieter.  It was a lot cooler (as in not so hot, not hey dude, am I cool or what?) starting out this early as well, and there were even a few clouds in the sky, something we haven't seen for a week or two.

Actually, I haven't mentioned the weather very much recently, mainly because its been fairly consistent, around 32 to 35C (that's about 90 - 95F in old English - remember, C to F is divide by 5, multiply by 9 and add 32) for the last couple of week, since we came down from the Himalayas. We did see on the news last night that it was supposed to be turning a little cooler.  Hopefully it will last for a couple of days, give us a break.  In winter around here, the daily average is about 25C, and they say it gets quite cold at night, cold enough to put your "woolens" on, as they seem to like to say. I think that means it gets down to a low of about 12C 

Every time we stop on the roadside for whatever reason now, we seem to gather an ever increasing number of onlookers within minutes of stopping.   On one such occasion, one guy, who spoke a few words of English, was asking the usual range of questions, "What is the name of your country?", "Where are you going", "Where have you come from?", from he came out with an unusual question after I had said we were going to Shahjahanpur, "Why? There is nothing there". I'm guessing, but I think he meant there is nothing for a tourist to see, not that there is physically nothing there, although the possibility that there is no accommodation in the town we are headed for  is something that frequently dwells at back of our minds. Why are we going to Shahjahanpur?  That's a good question.  Because its on the way to Lucknow, and its about as far as we want to cycle in a day, is the best answer I could come up with.  I think the real problem was that he couldn't understand why a couple of wealthy (all foreigner are wealthy!) foreigners were cycling at all. Why didn't we take a taxi, or a train, or even a bus!  

Another onlooker came to our rescue, he explained that we were doing it for the experience, we wanted to see what was between the towns as much as what was in them, and we weren't cycling because we couldn't afford any other means of transport, it was because we wanted to!  He took the words right out of our mouths! It turns out he is the headmaster at a small private school, just across the fields from where we stood, and he asked us to pay a short visit to the school to say hello to the children, as this could be their only opportunity in their lives of meeting a foreigner.  A bit strong, I thought, but after saying we couldn't stay long as we had to get on to Shahjahanpur before the midday sun got too hot, we agreed to drop in for a few minutes.

The children were quite overawed by our presence, and I think the teachers were too.  It was clear we were not going to get out of here quickly, especially when the headmaster said he had phoned for a photographer to come and take some shots.  We were introduced to four different classes, ranging in age from 5 year olds to maybe 10, mostly boys.  The school house was still in the process of being built, so one of the classes, for the youngest, was squeezed into a long narrow outhouse.  We almost made our escape by taking some photos with our digital cameras, and saying we would send them on by email, but just as we were about to leave, the photographer turned up on his bike, so we had to wait while he got his camera out, set up his flash (flash? in this light?) and the class full of children trooped out and lined up.  We stood behind them, wearing our friendliest smiles, and the photos were duly taken.  That's it, we thought. But no, the kids went away, and all the teachers lined up next to us.  Ah, a teacher/visitor group photo.  After that, there came the photos of the two of us with each of the teachers. 7 more photos in all.  We're not famous, you know? I was tempted to say. After almost an hour, we waived our goodbyes as we cycled down the rough track back to the main road.  They've got our email and web site address, so I hope they keep in touch.

We plodded along for the rest of the way to Shahjahanpur with frequent stops in search of cold soft drinks, a commodity hard to find in these parts.  We were told at one place with a big Pepsi sign, but no cold drinks, that it was because they couldn't afford to keep them cold!  We did manage to find some not-so-cold soft drinks at a fairly clean looking place next to a petrol station.  The owner kept on trying to push the cold orange drink on to us, which neither of us fancied.  It took a couple of minutes of frequent asking to get him to give us a couple of bottles of Mountain Dew, not chilled but they were cold enough.  We gathered quite a crowd at his place, again I dont know where they all come from, just seem to appear by magic.  Conversation was extremely limited though, none of them spoke English except the usual pleasantries.  Rita offered to buy them all a cup of chai, which we think they seemed to grasp, but the owner, who did speak some English, basically told us no.  Something to do with them being only villagers, not worth it, I think he meant.  We persisted, but to no avail.  Finally, we asked for the bill, and I nearly fell off my chair laughing when he said 200 rupees.  To justify the price, he said the packet of crisps we'd had was 60 rupees, but Rita pointed out that it had "Only 20 Rupees" printed in large letters on the packet.  "There's a local tax" he countered, but seemed to be wavering.  We agreed on 60 rupees in the end, still a little inflated for two packets of crisps and two bottles of soft drink.

Our last stop of the day was at a small outdoor sugar cane processing plant. We had passed several over the last few days, with their strong sweet smell, similar to the smell of a brewery/distillery.  I should know!  We asked with gestures if we could have a look around, which they seemed quite happy for us to do.  It was a little scarey though, aside from the obvious health and safety at work issues, such as open pits of boiling liquid and a large crushing machine, death traps to a hapless visitor, the colour of the liquid coming from the oily crushing machine was of most concern.  On our travels, we've tried a few drinks of freshly crushed sugar cane, normally a pale greenish colour. So the scary part was that the produce of this was a rather dark grey colour!  The juice from the crushing poured down a small gulley into the first of three boiling pits, then somehow progressed through the three pits until it was finally transferred into a large, rectangular metal tray, obviously for cooling.  Nobody spoke enough English to explain how the progression was made, and our Hindi was certainly not up to the job, but I'm sure the bees that swarmed around the place were not supposed to be part of the recipe, but they certainly got included at various stages of the process.  The end product of the process is a toffee like substance, extremely sweet, which we were given a small sample of, thoughtfully presented on a nice dusty leaf plucked from a nearby tree.  I tried not to think that the little black bits were probably the arms and legs (do they have arms?) of the bees that had perished in the manufacturing process, but after a couple of nibbles, I couldn't take it any more, and said it was too sweet for me. What a get out, eh?

The sugar certainly boosted our progress, for a short while anyway, and after 78km for the day, we arrived on the outskirts of Shahjahanpur. We found a basic hotel in the industrial estate on the edge of town, but at 400 Rs it seemed a trifle expensive for what it was.  Perhaps we'll see if there are any other options before we commit to this one.  A couple of km later, we crossed a bridge over the Gomati river and spotted an interesting looking hotel on the opposite bank with a large herd of water buffalo wallowing in the river.  The Rahi Tourist Bungalow turned out to be a state run establishment, it didn't seem to have anybody else staying there but they wouldn't negotiate on the price, 400 Rs for a double room, en-suite but no air-con and hot water by the bucket only  It was an interesting building in a good location on the river bank, so we stayed.  The electricity was off when we arrived, actually it was off until 6pm, so we had a few drinks in the bar restaurant and a snack.  Before dusk, the water buffalo were herded back out of the river and driven through the streets in groups of 10 to 15 to their overnight quarters, elsewhere in the town. We tried to work out how the herdsmen knew which buffalos were theirs, there were no visible markings but they somehow managed to extract particular ones from the big herd before taking them back home.  Perhaps they just recognised their faces, or maybe the buffalo answered to a name?  Who knows.

There were a lot of insects around the hotel, especially of the flying variety. There were a few of the large bees we had seen at the sugar cane place, and also some large yellow horse-fly like creatures that flew with their legs dangling below them like enormous mosquitoes.  Apparently they have a nasty sting, so must try not to upset them.  Standard issue mosquitoes were also much in evidence, so got our mosquito net out for the first time since we left home, and managed to suspend it from a conveniently placed electric cable access plate screwed to the wall  above the bed.  That is one reason we dont use the net as often as we would like, there is rarely anywhere to suspend it from.  Most ceilings and walls are concrete, so we can't screw in one of the cup hooks we carry especially for the purpose, and often there the fan is directly above the bed anyway.  

After a nice dinner in the hotel restaurant and a couple of beers, we retired to the safe haven of our mosquito net.  Back to Itinerary

Sat 22nd October, 2005

Opted for a rest day today.  We still had 160km to reach Lucknow, two days cycling, but we might catch a bus instead.  

Up very early due to the noise and commotion going on outside, mainly due to the buffaloes returning, but also  from various other miscreants larking about.  We went to the restaurant for breakfast on the dot of 7am, which, luckily, is its opening time.  But one look at the waiter/chef on duty and we started to lose our appetite.  Not sure what it was, he just didn't look clean, and he had a runny nose which he kept sniffing loudly, so to be on the safe side, we  just ordered tea and coffee.  I say "just ordered" like it is a simple and straightforward process, but oh no.  The ordering process went something like this:

'We'd like two cups of coffee, please"
"Yes please, two cups of coffee"
"One or two?"
'We'd like two cups of coffee, please"
At this point he points at Coffee on the menu.  "You want pot of coffee?"
I look at the menu and see the pot of coffee is 25 Rs, as opposed to 10 Rs for a cup.  "Ok, we'll have two pots of coffee".
"Pot of coffee is 25 rupees!" he says, like its a fortune.
"Yes, we know, it says on the menu.  Two pots please"
He disappears into the kitchen.  A couple of minutes later he emerges and goes to the toilet next door.  A minute later he comes out of the toilet and goes back into the kitchen, failing to stop and wash his hands at the washbasin between toilet and kitchen.  Now we're glad we didn't order any food.
Five minutes later, he emerges carrying a tray with cups, saucers and two pots.
"One pot of coffee, one pot of tea" he announces.  Tea?  Where did that come from?
"Ok, I'll have tea then" says Rita.

This is not an infrequent occurrence, in fact I would say it is almost the norm.  We have particular problems with numbers, especially if we each want a different item from the menu, they always assume we want two of each.  I wonder if, when a group of Indians go to a restaurant, they always have the same thing. So the first person orders a masala dosa, so the waiter then says ah, 5 masala dosas then!   Its the little things that get to you, but its all part of the great experience known as India!

We'll find something to eat in town then, its a big town, there must be loads of places to eat.  How wrong could we be.  We walked around the town for two hours without seeing one restaurant, except for a grotty little shack that I wouldn't describe as one.  We saw lots of shops selling car parts, books, shoes, and even a shop selling paint (a rare sight), but no food except crisps, apples and bananas.

We did find, however, an internet cafe, or at least a place purporting to provide internet access.  I wont even begin to try and describe the language problems we had in there, suffice to say that the axiom "two people divided by a common language" is most fitting.  The guy running the place liked to think he spoke English, and I like to think I can speak it as well, but could we understand each other?  We spent an hour and a half in there, and because the connection was very slow and kept dropping, we got about 10 minutes work done.  I was trying to upload some pages for our website, but only managed to upload a couple of photos.  That's why our website is behind! Not because we're lazy!

Returned to the hotel for the afternoon to sit in the garden and read, until the flies got too much and I had to go and sit in the restaurant.

For dinner we stuck to vegetarian options, the breakfast guy wasn't about, but who knows what he'd been up to in the kitchen.  A very nice aloo jeera, with dhal fry and chapattis.     Back to Itinerary

Sun 23rd October, 2005

We're off to Lucknow today.  The grubby breakfast guy comes to our room at 7am while we are packing.  "You want pot of tea and pot of coffee?".  "Whatever!" I'm tempted to say.

He brings the tea and coffee, then hangs around dropping little comments like "Very fine service here". I think he's after a tip.  How about wash your hands after going to the toilet, that's a good tip!  Settled our bill, 860 Rs for the room last night and yesterdays food and drink.  Not too bad, £5 each, or thereabouts, and I had a few beers in that.

We'd been told we could flag down a bus to Lucknow outside the hotel.  We gathered quite a crowd of onlookers as we waited the 10 minutes for the next bus to come, so much so that I thought we wouldn't be seen by the bus driver.  But a friendly old man helped us get the drivers attention and made sure the bus was Lucknow bound.  I climbed on top of the bus and Rita passed our bikes and bags up to me, I wanted to make sure they were secured to roof rack this time.  Then we clambered onto the bus and were off.

Then we realised we hadn't agreed a price, something we planned to do before we put our bikes on.  600 rupees, is what they were now asking for. 600?  You must be joking, you can fly for that price. Well, not quite, but we had been told last night that it was 80 rupees each to Lucknow on the bus, we thought 300 rupees was all it should cost for us and the bikes.  The whole bus was discussing how much it should be, but we could tell from the laughter that they all thought it was too much. After ten minutes we arrived at the bus station, but the conductor would not go below 500 Rs, so we said sod you then, we'll catch another bus.  Unloaded our bikes and looked for another bus.  there were no other buses going at this time.  Ok, we'll go for a train, the station's just up the road, and a friendly fellow tells us there's a train to Lucknow in 15 minutes.  As we set off the driver of the bus says he will accept 300 Rs.  No, you had your chance, we're going for the train now!

Fifteen minutes is not very long to buy a ticket for a train in India, especially as we may have to get our bikes checked in at the parcel office, a process in itself which involves numerous forms and signatures, passport number, visa number, shoe size, etc.  There wasn't too much of a queue at the ticket office, but long enough.  The first class window had no queue, so I asked how much it was to Lucknow.  It took quite some time to illicit an answer, which left me a little confused.  I could buy a first class ticket for 218 rupees from this counter, or a coach class ticket for 68rupees from the other window with the long queue.  The problem was that there was no first class coaches on the train, so I would have to get the ticket converted on the train.  With no time to argue, I bought the first class tickets, but did find out that if we folded our bikes in half, we could just carry them onto the train without going to the parcel office.  Great.

The train arrived a little late at 9am, giving us another chance to be surrounded by another large crown of admiring onlookers.  We got onto the First Class Air Con Sleeper carriage, it seemed the least crowded.  Our ticket was looked at by at least three guards, and then we were shown into a nice cabin with one other passenger already in it.  The train left Shahjahanpur and we were on our way.  Then the train conductor arrived and said we would have to pay an extra 1100 rupees to upgrade our ticket for the cabin we were in!  That's extortionate!  The option was to move down the train with our luggage and bikes into one of the cheaper carriages, so we decided to pay.   Its only another £13 after all!.  I dont think we'll be traveling First Class Air Con Sleeper again, it must cost a fortune if you travel overnight!

Arrived in Lucknow at 11:30am, an hour late, but still ahead of the bus.  Well, hopefully. Teach those money grabbing bar-stewards. I wonder if we will see the bus arriving, probably take longer than the train.

Looks like an interesting city, from the station anyway.  Found the Hotel Deep Avadh on Aminabad Road, 5 minutes cycle from the station, if you go straight there, that is, and not go a kilometre up the wrong road on route like we did.  We tried several other hotels before the Deep Avadh, but had been told they were all full.  I think it was more like they couldn't be bothered with the extra paperwork involved in registering foreigners. No matter.  Rita again negotiated a 20% discount, so we got a nice room for Rs600.  Hot water tank was a bit dubious, but we had a sat-tv with some English language news channels, something we haven't seen for a week or so.  Nice to catch up on the current news, especially hurricane Wilma attacking Yucatan peninsula.

The rest of the day was spent updating our diaries and doing some laundry, hot water a bit erratic, but room service is excellent and frequent!   Back to Itinerary

24th to 31st October, 2005

When we arrived in Lucknow, we weren't sure how long we were going to stay.  We have a number of things to sort out, for me, I want to get a new mobile phone that I can use to connect my laptop to the internet. I've been using my BT mobile to dial up an Indian based ISP, but I wasn't sure how much it was costing for the call.  Turns out BT have been charging me up to a pound a minute!  Daylight robbery! Especially as if I used an Indian mobile phone it would only cost a maximum of Rs5 a minute.

Around our hotel there are a lot of small shops and street traders, but mostly only selling 'daily needs' as they like to call them.  There is a broadband internet around the corner, but the guy running it was particularly unhelpful and wouldn't let me connect my laptop.  

The city centre isn't much more appealing, although at least there are a number of eating establishments.  We even tried a Pizza Hut, a most unusual choice for us. I had a small pizza which was ok, even though I'm not big on pizzas, but Rita was very disappointed in her Caesar salad. The picture in the menu looked quite appetising, but what was delivered was not!  Needless to say, Rita did not pay for it.

Lucknow is famous for being one of the centres of the Indian Mutiny, which kicked off in 1857 in various parts of India. In India its known as the start of the war of independence. The Residency in Lucknow is an area of the town where the Brits hung out (if they did that in those days) and where they were besieged for 3 months by the mutineers, in British parlance, or the Freedom Fighters, in Indian.  After the Relief of Lucknow in September 1857, the Residency buildings were left exactly as they were at the end of the siege, or so they say.  We spent a few hours wandering around the ruined building and in the peaceful garden. (Entrance fee: Rs100 for foreigners, Rs5 for Indians)  There's a museum there as well, entrance fee Rs5, but it wasn't worth that much.

After three days of negotiations, 3 different mobile accounts opened and 2 closed and 2 new mobile phones, I finally managed to get a mobile account and phone I can connect to the internet with my laptop.  The main problem was that, being a foreigner with no fixed abode in India, I couldn't open a post-pay account, and getting online using a pre-pay account turned out to be nigh on impossible.  But Reliance India Mobile turned out to be the ideal solution, well, a little temperamental at times but I can now get online for half a rupee a minute, That's considerably cheaper than BT.  Take note.

We only tried a few restaurants in the town, mainly because that's all we could find.  One fine looking place we tried was very clean and modern looking, but half an hour after ordering and with no sign of food or drink, we left. It seemed an especially long time to wait as there were no other customers in the place and it normally only takes a maximum of five minutes to be served.  We also tried a posh hotel, which turned out not too much better.  At least we got some food, even if the three items we ordered turned up separately. It was the person cleaning the floor about us that we could have done without, washing the floor on his hands was not too bad, it was the bit where he created a dust cloud with his brush that we most objected too.  Funny, isn't it, we complain endlessly about everything being so dirty, then when somebody does some cleaning, we complain as well.  I guess some people just can't be pleased!

The poshest  (Rita says most posh) is the Taj, about 5km east of our hotel and on the edge of  town.  so after many bland and disappointing meals in our hotel, we went to the Taj for lunch.  They had a fabulous buffet, with a dozen different dishes for the main courses, several different interesting salad dishes, and a number of deserts.  All for a very reasonable Rs400, especially in a luxury hotel!  It is described in our guide book as the only quiet place in town,  and it certainly was! 

Talking about food and our hotel, the restaurant is a dark and dingy, and we never saw anybody else eating there, so we avoided it as well.  The bar next door was not quite as dark but just as dingy.  So we had most of our meals as room service.  A common problem with room service in Indian hotels (as well as a number of other Asian countries) is that the waiters tend to think that they can come and go as they please, and some of them like to have a good gawk around the room while they're there.  I've tried heading them off at the door, but they are usually quite determined. But when in Rome...!  But we're not in Rome, we're in Lucknow.

Having sorted out my mobile phone, we could plan our escape from Lucknow, turned out not to be quite as easy as we had hoped, mainly due to the upcoming Diwali celebrations.  The first train we could get seats on was the night train to New Jaipalguri on 31st, the night before Diwali.  This gave us a couple of more days to enjoy the delights of the Deep Avadh hotel.  

On our last day in Lucknow,  we had 6 hours to wait from when we checked out of the hotel until our train at 6pm. Manage to entertain ourselves in an internet cafe and found a little bar on the way to the station for a final beer in Lucknow. The place was dark and hot, but they were friendly and welcoming, and even turned on another light, most unusual.  They were watching India v Sri Lanka play cricket in a one day match, India had a lot to do to win.

Suitably refreshed and prepared for our 21hour train journey, we arrived at the station an hour early, always pays to, incase you cant find the right platform.  We were sent to a number of different places by some porters, who were probably trying to be helpful, but ended up having to be on platform one, the main platform in front of the main station building.  Never mind, at least we had a good idea of the layout of the entire station now.  The train arrived at 6pm, we found our carriage quite easily, all by ourselves! See, we can do some things on our own without helpful advice!   We hadn't booked our bikes in as luggage, hoping we could fold them up and put them under our chairs. Unfortunately, we two beds that ran lengthways down the side of the carriage next to the corridor, which meant we only had a small space under our seats.  We managed to squeeze the bikes mostly under the seats with only about 6 inches protruding.  The train guard sitting in the cubicle opposite our seats did not seem too impressed but didn't say anything.  

Our bikes under our chairs meant we couldn't use the lower bed as two chairs like you are supposed to, so we ended up going to bed a lot earlier than normal.  Not that we could get to sleep, with all the noise from our neighbours, but we could at least read.  People were getting on and off at irregular times throughout the night, so we were woken frequently even after we had managed to finally get to sleep.  The quietist time came at around 5am when one particularly noisy group got off..

That's all part of the joy of train travel in India!  We were now over half way to our destination, and somewhere in the middle of Bihar State.  Soon be in Silliguri, where we plan an overnight stop before going on to Darjeeling.  .  

 Back to Itinerary

Continued on our West Bengal pages


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