India, Days 9-12

We have continued to be busy traveling and meeting with a lot of kingdom workers. We wrapped up our three days in the Hindu holy city of Varanasi on Friday, then spent Saturday in Lucknow, the state capital of Uttar Pradesh. Lucknow was a nice history with a lot of history, monuments, and impressive architecture, but we didn’t really get to check any of it out because our one day there was filled with meetings.

Here are Grant and I on a cycle rickshaw in Lucknow:

Saturday night began a bit of a travel adventure. We had tickets for a 12:30am late night train out of Lucknow to head up into the foothills of the Himalayas. Our host-to-be in the mountains, when he heard what train we were on, mentioned that that one is notoriously late. We arrived at the train station at about 11:45pm and had one guy tell us the train was running late and would arrive at 1:30am, and another guy said it would be there at 6am. It would have been great if either of them were right. We spent an uncomfortable night (with many other people) trying to catch some sleep out on the train platform while we waited. This was difficult, because it was hot and the mosquitos were ruthless. So a lot of the night we just sat around with a glazed look on our eyes. I stepped outside about 3:30am and was surprised that a good number of clothes shops out on the street were open.

I dozed off for a few minutes around 5:30am.

Our train finally pulled in about 6am, and we boarded and quickly got settled in to sleep. I was on one end of our car, and Grant and Rob were at the other end. Shortly before the train left, the guy next to me happened to ask me where we were going. I told him, he asked me to repeat it, seemed confused, and then had me tell a nearby woman who spoke more English. When they heard my answer, they told me the train was just coming from there, not going there. Not knowing how soon the train was pulling out, I grabbed my bags and dashed off to tell Grant and Rob.

Back into the terminal to talk to the train station officials, who still had no idea when our train would come. One person said it would be about 7:30am or maybe 10am, and another lady at one point said it was late because there had been an accident. Bottom line, no one had any idea if/when the train was to arrive.

We cancelled our tickets, got a refund, and then found a taxi driver at about 8:30 in the morning who was willing to drive us the first 250km towards our destination. He couldn’t take us all the way, because laws prohibit taxi drivers leaving a certain region. We hopped into the old British-style taxi below, rolled down the windows, and alternately slept and enjoyed the rural scenery with a very hot wind in our faces.

Rural India:

The rural parts of northern India are covered by hundreds and hundreds of miles of wheat fields, occasionally interrupted by a small village.

Upon our 2pm arrival to a large city that was the end of the line for our taxi driver, we found that no more taxis (out of 76 that one company had) were available. Turns out that because of the dates and perhaps something astrological, this past weekend was a huge weekend for Hindus getting married. So all the taxis were booked. Who knew.

The travel agent mentioned that a bus heading the right direction was about to leave in a few minutes. We figured that was an Indian ‘few minutes’ (meaning ‘no rush’), but as we got to the bus station our bus was pulling out. We hopped onto the bus below and bounced along for the next 3 hours. The driver hit speed bumps really hard. I bruised my eye because I was sleeping on my hand and punched myself when he nailed a bump.

When we got to the end of the line for the bus, we fortunately very easily found a taxi that could take us the final 2.5 hours up into the mountains to our destination. We arrived about 9pm, 9 hours later than we should have if we had taken the train.

We were up in the Himalayas for less than a day, but it was great. The temperature was much more comfortable than the blazing hot plains (it was even a little chilly at night), and the scenery was beautiful.

A large wedding was going on in our mountain town. We were surprised on this trip to learn that Hindu weddings commonly have over 1,000 guests. Here’s part of the wedding party:

And the bride and groom’s car:

Here we are at a scenic overlook:

What the overlook would look like at a time of year when things aren’t hazy, as they are now:

Lots of the Himalayan hills are stepped for farming:

Monday night we caught a train back to Delhi, where we intend to spend Tuesday and Wednesday before Grant and I catch our flight back to the U.S. on Wednesday night. Our host had booked us a first class sleeper train for that trip, and it was great! (Especially after our recent experience spending a night on the train platform.) The first class sleepers have individual cabins with two or four beds, air conditioning, and sliding doors that lock, so you don’t have to worry about your things getting stolen. And for bathrooms, you get your choice between a squatty potty or a conventional toilet, and one of them has a shower. It’s like a hotel on wheels, and I think the tickets were about US$20/person for an 8-hour ride. Not bad at all! Here are Grant and Rob in our cabin:

So we’re back in Delhi now, doing a bit of shopping and getting in a final few meetings. It’s been a busy and fairly tiring trip, but it has been really good. Over the next few days I’ll work to get some wrap-up posts up.

Until next time…