Saturday, August 16, 2008

Rishikesh to Gorakhpur. Urgh.

Motorcycle movie stars

As far as travel days go, this thirty-hour odyssey across Northern India ranks up there with other favourites such us our entry into Guatemala or the boat crash of Panama thing. It started off pleasantly enough, with a slow taxi ride along the highway. The snail pace of the Indian open road meant there was plenty of opportunity to muck around with other road users. Jeff, our co-passenger in the taxi got involved in a sing-off with a rock-star motorcyclist. His flawless a cappella rendition of Bjork’s All the Modern Things, performed with half his body out the window, won him the competition and respect of the passing motorists.

At the train station, a dense picnic was underway on the platform, as hundreds of Indian travellers waited for their rides. Our train arrived, and after a panicked search we found our bunks and rattled off into the night.

Haridwar train platform


We awoke in Lucknow, where we were planning on catching a bus for the next leg of the journey. At the bus station, it all went to pieces. Misinformation piled upon lies and guesses from information desk and ticket counter staff as we desperately tried to escape Lucknow, a city with little in the way of charm but abundant in funky smells. This apology from one ticket seller, who had given Angie some erroneous information, summed up the day that was now only just beginning:

‘I’m sorry ma’am for giving you the wrong information. You see, I am Indian and we only say things to help’

After four frustrating hours and twenty conflicting stories about where the bus was, it became clear that we weren’t going to be bussing it anywhere today. A friendly tourist police officer put us on another bus back to the train station, and arranged for a colleague of his to meet us there, where he directed us to the mysterious arena of the ticket counter.
Lucknow platform

I bought a ticket and our trouble only deepened. The time of the train hadn’t been printed on the ticket, and when I asked around, I was given three wildly different answers as to when the train would be leaving. The apology given by the guy at the bus terminal echoed in my head as I bounced from counter to counter in the station, trying to find two different people who might give the same answer to the same question, but it could not be done. After a few hours of this, progress only came when Angie burst into the ticket office and then burst into tears, much to the puzzlement of the men working there. ‘Why you cry?’ they asked.‘Because I’ve been in Lucknow for seven hours now and all I want to do is get to Gorakhpur and nobody can tell me if I’m going to be able to do that and there’s no busses and I don’t understand this ticket and…’ more in the same hysterical, foot stamping vein.

It worked though, because a guard took pity on this strange frantic westerner in the ‘staff only’ area. He took the ticket, performed some obscure interactions with various other ticket counter staff and produced a ticket for us to Gorakphur, complete with departure time and seat numbers.It took hours of running around and a breakdown by Angie, but we got what we needed. However, we still don’t really understand what happened, and what we need to do in the future to avoid it happening again. This is Indiarail.

Air con

The train pulled out and we left Lucknow, eight hours after we had hoped to have gone. For all our work, we were rewarded with a visit to Gorakhpur, a muddy sewer of a town completely lacking any redeeming features. And another two days of travel to follow.

Happy busker

Lovely Gorakhpur

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