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space.gif (52 bytes) Lucknow

February 3, 1999

Oh, we could of listened to Amit's advice (and flown), but we had travelled down to the farthest southern point of India by bus and train, and that was how we were leaving. We had walked over the border at Sunali into India, and our plan was to walk back out the same way.

It was forty hours on the train from Madras in the south, to Lucknow in the far north. On all of our previous train rides we rode almost exclusively in the three-tier/bed second class sleeper car. The first tier/bed is a medium length bench for three, which would often seat 4 and had a pad of one-half inch foam that felt a lot more like partially dried cement stuffed into a vinyl bag. Above our heads near the ceiling was the third tier. At night the back of the sitting bench folded up, connected to the top sleeper and became the second tier making three beds for sleeping. In bed mode it was impossible to sit up. In bench mode it was extremely difficult to stretch out because directly across from your set of beds/sitting bench not more than 1 foot away, was another three tier bed /bench combo that shared your legroom. The windows had a glass pane that would slide up and bars to keep unwanted hands, if not from hasseling you, at least unable to reach into the train car and steal your larger possessions.

Twice we traveled in the three tier air-conditioned car. This was almost the same except the windows didn't open, and sheets and a blanket were provided. A.C. was nice, but comfort was still at a minimum. During our second ride in the A.C. car we got off at a station to buy some snacks, and noticed a different car that we had not seen on the other trains. It had a private room with a door, windows that opened, and only four beds. The man told us it was first class non-A.C. To us, this seemed like a perfect way to travel for forty hours: privacy, legroom, open air, and headspace. The benches even turned out to be thick and relatively soft. It was a long forty hours and near the end we did get a bit stir crazy, but it was one of the most comfortable and easy rides we had done in two months of trains and buses.

We arrived in Lucknow at 9:30 pm, and were surprised to find that auto-rickshaws were 'not possible' and taxis were over priced. This left us with two options: walking or bicycle rickshaws. Under a mostly full moon and a light sprinkle of rain we piled our bags and bodies onto two rickshaws and headed for a Lonely Planet recommended hotel - the Carpoor. Not surprisingly, ten minutes later we pulled up to the Citi Hotel. We were told by the drivers, "much cheaper and nicer". This common phrase translated from rickshawian to English means "these guys give me some baksheesh if you stay here." On occasion, these places do prove to be "cheaper and nicer" than anything we could find on our own, and so, we agreed to take a look. The room was decent, but not great. We had this conversation:

Manager: "500 rupees"
Us: (pointing to each other) "100, 100, 100"
Manager: "Not Possible! 400, best price"
Us: "No, 300"
Manger: "Okay, 350"
Us (to rickshaw guys): "This isn't where we wanted to go, take us to the Carpoor!"
Manager (in distance): "Okay, Okay 300!!!"
Us: "Too late dude! We're leaving."

This may seem harsh, but after a 40 hour train ride, a half-hour rickshaw ride and two months of India we'd become hard hearted when it came to these matters. If we didn't bargain shrewdly, we would have paid too much every time.

The lobby of the Carpoor was beautiful. There was a flowing waterfall in the corner, a full restaurant with respectable Indian professionals dining in formal attire, and even the manager wore a suit. There was new plush furniture set out on a thick red carpet. Jeff and Josh stayed outside with the bags and drivers, while Mike timidly approached the reception desk. They had two triples available, a deluxe for 900 and a regular for 450. Mike asked to see the lesser of the two. While waiting for the bell boy, Josh entered to inquire about the room. Mike told him that even though it was more than the last offer at Citi Hotel, judging by the sweetness of the lobby and since it was closing in on 10:30pm, a sweet room with hot shower was definitely worth 150 ($4 U.S.) more. Josh agreed and went to get Jeff and the baggage. They had to haggle with the drivers who now wanted more than originally agreed upon, because…"we took you to two places! Very long time!"???

As Mike followed the bellboy up a sloping ramp and around a corner he noticed that the carpet had begun to change from bright, clean Las Vegas-style red to dirty, brown, muddish red. The hall way came to a T and the carpet went left. The sign to our room went right as did the bare concrete. Mike climbed several flights of naked stairs to a long hallway made of equally cold concrete. As he passed the solid wood doors and a telephone on a stand in the hallway, a feeling of dread came over Mike. Finally, he came to a door of sheet metal at the very end of the hallway. The bellboy opened the padlock, and swung open the door. By the dim glow of the single, exposed bulb hanging from the ceiling, Mike saw the cement floor had been completely covered in burlap sacks. In the bathroom, another bulb shed a meager light on the open floor drain and the shower head sticking out the concrete wall. Back in the warm, amber glow of the lobby over the loud rush of the waterfall, all Mike could tell Jeff and Josh was, "not possible!"

With our heads hung low, we walked back out to the rickshaws; we ashamedly asked the drivers to take us back to the Citi Hotel, because the Carpoor was full!