We planned to fly out of Lucknow. The plan was very simple, it was fool proof. Often the most fool proof plans in India, tend to be the ones that change. Nothing can be simple here otherwise it would be out of balance with everything else around it, it’s like India can feel your complacency and gives you a hard to time because of it.
The plan was to catch the 3:20PM intercity train from Allahabad to Lucknow, the train takes 4 hours so we would arrive at 7:20PM where we would make our way to a nice guest house called Lucknow homestay, have some dinner, go to sleep, wake up early to see some of Lucknow’s sights in the morning and be at the airport by 4PM for our flight to Japan.
That’s what we thought. This is what actually happened.
We arrived at Allahabad station from such a lovely and relaxing stay at Bungalow One Guest house, we had shared a traditional Punjabi lunch of Chickpea curry, Potato mixture, and Kulcha and were absolutely stuffed full of food. The board said that our train was due to arrive at 5PM instead of the scheduled 3PM. Gutted. We’d have to wait in the 42 degree heat for two hours.
Some local advise told us that there was a waiting room on platform 10 with an updates board and since it was the closest platform to us, we headed over there. However there was no waiting room that we could find. Just hundreds of people staring at us on the platform.
Allahabad isn’t a big tourist destination. Hence, as a tourist, people look at you as if you are not supposed to be there. Coming from a fascination at seeing a person with a different coloured skin where there hadn’t been before.
We left platform 10 to try to find the bigger waiting room on platform 1, the bridge that we crossed stopped at platform 4 so we had to go down the stairs and walk all the way along platform 7 and back up the stairs onto the walkway to platform 1. This may not sound like too much of inconvenience but in 42 degree heat it is exhausting.
The signs for the waiting room lead us up one flight of stairs to what turned out to be a dormitory that you could pay to wait in. This wasn’t what we had in mind. In the corridor outside the dorms, exhausted and hot we took our backpacks off and sat on the floor. We were quite happy here; less people staring, a cold stone floor, and the wind from the back of the industrial AC unit blowing at us, we played cards and occasionally went to check the board for the train. The status kept getting further and further away until it was due to arrive at 6:30 PM. Then it disappeared completely from the board.
Confused at what that meant, we went to the platform to wait there. Devika, from the bungalow, was extremely helpful with checking the updates online, however they only lasted until 6:50 when they froze. So we sat on the platform amongst the dust, the staring, the strangers trying to talk to us, the smell of the urinal on the platform, and waited for our train. Promises of: “When this train goes, our train will come in.” were promised with a ‘hopefully’ attitude. The train arrived at 10:30PM. We were absolutely exhausted from the heat and the waiting, it was 7 and a half hours late to arrive. It only started 75Km away from Allahabad!
It didn’t depart the station until well after 11 so we tried to grab some sleep on the train, luckily we’d booked a seat in the AC car so it was actually really cold and we were able to sleep pretty well. By the time we reached Lucknow it was 9 hours late from the time of 7:20PM that it was supposed to arrive, no explanation either. In India, sometimes it is futile to fight something like this, you just have to let things happen. It would’ve taken the strength of 100 men to find out why the train was delayed and even then I doubt it would have been adequate. The lady had called us from the Lucknow homestay earlier in the evening, to say that she would pick us up from the station no matter what time it is, an offer she retracted after she realised we’d be getting in at 4am! She said that we should sleep in the station waiting room, the one we can never seem to find, and then come to the homestay at 5 or 6AM.
We obviously didn’t feel like waiting around so we walked the short distance down the road, and were hassled by at least 30 people, to the hotel Muyler. We squeezed past the empty lift shaft with a flimsy cardboard covering and went in to see the room, it was a typical, cheap Indian room. It looked like it had never been cleaned, dirty sheets, probably bed bugs and cockroaches. This wasn’t somewhere that we could stay, Sophie had been bitten the full length of her arm by bed bugs in a place like this in Gorakhpur.
Back outside and it was 5AM now so I tried calling the lady from the homestay but she didn’t pick up, we would have to figure something else out. Hotel Gomti was in our guide book and it is a government hotel so we thought we’d give that a go. It’s just none of the auto rickshaw driver’s spoke any English.
Eventually we managed to get an auto driver who knew the road that it was on so we were off and it only took three times for him to ask for directions before we arrived. 5:30 we slumped over the reception desk to ask for a room.
“No rooms, fully booked”.
Astounded, it took a minute to process this. My speech was beginning to slur and my brain was ticking incredibly slowly at this point. The usual questions of: “Are you sure your full?” and “Ok, where is there another hotel?” met with the usual Indian indignant attitude of a man who didn’t want to do any work because we had just woken him up at 5:30 in the morning.
We stayed in the reception for a little while, too tired to move or think, and suddenly the man had a brain wave and got out his book of reservations. Turns out there was a room. We had to fill out the 3 pages of paperwork and he wanted our exact address in Japan that we were heading to next but finally at 6AM we were into a comfy room, a clean room.
Ready to sleep.
So if you want to travel between Allahabad and Lucknow don’t take the 14209 Intercity train. Turns out it is notoriously late and slow!