Ripples Following Ripples ~ LUCKNOW AND BACK

It was December 18th. My rickshaw driver came, and off we went, with me riding behind him. It took almost an hour, and I had to wait at both sides of the border for the officials to sort themselves out, but by 8 o’clock I was boarding a bus to Lucknow with the help of the rickshaw-driver, who was happy with what I gave him. Strangely, the bus wasn’t crowded, and I had a reasonably-comfortable seat at the front near my bags. When we got to Lucknow, a young guy named Santosh ~ another Santosh, this one a journalist ~ helped me to find the hotel I was looking for ~ Choudury Lodge ~ and even invited me to stay at his home, but although I appreciated his kindness, I declined, needing my own space.

Lucknow is huge and congested, but with my bike I was able to find my way around. My new pedals, however ~ as I should have known, being so cheap ~ soon began to give me trouble, and I hadn’t gone far when the left one fell off, having stripped the thread inside the crank. This required major ‘surgery,’ and after much searching, I finally find a machine-shop where the man agreed to ‘operate’. His first attempt was not a success, and I had to go back the next day, with a new idea how to fix it. It was rather difficult explaining to him as he knew no English, and my Hindi is almost non-existent, but somehow, he understood what I was trying to say, and turned up a new pedal-spindle on his lathe. It took several hours, but eventually, it did the trick; my bike was ready to ride again, the man was edified, and I was pleased.

All this time, and during most of the time I was in Lucknow, a thick fog covered all Northern India, and the sun seldom broke through. The poor visibility caused cancellations and long delays in bus, train and plane services, and also affected the internet; it was very difficult to get connected, and some days not possible at all. It quite spoiled my stay there, but I went to most of the places I wanted to, including the ruined Residency, the entrance-fee for which had increased to Rs100. I met an Aussie girl named Jill, and showed her around, and she appreciated my narrative. The ruins are extensive, and it must have been an amazing com-plex before the siege! I was disappointed that the stairway to the tower had been bricked up. At other places, the entrance-fees were so high that I didn’t go in. There was no fee to visit the La Martiniere Public School, and I was even shown around part of it.

In one cyber-place, I got talking with the young guys in charge and one of them asked if I liked cricket; I said, no, of course. “Do you like football?” Also, no. “Do you like f-----g?” At this, I repri-manded him, and he was quite contrite, giving me an opportunity to lead him to other things, which he seemed to understand. I terminated my session to speak more with them. They didn’t charge me for the ½ hour I was online, and they promised to email me (they didn’t keep their promise).

In spite of the problems encountered in Lucknow, I quite enjoyed it, as I met a number of friendly and kind people, and felt I would have to revise my opinion about Indians. I was surprised ~ or was I? ~ when Nettin ~ the young guy I’d reprimanded about his lan-guage ~ expressed his poor opinion of Nepalese people (the feel-ing of dislike between Indians and Nepalese is mutual).

Born and raised in a welfare-society, I’d forgotten my immense good fortune and taken it all for granted. Desperately poor, many Indians ~ and indeed, countless people around the world ~ seek some kind of security in the future through children; these are their insurance, but very tenuous. They struggle to raise in a week what I spend in a day. Taking this into consideration, I should be more understanding and tolerant; life for them is much harder than anything I have known, and they would ~ I’m sure ~ willingly change places with me if they could.

Some slick kid passed me on a motor-bike and said, “Hey, baby!” ~ American influence via movies and TV! And another guy ~ maybe 35 or 40 ~ riding a scooter, came from behind and said, “Hey, buddy.” When I didn’t respond, he said, “Hey, uncle,” and then something I didn’t catch. I think he must have been gay, be-cause as he drew alongside, he reached out and said, “Hold my hand,” before speeding off! I had to laugh!

At the train-station, I made a reservation for Jhansi for two days hence, then stopped to visit the machine-shop-man, who was pleased to see me and never stopped telling his friends and neighbors about me and his successful job.

My train to Jhansi was delayed by several hours because of the fog, and took about 10 hours to get there, arriving late at night; I waited quite a while in the station to get up and over the stairs, as people were swarming on them like ants, and in crowds like that, you must be careful about pick-pockets (I’d already had my pocket picked in Lucknow, but only some medication was lifted). It was hard to find a hotel at that time, but I succeeded. The room was full of mozzies.

The next day was to be decisive because of the frustration. I had come to Jhansi to visit Khajuraho, which can be reached only by bus, but when I made it to the distant bus-station through the fog, I could find no-one there to give me information, so I returned to the train-station, thinking to get a train to the south. Here again, I was frustrated; all trains were running late, and I couldn’t get a booking to places I wished to go ~ like Hyderabad or Bangalore ~ and, unwilling to travel without a reservation, I decided to abort my trip in India and return to Nepal and see what I could do there, so got a ticket back to Lucknow for later in the day. This, too, was late, and we started off just before midnight, arriving around 6 am. There was a sharp wind blowing and it was very cold as I fol-lowed a rickshaw on my bike to a hotel I directed him to.

After shaving and washing in warm-water, I went to the bus-station to inquire about buses to the border, and decided upon one the following morning. It was then that I came to know about the tsunami that had devastated coasts in the Indian Ocean. I thought of the Sakais, who were to have been on one of the worst-hit islands in Thailand; I feared for their safety, and sent them an email.

That day, a strong wind from the north-west blew away the fog, and the sky became clear, but I kept to my decision to leave, and got the bus. It was dark when we reached the border, and of course, it took quite a while to get across; a new 60-day visa for Nepal cost $30. It was late when I reached the hotel I’d stayed in 10 days before. It always felt good to return to Nepal from India, and this time was no exception.

Early next day, I got a bus to Butwal, but 2 hours on, we ran into backed-up traffic; there was a bomb-rigged bridge ahead, and we had to detour on a track through the forest, but apart from this and some burned-out vehicles, there was no other sign of Mao-ists. I stayed in the same hotel in Butwal, and went to a cyber-café, hoping to find word from the Sakais, but there was none.

After a noisy night in that hotel ~ I really don’t know why Indians and Nepalese seem unable to consider others ~ I got a bus to Tansen, high in the mountains, having missed going there on my way down. I checked into the same hotel as in 2003, and went out for lunch and a walk around. I decided to go to a place called Rani Ghat the next day, and this I did. It involved a hike of sev-eral hours over steep and winding tracks, mostly downhill. There were few signs, and I took a wrong turn, but kept going, and it eventually led me there. Built beside the Kali Gandaki almost 100 years ago by some eccentric and corrupt politician, Rani Ghat was an old mansion, with no access-road to it, and was lapsing into ruin; it must have been a tremendous feat to transport the materials over the trails I had just traversed. I had a look around the desolate place ~ a nice spot for nature-lovers ~ and crossed the suspension-bridge over the river ~ one of the longest bridges in Nepal ~ then had dahl-baht before heading back up to Tansen. I’d wanted to do this the previous year, and now I’d done it.

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