Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Delhi to Lucknow by train

I have spent the last three days in Delhi visiting my two cousins, Seema and Neena (sisters). Seema and her husband live and work in Delhi but Neena and her family live in Cairo Egypt, they're here at their Delhi home for a couple of weeks. My dad's youngest sister also lives nearby so a quick visit with her was necessary too. It has been so difficult to loose any weight in India, here's why. I wake up at Neena's house, have tea and biscuits. Then breakfast. Then I got to Seema's house where tea and biscuits are served, then I'm expected to join them for breakfast. No one seems to understand the word 'no' so I have to be polite and eat a little bit. Then lunch at Neenas. A trip to the eye glass store where tea and snacks are served while I wait for my eye exam. And again while I'm picking out frames. Then a stop for some street food on the way back to the house with my cousin. Once we reach the house tea is promptly served with cookies, nuts and dried fruits. A visit to my other aunt where samosas, pakkoras, fruit, sweets, nuts and chips are served. Then to Seema's for dinner where I'm expected to eat a full meal. I'm not kidding, this is how every day with my relatives have been. I do get some relief on Tuesdays as I learned that it's a day of fasting for most Hindus. And while I'm not Hindu if I say I'm fasting it's respected without question.

I woke up early this morning, and I'll admit that I was scared. Today was to be my first train travel experience in India in 34 years. I remember in 1977 when I traveled with my father that anytime we took the train we took the general car. Wood bench seats, over crowding, uncomfortable and slow, it's what has been portrayed on television so many times. And to be honest I really had no intention of taking the train but when I told my aunt that I wanted to go to Lucknow she and my cousins insisted that I take the train from Delhi. I was willing to pay more to fly but when my aunt says jump every one jumps, so when she insisted on the train I had no choice but to say okay, and that's when all the memories came back.

What I learned over the past days is that there is two trains that run between Delhi and Lucknow. The normal train departs at 8 pm and arrives in Lucknow at about 6 am with numerous stops along the way. It has general cars which is what we used to take when I was a boy. Then there is the AC express car which is basically bucket seats, one per person. The AC3 car is an open car with sleeper beds stacked three high. AC2 is also open sleepers but stacked only 2 high so more room and less people. And finally there is the AC1 which is enclosed sleeper compartments, some have only accommodations for two people but most are for four people, you'll never know who you'll share the compartment with.

The express train, the one I am on, has only three stops on the way to Lucknow and takes five hours instead of ten. Because it's not an overnight train there are no sleeper cars, but the seats in the executive car are really nice. They're actually better than a lot of first class seats I've sat in when flying. Included in my ticket price of $24 is tea service, breakfast, another tea service, bottled water, lunch, snacks and a news paper in English. 

I woke up at 5am, my train was scheduled to arrive at 6:44 am and depart at 6:46 am. When I got out of Neena had tea and biscuits waiting for me and my aunt had put together a bag with popcorn, cookies and fruit. The children even got up to see me off. My cousin Manish took me to the train station in Ghaziabad and I'm glad he was there to hold my hand, at least this time around. The platforms were buzzing with people, beggars and vendors selling early morning chai and snacks. My train showed up right on time and just as I was sitting I it was pulling away from the station.

It was a quick six and a half hour train ride. After sitting down I was served tea. Then came the first course for breakfast. It was a tray with a bowl of cereal. I decided to decline the cereal as here in India it's always served with hot milk. Cereal with hot milk? The second course was better. I was offered a choice of vegetarian or non-veg, I chose the non-veg option which included and omelet, potatoes, toast, a banana and a pastry. It was pretty good. Then came another tea service and before arriving in Lucknow another tea service. The seat was super comfy with a leg rest and window shade. I didn't take any photos and I have no reason. Just didn't feel like to this trip.

My cousin Kakhi picked me up and then we went for a ride. First we stopped and saw the huge house where my father was born. Some of the house has been torn down with stores put in but the house was huge, must have been a city block back in the day (long time ago!). Then I got to see where my father lived when he went to college here and a few other sights. The old part of town is very settled, lots of cows, stores, consgested streets and so on. When we got into the new part of Lucknow I couldn't tell that I was in India. Magnificant parks, some of the nicest and without a doubt the largest I've ever seen. I'm only here a day and a half, my next trip needs to be no less than one week. I need time to explore the markets in the old city and the areas of the new. The old palace also looks very inviting, there was even a long line of people waiting to get in today. I tempted fate again today as I ate at a street vendor. It's not that eating at street vendors is bad, it's actually just fine in most cases. But it's what I ate, called Pani Puri or Pani Patasha. It's a great snack but involves a lot of water. And drinking water in India can have consequences. So far I've been doing just fine with this one particular street food, but maybe I shouldn't push my luck.

My cousin helped me get a train ticket to Varanasi, I'll be heading there on the 30th. Then on the 3rd of January I'm flying to Mumbia for a while, who knows, maybe I'll become a Bollywood star!!

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