My first impression of India driving from the airport in Lucknow to my hotel at 1am was of a kind of sleeping circus, packing up for the day… in a very inefficient way.
It was like I saw everything you could possibly imagine at some point on that journey, and everything you couldn’t… Even in the darkness it was highly colourful, with big signs, buildings, shops, vehicles of all descriptions, animals, people walking, sleeping, thinking, eating. Everything was decorated with patterns, cramming as much detail into every available space. Even the coaches had patterns around their windows, hubcaps, back of mirrors, roofs… there will be patterns all over the windows soon, leaving just crack for the driver to see out of… the way they drive it is as if this is already the case… And already I got to see the beloved cows I’d heard so much about meandering aimlessly through the “motorways” looking around despondently for some grass. Some had pretty big horns too – I don’t remember being told about that!
Some students from the group I’ll be working in met me the next day and we went for lunch and they showed me around the city.
They took me to visit the Bara Imambara (literally translated as “big shrine”), which wiki tells me is one of the grandest buildings in Lucknow. Built in the 18th century it was very impressive, beautiful oriental architecture, with such intricate patterns bordering the walls, roof and pillars, I wonder how anyone could have the patience to go to so much effort.
It is a muslim temple come labyrinth which is integrated in and around the temple, its paths winding up and down around the outside of the building. Apparently people have died because they have been lost for so long inside… I’m not sure if I believe this or if it is just a good excuse to insist you take a guide. Our guide challenged us to find our own way out a few times whilst he headed back down an opposite path only to appear out of nowhere grinning like a cheshire cat in wonderland when we’d taken too many wrong turns.
My new office chums; Utso (left) and Sougata (right)
The dusty buildings surrounded by tropical flowers in the dying light of the day made me feel like I’d entered another world entirely…
The traffic on the road up to Kanpur was impossible. It was like playing tetris with vehicles, twisting and turning them in every direction in order to optimise the number on the road. Every inch of road was full and everyone and his cat were beeping their horns like an out of tune orchestra. I understand that it can be helpful to let someone know that you are coming up behind them and about to overtake, but if everyone is letting everyone else know this all the time surely this defeats the object. The argument Utso gave was that people are on the roads for a long time and they get bored, so they have to maximise their opportunities to entertain themselves.
We stopped on the way for tea at road side stalls and I dived straight in with the street food, the sooner my stomach gets used to it the better… plus it looked good and I was hungry. It was delicious, all except something called paan, which was sweet stuff (mushed up dates etc) wrapped up in a bitter leaf, let’s see how I go keeping that down…