The way back – A breezy drive & a meltdown

The ShikshaDaan Yatra to U.P and Bihar concluded in Bodh Gaya on the 30th of May. My mother-in-law’s anniversary ceremony was done in Gaya as we are followers of Vishnu and a Gaya “Srardham” is considered the ultimate. Its done on the first death anniversary and the belief is that the soul merges with the universal soul once this is done. Nachi, Kousalya and Dhanush had come from Chennai to join us in Gaya. The plan was for Krishnan and I to drive back and for Amma, Nachi, Kousalya and Dhanush to come by train as it will be easier.

Krishnan and I started from Bodh Gaya on the 31st morning at 6.30 am, hoping to reach Lucknow by 5.30 to 6 pm. There wasn’t much traffic and we felt we might be able to reach sooner than the 6 pm that Google maps predicted… Till we reached the Sone river bridge. We found a little bit of truck traffic and we thought it was to be expected as the river was being crossed. Sone river is also very wide. Its the second largest tributary of the mighty Ganges ! At 8.30 am we were behind a few trucks onto the edge of the bridge and then we moved 8 kms in two hours …… It was a complete nightmare in broad daylight. The tractors were going in the wrong direction, to carry the sand from the river and the trucks were just packed onto the two lane bridge, moving a few inches every few minutes. Google maps said we would reach Lucknow by 8.45 pm and it was frustrating. Watch the video that Krishnan took of the mess on the road leading to the bridge –

Finally we got out of the bridge and traffic eased up a bit. Finally we crossed Varanasi from the outside and then Allahabad from the outside and instead of getting us down from NH19 onto NH30 outside of Allahabad, Google maps directed us onto the Kanpur-Fatehpur toll road …. 53 kms of pure bliss. For having mis-directed us into several lanes earlier in the trip, Google maps redeemed itself by turning us into this toll road. We ate our late lunch just before exiting from this toll road and traffic was kind to us even through the Rae Bareilly section of NH30.

This is near Phulpur on NH19 going all the way till Kanpur
The two lane NH30 near Rae Bareilly

We entered Lucknow by 6.30 and were inside our hotel room by 7 pm. Umesh’s tea and the Hyatt Lucknow’s welcoming team made us relax and the tiredness just went out of the window. We watched a movie and slept a little late because we knew the next day’s drive was a breeze on the Agra-Lucknow express way and the Yamuna express way.

After a great breakfast as usual, we started from Hyatt by 10.30 am and after topping off the fuel we got onto the expressway at 11 am …. we were inside the house by 5 pm, 560 kms of world class road. Except to slow down for paying the toll at three places we drove the entire distance on cruise mode. For a few seconds when there was no vehicle in sight and the road was visible for nearly 4 to 5 kms, I drove at 200 kph just for the thrill, but the entire distance was done at 100 to 110 kph which is the prescribed speed limit. At 110 kph, the mileage is also fantastic so we stick to that speed mostly.

The house was mostly clean as we had covered everything and used paper to close off the tiny openings in the windows and doors. It took us a couple of hours to get the fridge up and running, vacuuming the whole place and getting some provisions and stocking up on vegetables, milk etc. I had ordered through Big Basket from Lucknow and then we called up the South Indian store at Powergrid as well for certain things that aren’t available on Big Basket. There were frequent power outages because of some repair work in our tower but we still managed to get most things done. We ate the curd rice that we had brought along and had a good cup of tea.

Then the meltdown happened … I called Amma to find out if any of her co-passengers had offered her the lower berth. Amma sounded forlorn and worried because the coach was overcrowded and no one was offering her the lower berth. I didn’t know how to solve this problem :(. We spoke to Nachi and realised that the TTE was ineffective and that people without reservation were sitting in the coach but no one could do anything. I had booked these tickets way back in Feb and they had gotten confirmed just a week back, but “irctc”, the online reservation system has to build an algorithm to ensure that senior citizens get a lower berth !! Amma got the middle berth and Nachi, Kousalya and Dhanush all got upper berths. Mom cannot climb into the middle berth and was really worried. I got onto twitter and tried to appeal to Mr. Piyush Goyal, the Minister for Railways, for help. Got no response from the Indian Railways or the minister…. hugely disappointing. While Mr. Suresh Prabhu was handling the ministry I have tweeted several times and things got done, responses were almost instant on twitter. Mr. Goyal is no less and my admiration for him hasn’t been dented, but I was certainly disappointed to get complete silence at a time like this.

It was almost 10 pm when finally a good samaritan offered his lower berth to Amma and everyone managed to get some sleep. I was frazzled by then because I understood from Nachi and Amma that the people around them were being uncooperative and were sitting there without confirmed reservation :(. Yesterday the train arrived in Delhi, 5 hours late and once everyone reached home, we got to know that the person who was being the most difficult was a soldier and he had got two of his friends without confirmed tickets to sit with him. Apparently he was drunk too … the disappointment was doubled. I am still not able to believe that an Indian soldier would not offer his lower berth in exchange for a middle berth to a 75 year old woman!! Apparently he commented that Nachi should help Amma climb into the middle berth. Anyway, it took all of yesterday for my frazzled nerves to settle down. Amma has ended up with a fever because the toilets were stinking in the coach and she got really scared and nervous with the unreserved people in the coach.

Everyone is feeling a lot better today and things are almost back to normal but it was a tough 1.5 days, all because of people misusing the railways. Mr. Piyush Goyal hopefully will look into this issue …. Trains coming through U.P and Bihar were always notorious for chain pulling, for unscheduled stops, for unreserved folks using reserved compartments and generally unruly behaviour. We thought things have changed, but it appears they haven’t. As we develop newer infrastructure and better facilities, people of U.P and Bihar also need to change their attitudes and get on track!!

Exhilaration on a world class highway and really crappy experience on a train… Phew…. highs and lows in a few hours.

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