Lucknow to Kanpur, and return

A road trip to reach Kanpur.

After landing in Lucknow airport, I took a taxi to IIT Kanpur [location], about 75km and about two hours.  A fascinating visual experience.

On the way back, I experienced traffic gridlock surrounding the visit of the President of India.

The taxi ride was visually fascinating.  After living in the bustling city of Bangalore, it was different to drive through a rural, agricultural area.  Unfortunately, my camera jammed after taking the photo below, so I’ll try to capture some of the highlights in words.

On the way back, however, I snapped a lot of photos of Kanpur before the light faded.

  • Cows across the street from the airport, just grazing in the field (above).  I was to see many, many cattle along the way, many of them right in the road.
  • Green fields, mostly small, with various crops. Some flooded.
  • A little girl, tending goats in the grass alongside the road.
  • Some huts made of mud bricks with thatched roofs. Old tires thrown on top to keep the thatch from blowing away.
  • A motorcycle, with dad driving, and mom sitting sidesaddle behind, with a little boy sandwiched in between.  He was sucking his thumb and looking sleepy. 
  • People walking alongside the road, balancing huge bundles on their heads.
  • Most structures were made of red bricks (and with little or no mortar); I also passed several brick-making ‘factories’, outdoor affairs with 50’ high chimneys.
  • Every few km was a little shopping center; a building with 3-10 bays, each bay smaller than a garage, containing a tiny shop. 
  • All the signs are in Hindi.  I was just getting used to Kannada.
  • Railroad crossing. All the traffic is stopped, waiting for the train. A swarm of boys weave among the stopped cars and trucks, offering various snacks for sale. 
  • In the median, next to the traffic stopped for the the train, was a deep puddle. In the puddle there were four cattle, clearly pleased to be out of the hot sun.
  • The train passes, with so many people on board they are hanging out the doors.
  • An old man riding a bike, with a huge crosswise bundle of reeds.
  • A cluster of women along the banks of a pond, washing clothes.
  • Nearby, every inch of flat ground was covered by what appeared to be blue napkins laid out to dry.  Maybe they were dyeing the fabric blue.
  • Bicycle rickshaws: on the front, it’s like a bicycle; in back, with two wheels, it’s like a rickshaw with seats for two.  A top that folds down like a convertible.  The ultimate in “green” transportation, quiet and low emissions!  Short range, though ;-).
  • The River Ganga (Ganges), broad and muddy, full with recent rains.
  • Sudden cliffs on the west bank, marking the edge of Kanpur.
  • The dingy outskirts of Kanpur; run-down road-side shops, trash, etc.
  • Several tanneries.  This area was once big in textiles and tanneries.
  • Muslim women covered in black.
  • The divided highway ends. Two-way traffic; although a line is painted down the middle, everyone ignores it. The line between the two directions of traffic is virtual, ever fluctuating, and requiring nerves of steel as traffic on both sides tries to claim the other lane.
  • My driver puts on his seatbelt, for the first time. 
  • I check, but my seatbelt is buried somewhere under the back seat.
  • Monkeys crossing the road, rummaging in the piles of trash for bits of food.
  • Pigs, goats, donkeys, horses, bulls too.
  • Men peeing alongside the road. Usually, though not always, facing away from the road.  (Of course, I see this in Bangalore too, all the time.)
  • A bicycle so loaded with bags of bread you could barely see the rider.
  • Schoolchildren, all in identical uniforms, even the little kindergarteners, walk home.
  • Many young trees planted along the road, some with signs saying “Green Kanpur”, most surrounded by a brick lattice-like cylinder, a meter high, as protection against grazers or others who might harm young plants.

The way back.

On Tuesday evening the plan was to simply take a cab to Lucknow.  I expected it would take 2 hours, like before. I was hopeful that we would get through town and down to the shores of the Ganges at around sunset, and I might stop to take a photo.

Hah! no such luck.  The President of India was in town.

Twice we were stopped at an intersection, waiting 15-30 minutes along with hundreds of other cars.  The wait seemed interminable, and yet everyone seemed to take it in stride.  People shut off their engines and there was a peaceful, quiet conversation among neighbors.  Finally, with sirens blaring, a convoy of official white cars, army trucks, and even a hospital car came whizzing past.  

At the second such intersection, we were near the front.  As soon as the traffic cop indicated that we could go, he zoomed off.  We followed the convoy, so closely that we managed to get through several other intersections while they were still closed to other traffic. When we reached a huge intersection, though, the convoy turned right and we needed to go left.  As soon as the convoy left the intersection, a huge cry arose from the crowds that were stopped on all roads leading into the intersection.  Within seconds, the intersection was packed with pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycles, trucks, busses, horse carts, you name it.  The traffic cops jumped a fence to get out of the intersection – they seemed both unable and uninterested in regaining any order in what had become instant gridlock.    It was pitch dark now, so I have no photos. 

Honking, honking, everywhere, nobody able to move.

Slowly, slowly, we inched forward. Even though we were at the edge of the intersection, next to the road we needed to enter, it took 20 minutes to move those ten feet, and then another 40 minutes to get past the traffic jam.  A big reason was that traffic had filled all lanes – even those leaving the intersection – while waiting for the convoy to arrive. Thus there was no way to leave the intersection. 

We drove on in silence, through the darkness back to Lucknow, for another hour or more.  Every time the driver needed to stop or slow down, he opened his door to spit out his paan. At one point he stopped to run across the road to a tiny shop so he could buy some more.

The air was cool, somewhat, but very humid.  It reminded me of an evening drive in South Carolina.  Until, that is, we passed the tanneries.  Whew!  What a stench.

We pulled into the Hotel Piccadily in Lucknow.  After a long day, and the dust and noise of all that traffic, I was glad to have splurged on a 5-star hotel.

Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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