Last night the cook had said that he could serve me tea at whatever time I wanted. I needed only hot water as I had premix coffee to complete the early morning concoction. After dutifully presenting the hot water the cook helped me with the luggage and saw me off. It had rained quite heavily overnight. The Champion had been drenched as she was parked in the open. It is about 650 km from New Jalpaiguri to Gorakhpur, which was scheduled as the night halt destination. To avoid the Dalkhola stretch I took NH12A and 54/27 via Araria and Muzzafarpur. The road upto Aaria was definitely bad, but the rest of it ranged from good to excellent. The 4 am start definitely helped because the small villages I passed through in the early hours were still quiet; but one feature I noticed was the early morning walkers and joggers in those small villages.
I was scheduled to stay in the ORH in Gorakhpur. My contact in the Railway Board informed that the accommodation had been arranged at the railway station. I was a bit apprehensive about leaving the loaded car overnight in a public parking place. Hence, I located another friend who had worked for a considerable time in Gorakhpur to get better accommodation organized. He helped and I was given details of the revised allocation. The progress up to Gorakhpur was better than expected and before 1 pm I was in Gorakhpur. With the help of Secretary to General Manager of NER I reached the ORH. I was mightily disappointed by the way the premises were maintained and, to top it all, I was told that they could not give me even a cup of tea. I had even time left in the day and chose the option of driving through to Lucknow; a further distance of 270 km. After refreshing myself in the ORH and attending to some office work, in under two hours, I set off to Lucknow. In fact, my friend Rajiv Shah also ‘pushed’ me to get ahead of the schedule and reach Lucknow that day. He confirmed that he could organize accommodation in that city at short notice. So, when I started from Gorakhpur I informed him of the change of plans; eh was already aware of it as he was tracking the drive, almost minute to minute.
If I had not chosen to get into Gorakhpur city I would have reached Lucknow even before 5 pm. Once I left the crowded Gorakhpur city and got to the highway I was able to gather better speed. I reached Lucknow before 7 pm. Even though I had many ‘near misses’ during the day due to poor driving habits and crass indiscipline I covered the farthest distance this day covering 914 kms in under 15 hours. And, Rajiv Shah ensured that I had a more than decent place to rest for the night. He had made arrangements to stay at the Sarovar Portico Hotel in Hazratganj area of Lucknow.
After I had set course for Lucknow I got in touch with my IRTS batchmate, Rajendra Tripathi, who was settled in Lucknow, post his retirement. I knew that I would not have time to go to his lovely apartment, done up so well by his artist wife, Namitha. The next best thing was to meet over dinner. We arranged to meet at the hotel I was staying by 7.30 pm and he was ‘before time’. It was wonderful to meet up with RD, as I call him. He is the serious one in our batch, but I enjoyed a special camaraderie with him. Nowadays we keep in touch on Facebook and WhatsApp. He asked my preference of food; it had to be a light snack/meal that was typical of the city. RD suggested the Royal Café in the neighborhood. While travelling through the busy parts of Hazratganj RD introduced me to the concept of Ganjing, made popular by Vinod Mehta in his book, A Lucknow Boy. I understood that Ganjing stood for an outing with friends to chase girls, chat with acquaintances and make new ones, admire and envy fashion and savour chaats, kulfis and golgappas, et al. While chasing girls was not an option, due to age and overdose, I decided to enjoy the specialty of the Café, the Basket Chaat. It was so huge that we shared it. I only asked that curd be avoided in the chat; but the ‘dahi vada’ is an unavoidable ingredient in it! The ‘basket’ in which it is served is edible too. no meal is complete without something sweet. Falooda Kulfi was suggested by the waiter and we ordered one each; it was mouthwatering stuff.
RD dropped me off at the hotel where I was staying and I completed the documentation before dozing off. I am nearly 300 km ahead of my schedule at this stage and the next day’s halt is in Noida, in the apartment of another batchmate, Ashok Kumar. I sniffed the opportunity to ‘extend the lead’, in a manner of speaking. But then, tomorrow is another day. I also have to take a decision regarding the route to and from the second corner, Leh – whether it would be via Manali or Srinagar.