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From uprising to surprising

India, Day 17 – Lucknow

You’ll never guess where I am. I’ll come back to that later.

Today, I took it relatively easy. I sat on the bed partly watching Animal Planet repeat itself ad nauseam, mainly working on photos. Shortly before midday, my laundry arrived, so with some clean clothes to wear I felt up to going out. Which I did two hours later. I got an autorickshaw ride from a Sikh man who spoke no English, and kept talking to me in Hindi.

Nevertheless, he got me to my destination – the 19th century Residency complex. I spent about an hour and a half wandering around there, taking photos (as ever) and absorbing a bit of the history. The site was an important location in the events leading to the First War of Independence in 1857. 3,000 soldiers, civilians, British and ‘natives’ were put under siege here. When the siege was finally broken by the second of two British armies to reach the place, only a thousand remained. In the cemetry I was a little moved by the monument of Frances Ellen Hale, a twenty year old officer’s wife, and her two daughters, Kate and Henrietta.

After that I walked down Rani Laxmibai Marg (‘marg’ meaning ‘road’) to the park we’d passed on the way here. The main part of Begum Hazrat Mahal Park (formerly Victoria Park) had an entrance fee of two rupees. Keeps the riff-raff out, I suppose. It also held a Victoria Monument – which didn’t involve a statue of Queen Victoria.

South of the park is the modern Social Change Monument, which occupies a roundabout. Getting into it for a closer look was a bit of a challenge – and not just because of the traffic (which is rarely so bad you can find a gap to slip through). The monument is walled; the wall is surrounded by a pavement (‘sidewalk’ for the North Americans among you); the pavement, in turn, is encircled by a railing. After one full circuit on the outer edge of the road, I couldn’t see a way in. It turned out that there’s a gate right at the place I originally approached the roundabout. Inside, it has a black needle, cross-shaped in cross-section, surmounted by a pale orb. Around it are statues of four luminaries of emancipation in India.

After doing that, I got on a cycle rickshaw and asked the lad riding it to take me to Mahatma Gandhi Road (MG Road). He didn’t speak English and I wasn’t sure he’d understood, as I didn’t recognise the way we went. The place he deposited me turned out to be worth it. I offered him twenty rupees in payment, but he kept asking for one. I showed him a one rupee coin, and he shook his head and said, ‘One rupees’. I think he was asking for one hundred. I left him with the twenty.

Sahara Ganj is a shopping mall. A very modern, shiny shopping mall. The kind that wouldn’t look out of place in Britain. In fact, no – it’s much too nice for Britain; it would be perfectly at home in South Korea, though. After the wall-to-wall dirt and delapidation of India, it was quite a surprise. There is almost airport-style security at the doors – metal-detector gates and  guards looking in your bags before admitting you. There’s also a cinema. I am Legend is on at 10 am. I might come back tomorrow morning.

Anyway, that’s where I am now. Specifically, in the Barista coffee shop on the top floor, with a typically very small latte grande.

Also on the agenda for tomorrow is seeing the Bara Imambara and maybe some of the other monuments in the same neighbourhood. And looking into train tickets. I think I’m going to be going to Varanasi unreserved class again, but I should be able to book ahead for Allahabad and partway to Khajuraho. It’ll all end in more adventurousness, I’m sure.

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