LATE-NIGHT LUCKNOW –
Ashish the Seatmate’s recommended Hotel Sharma (“with a huge sign on top”) never materialized, so I ended up booking a room at Hotel Samrat, whose rooftop sign I can see from my current address.
I didn’t choose it so much as walk into a decent-looking lobby on railroad flophouse row, find out there weren’t any rooms, ask about Hotel Sharma, get sloppy directions, and ask the burly checking-in Kerala man with the bright yellow Polo, “Could you just come point it out to me?” The linebacker and I walked twenty meters down the street and for once the touts stayed silent.
The hotel didn’t have a sign (in English), so I went in, said the token room melega?, followed the houseboy to the top floor up turret stairs, glanced at the room, dingy but with a big enough bed and a lock on the door, and went back down to try for a good price.
Took the room for a couple dollars, threw my stuff down, and only then noticed the crunched-up chips in the bed, the pan wrappers and cigarette butts behind the headboard, and the likely presence of bugs and seed throughout the mattress. In response, I hit the streets in search of Lucknow’s famous dried-fruit ice cream.
Found the ice cream — lassi, actually — and got force-fed further sweets by a curious sweet dealer.
Returned to Samrat to find a crowd in the lobby awaiting my arrival. “I don’t serve to foreigners,” the owner said. “You must leave.” Right now, fast. Half of the crowd seemed to be representatives of another hotel which had agreed to take me in.
Went upstairs with the houseboy who monitored the re-packing of the mosquito net and soap bar. I locked the door at one point which he immediately protested — he had more fear than I did, I guess.
The clerk returned my rent and tried to point me to the other hotel, but, “Nah, you guys are kicking me out. I’ll take it from here, thanks.”
Sought information from the cook at the thali joint across the street, who dispatched a 12 year-old boy to guide me to the originally intended Hotel Sharma. No luck — “This hotel not for you. You go to Mohan Hotel.”
The clerk drew a crude map and I set off via rickshaw, too tired to insist in Hindi that the ride would be worth only 11 cents, not 22.
I found and skipped the Mohan — amenities overkill — and continued up the road on foot. Just beyond, found a hotel recommended by the sweet dealer — Hotel Indore Regency. A guard, a cramped but air conditioned lobby, a bed (also top floor, last door), a bathroom with a lightbulb — I’ll take it. Negotiated a 15% discount and filled out carbon copy forms.
Freddie Mercury carried my bag to the room. I tipped him five rupees, popped a heartburn pill, took a cold shower and collapsed.
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