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SEE: A CITY OF GARDENS AND PALACES . ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

I will always remember the Lucknow of my childhood as a sensory mix of pulaos, kababs, quarma-salan and syrupy sweets, cycle rickshaw rides, narrow old city lanes and crowded markets filled with brocades, bangles, slippers and chikan shops. Poets gathered at dusk for mushairas in private courtyards belonging to polite sherwani-topi and gharara clad friends and relations, all raised with impeccable tameez  and tehzeeb. Dusty summers were endured in cool khus (vetiver) scented rooms. Winters were enlivened with carrot halwa. Kites were flown on rooftops in the evening before sunset.

My love for Lucknow was further romanticised by Satyajit Ray’s film Shatranj ke Khiladi, Shyam Benegal’s Junoon, Muzaffar Ali’s Umrao Jaan and movies like Mere Mehboob and Mere Huzoor. It intensified as soon as our train rolled into the historic Charbagh Railway Station. Charbagh means `Four Gardens’ and the station seemed like a palace in itself. I felt it was just a hint of what was to follow.

The Asafi Mosque inside the Bada Imambara Complex.
The Asafi Mosque inside the Bada Imambara Complex.

The Mughal Suba of Avadh (already an existing settlement) was acquired in 1722 AD by Burhan-ul-Mulk Nawab Saadat Khan, a Mughal General and Faujdar of Shia Persian origin. He assumed governorship of the region, founded a township called Faizabad and made it the capital of Avadh. The move to Lucknow took place only during the rule of the fourth Nawab, Asaf-ud-Daulah. Over time, an urban and artisanal centre of exquisite refinement; food, language, literature and a unique syncretic culture developed within the ornamental gates and medieval walls of this fabled city ruled by Saadat Khan’s descendants. Vivid descriptions of this city of Nawabs were recorded by the famous Urdu writer Maulana Abdul Halim Sharar. They appeared in his work `Lucknow: The last phase of an Oriental Culture’, a series of vignettes (Hindustan Mein Mashriqi Tamaddun ka Akhri Namuna) published around 1913 in the Urdu journal, Dil Gudaz.

Avadh stayed independent till 1856 when Lord Dalhousie annexed it to the East India Company. Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, its beloved but hapless epicurian ruler was exiled to Matia Burj in Kolkata. A year later, his loyal subjects laid siege to the British Residency during the 1857 Mutiny. The mutineers then fended off the EIC troops bravely during the Siege of Lucknow and defended their city for months till Sir Colin Campbell finally broke through in 1858. Much of Lucknow was then bathed in blood, plundered and ruined beyond description.

Medieval turned to modern over the years. The Lucknow that I remember now sits separated from its present; a spanking new Gomti Nagar on the other side of the river. But if I shut my eyes to obvious signs of modernity, the city of those childhood memories re-appears hesitantly. Here is where I go to find it. Come along with me.

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*Check timings before starting out. Entry can be ticketed in many places. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

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1.Bada (Asafi) Imambara:This brick and mortar structure with delicate chattri’s, cusped arches and perforated parapets was commissioned by Asaf-ud-Daulah, the fourth Nawab of Lucknow (r.1775-1797). It was built by Kifaitullah, a Persian architect, even though the Nawab also had a Swiss architect, Antoire Polier at his court. Local lore says it was conceived during the Great Famine in the 18th century as a famine relief project. Lucknow’s hungry populace preferred to work for wages rather than receive free relief. The city’s nobility in turn, came to work surreptitiously at night. Their task was to knock down parts of the structure so it could be re-built by day. Urban legends say this went on for eleven years.

Also see: The Imambara is also a public azakhana for Shia Muslims but visitors admire the Asafi Mosque and Step Well (Baoli) or wander through the sinister Bhool Bhulaiya (Labyrinth) where prisoners were rumoured to have been lost for ever. Take a stroll through the long gone Nimboo Bagh or Lemon Garden nearby. Guides are available for a fee.The Imambara is open to people of all faiths.

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The famous large hall inside the Bara Imambara with unbelievable acoustics. The tiny overhanging balcony running along it leads to the Bhool Bulaiya.

Local Speak: “Asaf-ud-Daula took Lucknow by storm, he would spend a million rupees a year in ‘building paradise’.The Bara (Great) Imambara he built on the banks of the Gomti River has a hall that is 50 ft. high, 162 ft. long and 53 ft. wide. The building has the biggest roof in the world which stands on no pillars and the labyrinth stairs over this hall are still a mystery to unravel!”-Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas, in the milligaztte.com IMG_4925 - Copy 2.Chota Imambara: The ethereal Chota Imambara (1838) is also open to the public. It is a large congregational hall built by Mohammad Ali Shah, the third King of Awadh. It is also called the `Palace of Lights’ because chandeliers fill almost every square inch of the floor and ceiling.They seem like floating jewels when lit at night. Mohammed Ali Shah’s  ceremonial seat is displayed in the first hall. It is made entirely out of silver. The inner hall contains his grave and that of his mother. It also has a replica of his crown in a show case. Shia Muslims gather at this azakhana during the month of Muharrum to mourn the martydom of Imam Hussain, grandson of the Prophet Mohammed and his family.

Also see: A small tomb of the Nawab’s daughter Zeenat Asiya in the central portion of the compound.The Hamam nearby is built along the lines of a Roman bath with European Classical columns and mosaic floor tiles. The outer complex near the main entrance has the Naubat (Nakkar) Khana with two gateways on either side.

Chandeliers and lights on the ceiling-Chota Imambara
Chandeliers and lights on the ceiling-Chota Imambara

3. Shah Najaf Imambara, Rana Pratap Marg: The beautiful Imambara with its characteristic squat dome was built by Nawab Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar as a mark of devotion to Imam Hazrat Ali, Caliph and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad. The Imambara also houses the tombs of the Nawab and his wives, Mubarak Mahal, Sarfaraz Mahal and Mumtaz Mahal. During Muharram, people from all walks of life, including Lucknow’s Hindu population,  set up stalls around the Imambaras and offer water and beverages to the mourners by day and night. This ritual reflects the religious inclusiveness that is a unique aspect of this city.

4.Rumi Darwaza: The triumphal Rumi Darwaza represents beauty as well as grit and courage. This great brick and stucco arch built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah in the mid-1700’s was supposedly inspired by the Roman/Turkish gates of Constantinople. It is said to have withstood the pounding of a nine pound British cannon for over an hour during the 1857 uprising. I never cease to be impressed by the infallibility of ancient mortar.

5.Satkhanda Tower, Hussainabad: This leaning tower lookalike has a square shaped foundation and tapering sides that each measure about 56 ft in length. The height of the storeys reduces by 2 feet as it reaches the top. It is called the Satkhanda (seven storeys), but actually has only four storeys or Khand’s because construction was abandoned in 1842 when Mohammed Ali Shah died. It is built in Hussainabad, which was once called Jamunia Bagh after the Jamun groves that existed here.

6.Clock Tower &Picture Gallery, Hussainabad: The 67 metre high, red-brick, colonial clock tower, reputedly the tallest in India, was built in the 1880s in memory of Sir George Couper, Baronet and Governor of the erstwhile United Provinces. Near it is the baradari (summer palace), now a museum that houses large portraits and photos of the nawabs of Awadh.Entry is ticketed. 

The Rumi Darwaza
The Rumi Darwaza

7.Teeli Wali Masjid, near Pucca Pul: Manuscripts say that the Masjid, famous for its Alvida Namaz, was built over two years by Fidaye Khan Koka, a Mughal Governor during Shahjahan’s reign. He was the disciple of the Sufi saint Shah Pir Mohammad whose equally famous mausoleum is nearby. It then went on to become the hub of Islamic teaching over the next 200 years. City stories say that its teachers and students defended the city from within its walls for over two months in 1857. Mutineers were reportedly hanged on a tamarind tree in its compound.

8. Qaiser Bagh Complex: If gates are anything to go by, then the heavily embellished Eastern and Western portals of Kaiser Bagh indicate just how magnificent this garden palace once was. The complex was built by Nawab Wajid Ali Shah between 1848-1852. It was located in the south-east corner of the Chattar Manzil Place with the Tarawali Kothi in the north and Roshan-ud-Daula Kothi and Chaulakhi Kothi in the south. It is reputed to have had several structures within it including Mughal style pavilions, European statuary, an ornamental bridge called the Lanka, a vinery to grow grapes and a European Classical pigeon house. Its doors were opened to the public annually during the Yoghi ceremony in spring when the poet, singer and aesthete Jan-e-Alam, as the Nawab was called, would dress like a fakir, order his court to wear yellow and hold court under a mulberry tree near the Safed Bardari. It is also where his wife, Begum Hazrat Mahal continued a spirited resistance against the British after his exile. Much of it was destroyed in the 1857 uprising. But the delicate Safed Baradari, originally a house of azadari or mourning (now also a popular venue for elite weddings) and Saadat Ali Khan’s tomb can still be seen.

Nearby: The spectacular Amir-ud-Daulah Library with its collection of rare books, letters and manuscripts and the Qasr-us-Sultan or Lal Baradari (baradari means a building with 12 doors) that was built as a throne room for coronations and durbars. It currently houses a cafe on the LU campus but plans are afoot to turn it into a museum. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

9.Firangi Mahal: The cry “Firangi!” meaning `foreigner’ once struck terror into the heart of British Lucknow during the turbulent 1857 uprising. But now, this building only retains quiet memories of its original European trader occupants and its days as a centre for Islamic learning. Gandhiji, Nehru and Sarojini Naidu all stayed here during the days of the freedom struggle and it is where Maulana Abdul Bari Firangi Mahali, a scholar and freedom fighter formulated his views on nation building through Hindu-Muslim unity.

10. The Residency: I have always felt that the Residency has a grim air about it. It was built for the British Resident between 1780-1800 but occupied the limelight during the Siege of Lucknow in 1857.Its shattered walls still bear canon and gunshot marks. If its walls could talk, they would tell stories of Englishmen, women and children barricading themselves inside, only to die of illness, malnutrition and gunshot wounds while rebels fought fiercely outside it to free Lucknow of British presence. The Residency also has the first English church in all of North India. It was also the third in the country. The adjoining cemetery contains the graves of those who died in the siege, including the Resident, Sir Henry Lawrence. A memorial here is dedicated to him. The Memorial Museum (near Shaheed Smarak, Main MG Road, Qaiser Bagh ) is open from 10.00 am to 5.00 pm. It is closed on Mondays.

11.Dilkusha Kothi, Neil Lines, Cantonment (1800’s): The ruined Dilkusha (Heart’s Delight) Kothi with unusual baroque and European Classical influences was first a hunting lodge and then a summer residence along the river Gomti. It was built by the British Resident, Major Gore Ousley, friend of the accomplished town planner, Nawab Saadat Ali Khan (brother of Asaf-ud-Daulah) who is credited with laying out a high street called Hazratganj that ran from Dilkusha Kothi to the Chattar Manzil Palaces near the Residency. The now forgotten mansion was once at the heart of hectic military activity during the siege of Lucknow in 1857 when it was occupied by the rebels. It was shelled extensively. It has no roof and has been reduced to just a few towers, external walls and landscaped gardens. They still speak of its lost beauty. Entry ticketed.

12.Christ Church, Hazratganj (1860): The Gothic Christ Church was built as a memorial to those who died in the Mutiny. It was designed in the cruciform style by General Hutchinson with a belfry, towering spire and a beautiful stained glass triptych with Christian icons that loom over the altar. Marble tablets and brass plaques inside the church commemorate officers, civilians and clergy who died during the conflict that marked a bloody period in city history.

13. La Martiniere College(1845): Sir Cliff Richard’s magnificent Indo-Saracenic alma mater is a must visit. It is one of three Martiniere institutions in the world. The building was originally called `Constantia’, and was the residence of Frenchman Major-General Claude Martin, who now lies interred in a crypt below the Chapel. Martin arrived in India in the body guard of the Governor of Pondicherry in 1758 AD and later made his way to Avadh as a French chasseur, surveyor-entrepreneur. He then proceeded to become irrevocably intertwined with Lucknow’s history, owning extensive properties beside the Gomti, including the land on which the Residency was built, the now decrepit Musa Bagh and the palatial Farhat Baksh (the CDRI). La Marts, as it is affectionately called, apparently provided Rudyard Kipling with enough inspiration for St. Xaviour’s in Kim.

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14. Colvin Taluqdar’s College (1889), University Road: This sprawling Indo-Saracenic building with cusped arches and chattri’s is named after Sir Auckland Colvin. He was the Lieutenant Governor of the North West Provinces who decided to provide quality education to children of British administrators and the landed aristocracy called Taluqdars. The Taluqdars were powerful district tax collectors who received an entitlement of one tenth of the total revenue. Privileged Talqudars who were entitled to a quarter (one fourth) were called Chaudhary. The College was founded in 1884 with a ‘wards’ class. It now receives direct patronage from the state Governor.

15. Laxman Tila: Mythic Lucknow is accessed at this sacred high ground near the river Gomti. It is said to have been occupied by Laxman, brother of Lord Rama, the hero of the ancient Hindu mythological epic, the Ramayana. It is the highest point in the city. Near the lower half of the Tila lie the ruins of Panch Mahala, the first officially recorded building of Lucknow. It dates back to sometime during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Akbar, just before Lucknow became Avadh Suba.

16. Purana Hanuman Mandir, Aliganj : If you visit this ancient temple on Bada Mangal and all other Tuesdays during the Hindu calendar month of Jyestha, chances are you will be surprised to see Muslims setting up stalls to offer water and beverages to devotees. The temple is a living representation of the unique communal amity that characterises Lucknow.It is said to have been built during the early 1700’s following a dream by Begum Alia, wife of Nawab Shuja-ud-Daulah, in which she was asked to build the temple and guided to a site where an image of the Lord Hanuman was found during excavation.

17.Machi Bhawan Baoli: Once upon a time, a subterranean water palace was cut into the hill where the Machi Bhawan Fort once stood. It let in water from the Gomti. Cool, airy rooms lined with marble and red porphyry were built (perhaps by Antoire Polier) on three sides as an escape from the summer heat. Machi Bhawan was dynamited by Sir Henry Lawrence in 1857. The Lucknow Medical College now stands on top of the levelled site.

Also see: The Lucknow University, the European Classical Isabella Thoburn College (1870), Lucknow College of Arts and Crafts (1911), Lucknow Zoo, Botanical Gardens and the Regional Science Centre before catching the sunset at Buddha Park on the banks of the river Gomti. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

CITY SECRET: The Char Khamba Mausoleum is tucked into a small lane in the old city. This four pillared tomb with a red stone canopy and brackets is ascribed to the Mughal period, just like the Solah Khamba (sixteen pillared) pavilion and Nadan Mahal (mausoleum of Sheikh Abdur Rahim) nearby. The marble grave here remains unidentified but the detailing indicates that he/she was perhaps a person of significance. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

IN AND AROUND: Take off on a day trip to: The Kukrail Crocodile Centre (30 mns/10-15 kms) is a Gharial breeding and rehabilitation centre located in the Kukrail Reserve Forest. It also doubles up as popular picnic spot. Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary (2 hrs/45 kms) has a lake and wetlands that provide refuge for migratory birds. It is located on the Kanpur-Lucknow Highway (NH 25 ) in Unnao district. Deva Sharif (1.5 hrs/35 kms) in Barabanki district, is the site of a popular Urs called the Deva Mela. It is dedicated to the Sufi Saint and founder of the Warsi sect, Haji Waris Ali Shah who lies buried here.    ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

ITINERARY: LUCKNOW SHEHER: Native Place Travel Diaries on Pinterest. Create your own must see-must buy-must eat local experiences

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BOOKS IN MY BAGLucknow. A City between Cultures, edited by Malavika Singh, Academic Foundation. Lucknow: Memories of A City, edited by Violette Graff, Oxford University Press.Lucknow: City of Illusion, Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, Prestel Publishing. ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

GETTING AROUND

Local: Auto Taxi’s, Cycle Rickshaws and Private/Radio Taxi Services are available; Clear Car Rental, Lucknow or My 24×7 Cabs, Lucknow. Nearest Train Station: Char Bagh. Nearest Bus Station: Alambagh/Qaiser Bagh. Nearest Airport: Amausi

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NEED TO KNOW:

Lucknow is located south-west of Delhi on the banks of the river Gomti, a tributary of the Ganga. It is the capital of Uttar Pradesh, once called the United Provinces. The languages spoken here are primarily Urdu-Hindi with various local dialects thrown in for good measure. English is understood widely in certain areas.

Best time to visit is from October to March. Summer (April-June) temperatures can soar to    with crazy dusts storms while the monsoon ( June-August) can be distinctly muggy.

Lucknow is still a traditional city so do dress modestly when stepping out. Keep skin exposure to the minimum to avoid unwarranted attention. Head scarves are necessary and shorts and skirts are not allowed when visiting mosques and temples. It is preferable, especially for women,  to explore the city with company. …………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Read More: http://lucknowobserver.com https://lucknow.me http://lucknowcity.com ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

One thought on “Languid Lucknow- Do as the Nawabs do.

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