Now that you’ve read about my Day One, Day Two & Day Three in Lucknow, you can read a detailed account of my 4th day. And this is the last one. I promise! 🤥
It was time to head back home but only after a heritage walk! As part of the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival, a heritage walk of the British Residency was offered. It was called War Chronicles: Residency Heritage Walk.
Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula agreed to keep a British resident in Awadh. Accordingly, residential premises were built to accommodate the British officers & their staff. The premises included bungalows, Muslim shrines, thatched houses, and ‘high end’ buildings for higher officials.
During the First War of Indian Independence, the Residency underwent a siege for 87 days. It was a refuge for ~3000 British inhabitants then. British from across Lucknow congregated here & sought shelter. By the time General Campbell stopped the freedom fighters, it was already in ruins.
In fact, the damage is such that today we can’t ascertain the real architecture & purpose of the buildings. The ruins, British cannons & bullet holes on the walls speak of the terrible war. However, a few attractions still stood out for me as I walked through, e.g., Banqueting Hall, Treasure House, Dr. Fayrer’s House, and the main Residency building. The Banquet Hall is a double-storied building with impressive architecture.
The Archeological Survey of India preserves the Residency ruins. You can book an e-ticket to visit. Note that plastic disposables are prohibited to be taken inside.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
Deep Dive India
The War Chronicles: Residency Heritage Walk was conducted by Samir Kher from Deep Dive India, an organization that conducts immersive travel experiences. It conducts tours that go beyond the typical circuit & a local architecture/ history expert accompanies.
Now, I’ve attended a few heritage walks; the best ones aren’t those that are regurgitated out of history books but those that tie the people of that time, the sociopolitical scenario of that era to the events. Samir did exactly that.
Listening to Samir was like visualizing a movie playing out in front of my eyes. He spoke of the Nawabs of Awadh, the East India Company, the La Martiniere boys, the soldiers, the ladies & children, and others – all of whom had a part to play in the events of 1857.
I already have it in mind to attend another walk with Samir next year to another part of Lucknow. Highly recommended!
Rating: 5 out of 5.
For archaeology aficionados, Lucknow is a pilgrimage! Ditto for history buffs! Lucknow is inseparable from Indian history. As I boarded my train, I made up my mind to return to Lucknow for a fourth time. Still lots to see & eat!
The frugal me couldn’t find appropriate accommodation in the heart of the city & thus booked Click Hotel in Transport Nagar.
Transport Nagar is a locality on the Lucknow – Kanpur Road. Its USP is its proximity to the Amausi Airport. Other than that, the locality still looked like it was in a development stage. When I turned off the highway to get to the hotel, the roads were unpaved & dusty.
Click Hotel is the budget hotel of the Clarks group. I became apprehensive seeing its (comparatively) remote location but over the next few days, having my own cabs proved this to be not a problem.
When I reached the reception to check in, the receptionist did not have my booking details. I was put off more by this & already in a good mind to switch hotels if she created any fuss. But she received the details from their central booking office & after 10 minutes, I was escorted to my room.
The room was comfortable, decently sized, & lit well. It overlooked the road; so, I would have to keep the curtains drawn. But I was OK with this.
I ordered a plate of Chhole Bhature from a nearby restaurant called Chetram Pindi Chole. I requested Click Hotel to send me crockery & cutlery to eat the food, but it took them some time to get this done. (The next three days were better in terms of service speed.)
My stay was quite uneventful. I would leave early after an average buffet breakfast & return post – dinner. So, I did not spend too much time in the hotel.
However, I guess, for the money I spent, I shouldn’t be expecting more. In fact, I would say, for a budget/ corporate hotel, Click Hotel may be a good choice.
Now that you’ve read about my Day One & Day Two in Lucknow, you can read a detailed account of my 3rd day.
Today was the highlight of my trip to Lucknow. I was slated to attend the Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival (MSLF). My friend D was showcasing her silver jewelry brand, Daayita, & I was there to support her morally.
The Festival was to begin at 11 AM but I, being an early riser, was already up & about by 9. I thus chose to spend some time at Dilkusha Kothi, another of those lesser known attractions that my cabbie did not know about.
Dilkusha Kothi is in the cantonment area. Its entrance was wrongly pinned on Google Maps. It took me a couple of turns & finally asking a local before I could get to the gate. The gate too was chained & I had to ask again if entry was allowed.
Anyway, Dilkusha Kothi was another stunner that I am glad I got to visit. Magnificent is an inadequate term for it. It is historically important as it was destroyed during the First War of Independence.
Interestingly, Dilkusha Kothi was built by a British even though it was a hunting lodge for the Nawab. This explains its Baroque style, rather than an Indo – Islamic style. As with most other heritage structures in Lucknow, this too is constructed with lime mortar & Lakhauri bricks.
There is also a mansion adjacent to the Dilkusha Kothi, built in an Indo-European style. Both the buildings are set amidst lush gardens. Despite being a ruin, it still has a regal air. The Archeological Survey of India have restored it.
I was moved by its sight, for the events that took place here reminded me of the travails that our ancestors had faced.
Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival
I still had some time to kill before I could make my way to MSLF. The internet showed me Buttercup Bungalow (six minutes away) would be open for a cup of coffee but when I got there, I came to know that it had moved to Gomti Nagar.
I whiled away a few more minutes clicking pictures of the kitschy interiors of Cappuccino Blast & finally headed to MSLF which takes place at the Safed Baradari (3 kms from Cappuccino Blast).
The Safed Baradari has a Mughal architecture & is given out for public gatherings. It was initially constructed to be used as an Imambara. It was used for meetings during the First War of Indian Independence.
In the main hall of the Safed Baradari, I saw two statues – of Maharaja Mansingh & Digvijay Singh of Balrampur. Several movies have been shot here. The heritage structure does exude an old – world grandeur.
MSLF is held not just at the Safed Baradari but also at another historical monument called Salempur House. I find it difficult to not stop whenever I pass in front of history! Always the stories are more & the time, less. Always!
The theme of the 2023 MSLF was Raqs-o-Mausiqi. The Awadhi dance & music traditions are explored in depth through the festival. Awadh is the land of Thumri & Khayal, of Kathak, and of Sozkhwani & Marsiyakhwani!
In the MSLF, there are indigenous musical & dance performances as well as an experiential exhibition on the theme. It also has heritage walks to explore the unknown facets of Lucknow. I had signed up for a walk the next day & was quite excited for it.
MSLF also has craft stalls, a food festival, talks, films, & workshops. 100+ artisans & weavers display their crafts.
I was fortunate to attend the Home Cooked Food Festival where Lucknow’s hidden culinary treasures became exposed – pulao, aloo – gosht, mustard fish, dhaage wale kabab… Toothsome!
This food festival is an annual outing for the home chefs of Lucknow. The number of participating chefs has increased over the years. In fact, participating here is considered an honor. While I love Awadhi cuisine available in the restaurants, I found the home – cooked fare splendid!
It was crazy to see the queue to buy tokens for food at the Home Cooked Food Festival. D had warned me about it, but I was still taken aback. It was only thanks to the regulars that I managed to get a token!
I saw a couple of live performances. It was heartening to see cultural admirers come together as a community. I also saw an equal space being given to the LGBTQ+ community. By the end of the day, I was exhausted but also exuberant that I got to participate in the cultural & heritage celebration of Lucknow.
Now that you’ve read about my Day One in Lucknow, you can read a detailed account of my 2nd day.
Fresh after a restful night, I was ready to explore Lucknow (a third time). The best way to get around Lucknow is by public transport & I’d booked Bharat Taxis & Savaari Cabs for the duration of my stay.
My first stop was the Vidhan Bhavan. How cool is it when our temples of democracy are also architecturally brilliant! In the 1920s, Chief Architects Sir Swinon Jacob and Sri Heera Singh built this edifice that presents an imposing, magnificent sight even today.
On both sides of the road, the Houses of the People stand, giving off a majestic aura. The Gothic influence is unmistakable. The Bhavan is crescent – shaped. Its front part is built with carved Chunar stones.
The front of the portico is tri-arched. You can see the State emblem carved on it. The Vidhan Bhavan has several administrative offices in its vicinity, making the area crowded & important. There was such security at the Bhavan that I was unsure if I should click photos!
Vehicles are prohibited from stopping in front of the Vidhan Bhavan. So, I got down from my cab at one end & crossed over to the other side on foot. It was while walking that I had the brainwave of breaking my sightseeing for a cup of tea!
Sharma Ji Ki Chai
Sharma Ji Ki Chai was less than a kilometer from the Vidhan Bhavan. As the name suggests, it is a teahouse. It also has light snacks to pair with tea. But do not go expecting a Zen – like ambience of a teahouse; Sharma Ji Ki Chai is chaotic in the most Indian way. Be ready to stand with dozens of other tea drinkers, ready to shout out your order over the din, to share tables etc.
I had a Kulhad Chai & a Bund Maska. After my frugal breakfast, these were deeply satiating!
Christ Church was the first English church to be built in North India and the third in India. It is in the Hazratganj area, just a little over a kilometer from Sharma Ji Ki Chai. Sadly, the gate to the Church premises was locked; the caretaker informed me that it opens only on Sundays.
When the Christ Church was built, it was called St. Mary’s Church. It was part of the British Residency. It was attacked during the First War of Indian Independence like all other British establishments were.
The first people to be buried in the Church cemetery were those that fell during the 1857 War. Standing at the gate, I tried to imagine what the interior would be like. It certainly looked as if it could accommodate 100+ people!
Given that I could only look at the façade, I turned my sights towards the bell tower. It comprises a spire with a cross at the top. This was an eye turner!
I then moved on to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, barely 1.1 kilometers away. Just my luck, or my timing, but even this Cathedral was closed. The police officer, however, let me enter the premises. So, once again, I stood outside, sighed at the architectural brilliance & then bowed my head.
The St. Joseph’s Cathedral dates to the 1800s. Its architecture is outstanding. I particularly liked how its crescent is topped by a column with a cross. The massive Jesus Christ statue is unmissable. When I had had my fill, I moved to the right of the Cathedral to pay respect to Mother Mary’s Grotto.
When I asked my cab driver if he knew the Shahnajaf Imambara, he said he knew the Bada & Chhota Imambaras! This actually was a highlight of my trip that my cabbies usually didn’t know the attraction that I intended to visit.
Anyhow, the Shahnajaf Imambara (3 minutes by cab from the Cathedral) was a beneficiary of loan agreements between the Awadh Nawabs/ Kings & the British Resident. This commitment moved to the British Government & then to the Uttar Pradesh Government.
The Shahnajaf Imambara has an enormous dome & is built of lakhauri bricks in lime concrete mortar. It has a closeted verandah all around the inner building. It was undergoing renovation when I visited but, luckily, it was still open to visitors.
The Shahnajaf Imambara was empty except for a couple of foreigners. I removed my footwear, covered my head & entered. The Shahnajaf Imambara was established in honor of the Caliph, Hazrat Ali.
The central hall has the graves of the king, Ghazi – ud – din Haider, & his queens. The hall is also decorated with historical mementos. Photography inside is allowed. It is worth it too – chandeliers & crystal glass lampstands!
Caution – Women are required to cover their heads here.
My next stop was Sikandar Bagh, 1.4 kms away. It is a hidden, small monument but extremely crucial from a historical standpoint. During the First War of Independence, a battle was fought here in which 100s of British & 2,000 freedom fighters lost their lives.
Uda Devi, a woman warrior, too was shot dead here but not before she killed several British sepoys. The British were baffled by her courage. So much so that the souls of the British still roam in the park, after dark, as per legend.
The entrance is from a side gate. On the left are the ruins while on the right is an imposing gateway. If you love architecture, you will find the gateway a treat for the eyes. You will find the two – fish symbol here, that can be seen in modern crests.
Sikandar Bagh is peaceful, despite the bustling roads outside. The garden is well – maintained. And empty – I spotted about four or five visitors, mostly college sweethearts. It is sad that people’s interest in heritage & history is diminishing. The buildings & stories that we should be cherishing, feeling proud of & taking inspiration from are becoming merely photoshoot locations.
My ultimate halt before I took a lunch break was the iconic Hazratganj Market, 3 minutes away by car. It is a Victorian – style shopping area. The British built it on the lines of the Queen’s Street in London.
Today, however, Hazratganj is famous even outside Lucknow; in fact, it is synonymous with Lucknow. I walked the length of the market from one end to the other. It is a veritable shopping paradise, especially for Chikankari (a traditional embroidery design).
I just window – shopped but watching the pace of activity at Ganj was exciting. But I must admit, the rickshaw pullers were quite annoying; throughout my walk, one or the other of them would accost me that he would take me to the best Chikankari store & to Chowk & to Aminabad (& God knows where) for just INR 10!
Let me just say this about Hazratganj – if you are getting bored, come to Hazratganj; you will find plenty to do! The best way to get around is on foot. Food was another thing Hazratganj boasts of; I had my eyes on Royal Café.
After all the sightseeing, I attacked what Lucknow is famous for – the Awadhi cuisine. Tucked in the center of the Hazratganj Market, Royal Café provided an excellent dining experience. Its ambience was fine.
I went with my server’s recommendation & boy, was I delighted! The Mutton Degi Masala was mouthwatering. Portion size, of course, was too much for one. I must compliment the food quality; the chefs’ commitment was evident.
If you are a meat – eater visiting Lucknow, you MUST try the Mutton Degi Masala at Royal Café. The food cost was fair. Its popularity was also apparent with the crowds thronging the restaurant. It has four branches in Lucknow.
Stepping out of Royal Café with a big smile, I strolled to the Habibullah Estate (half a kilometer away) taking in the sights & sounds of the market. It is a restored heritage home which is now the first boutique retail space in Lucknow having outlets like Anokhi & Geetanjali.
Habibullah Estate has colonial architecture & is 300+ years old. I particularly liked the lofty ceilings & arched doorways. It was the ancestral home of Hamida Habibullah, at one time the President of the Avadh Girls Degree College. She was an active participant in social causes & had been a role model for Muslim women.
Heritage structures lend such an appeal to a place… sigh!
Cherry Tree Café
I read a lot about the Cherry Tree Café. I had to check it out, but it turned out to be a major disappointment. The ambience is green & great, but the service could not be worse. I sat there for an hour but was not served.
I asked first for 🍦; they said it’s unavailable! I then asked for a Mud 🍫 Pudding: they said that’s unavailable too. Then another server said 🍦 are available but I’ve to go to the counter & see which ones.
At the counter, there was no ice cream. Still, I didn’t lose my cool & told the lady at the counter that I want a Berry Vanilla Custard & that I’m sitting outside. I told the server too that I’ve ordered. But even after sitting for an hour, nothing came.
So, I finally got up & left. Oonchi dukan, feeki pakwaan!
Onwards to Chhatar Manzil! It was less than two kilometers away. It is located on the banks of River Gomati. Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haider (same as Shahnajaf Imambara) laid its foundation. However, while I had heard a lot about this attraction, I am afraid to say it was poorly kept.
Chhatar Manzil was abandoned. Even the garden had not been manicured. It has the Central Drug Research Institute in its premises, yet looks desolate, so much so that I felt a tinge of fear when I was here.
However, none of this took away the beauty of the Chhatar Manzil. It is built in an Indo – Italian style. It has a large umbrella topping on it which gives the monument its name (umbrella = chhatri = Chhatar).
Farhat Baksh Kothi
The Farhat Baksh Kothi is built adjacent to the Chhatar Manzil, within the same premises. It was built by & was the residence of the French Major General Claude Martin. Its original name, thus, was Martin Villa.
Nawab Asaf – ud – Daula later bought the Villa. Legend has it that he used to be frequently unwell; the British Resident recommended him to stay in the Villa, post which his health improved significantly! It was then that the Nawab named it Farhat Baksh Kothi (‘pleasing mansion’).
The Farhat Baksh Kothi has Gothic architecture. In the olden days, its ground floor touched the river Gomti because of which it always remained pleasant inside! I love how the old structures were built so thoughtfully; not like today where you just fit air conditioners!
Recent excavations have also brought out pillars going deep inside the ground, i.e., a subterranean floor in all probability! TBH, I preferred the Farhat Baksh Kothi much more over the Chhatar Manzil. I could not take my eyes off this beauty, especially its Romanesque roof!
The last stop of the day, to honor Major General Claude Martin, had to be the La Martiniere College. Born in Lyon, he came from a humble background. He realized the value of formal education and set aside a portion of his estate for the founding of schools in Kolkata, Lucknow & Lyon.
The La Martiniere College I visited was the Boys’ College. I took less than 15 minutes to reach here from Farhat Baksh Kothi. Its campus is spread over ~1.6 square kilometers. TBH, I did not expect to be let inside La Martiniere College. It is a private educational institution, not a tourist attraction.
I was, thus, pleasantly surprised when, at gate 4, the security guards enthusiastically answered in the affirmative when I asked for permission to go inside to see the structure. From the gate to the main building, called Constantia, was a nice 10-minute walk with heritage structures on both sides.
The first I encountered was the Mews, i.e., the stable for the horses, used by the pupils to learn horse riding.
The next was The Tomb of Boulone Lise. Lise was the daughter of Nawab Fazal Khan Bahadur, the grandson of the Wazir of Aurangzeb, and was Major General Claude Martin’s companion. The Tomb was purpose built as she chose to be buried on the College grounds.
The Tomb is a small domed building but with a striking light green color. (If it weren’t a tomb, I would daresay call it fairytale-esque!)
Further ahead was the grave of a Major William Hodson who killed Bahadur Shah Zafar. On my right was the Stobart Hall which is a school to learn the French language.
At last, I stood in front of the Constantia & I’m not exaggerating when I say that my jaw dropped on seeing this imposing, magnificent, 18th century building. It is a fine example of European funerary monuments.
I climbed a few steps & stood in front of the Laat, a 40 meters high column. (The Laat itself remains a mystery. A few consider it a lighthouse while others believe it is a marker for the grave of Major General Martin’s horse.)
Turning around, I could see the expanse of Constantia & the other arms of La Martiniere. The architecture is crowned by several statues, the most majestic of them being the lions. The fact that Major General Martin built both Farhat Baksh Kothi & Constantia is very evident from the similarities between both the heritage structures. But the latter is grander!
Major General Martin is buried in a basement mausoleum in the building. I came to know later, during my British Residency heritage walk, that the Boys’ College is the only school in the world that was awarded royal battle honors for its role in the defense of the Residency during the First War of Indian Independence.
(The flag has not been displayed since the Indian independence because of the objection it may cause.)
I really wanted to explore the interiors of Constantia, but I was unsure if I would be allowed. It was also getting dark by now. So, with a heavy heart, I exited but promised myself (& the marvelous architecture) that I would be back!
I ended our day at Roastery Coffee House (7 kilometers away). It is a frequent haunt for me in my hometown; I wanted to experience what another of its outlets looks like. Glad I did! It was, indeed, popular in Lucknow too.
Roastery sources coffee from farms across India. It offers single – estate specialty coffee. I first calmed my sightseeing nerves with a Milk Mocha & leisurely read a novel. The aroma of the distinct kinds of coffees is divine.
I then satiated my appetite with Chicken Nachos which were yummy. The flavors just exploded in my mouth. It was still quite early when I wrapped up from Roastery. I knew I would be hungry later. So, I got myself a Chicken Salami Salad bagged. Later, tucked in my bed in the hotel, I polished it off with great contentment.
Roastery is a family-friendly place. Its ambience is cheerfully delightful, with the yellow lights & the inverted parasols. It is a premium café, but it feels very home – like. I was taken diligent care of by my server, Manish. He ensured he was attentive yet not intrusive. His service made my experience richer.
I hope it continues to maintain its remarkable existence even as it expands into newer cities.
Lucknow always brings a sense of belonging. Tunde kebab & kulfi at Aminabad, walk at Hazratganj, sightseeing at Bada & Chota Imambargahs, crossing Cantt, mutton nihari at Rahim’s, kulfi at Chhappan Bhog, chikankari & zari shopping at Chowk, walk in Ambedkar Park, galauti kebab at Dastarkhwan, & kulfi (again!) at Nishatganj – these were the highlights of our previous two hurls.
So, when P got an invitation to visit Lucknow a third time, she didn’t think twice about it. A solo trip usually lasts for four days & three nights which proved to be quite adequate to see many new sights.
For my third trip to Lucknow, I’ve broken down the blog posts by the days so that it does not get overwhelming to read. And I’ll end with an itinerary for Lucknow.
Leaving from NCR, using the Swarn Shatabdi Express, I made good time & reached Lucknow by afternoon. Interestingly, the Shatabdi started almost empty from the New Delhi Railway Station but became a houseful at Ghaziabad. Maybe Delhi & Gurgaon folks prefer to fly to Lucknow.
A highlight of the Swarn Shatabdi is the station on which it arrives at the Lucknow Junction. It’s Platform 6 on the ‘Chhoti Line’ which has road access. This means that you can call your pickup vehicle right to your bogie! It is a little thing but thrilled me to bits!
The Park is built in memory of the late politician Janeshwar Mishra. It has been in existence for ~10 years now. It is spread over 350+ acres, making it rightfully the biggest park in Asia.
As I entered the Park after buying a ticket (INR 10), to my left was an Indian Air Force plane & straight ahead was a huge statue of the late Janeshwar Mishra.
Apart from the extensive greenery & kilometers of walking tracks, there are two water bodies within the Janeshwar Mishra Park. The walking tracks have ornate lights flanking them; you could be mistaken for thinking, for a moment, that you are in a European country.
In early February, spring was already knocking. I had the good fortune of seeing many floral colors. The Janeshwar Mishra Park also has a few fountains & if you get tired of walking, there are several seating facilities.
I also came across a food plaza & an open-air gymnasium. The Janeshwar Mishra Park was huge; I doubt I saw even 25% of it. As the sun set, I hurried towards the main gate but not before I witnessed a spectacular sunset over one of the water bodies.
At times, a little thing like watching a sunset can bring immense happiness. As the evening got colder, my soul became warmer. I thanked my gods for all the good things bestowed on me…
There are some places you can never get enough of. Lucknow always brings a sense of belonging. It feels like home. Tunde kebab & kulfi at Aminabad, walk at Hazratganj, sightseeing at Bada & Chota Imambargahs, crossing Cantt, mutton nihari at Rahim’s, kulfi at Chhappan Bhog, chikankari & zari shopping at Chowk, walk in Ambedkar Park, galauti kebab at Dastarkhwan, & kulfi (again!) at Nishatganj – spread over just a few days. That pretty much summaries our two visits to Lucknow.
We chose to spend our sixth anniversary in the Awadhi city. We usually make elaborate travel plans, but work commitments forbade us this time. A road trip came to the rescue. Leaving from Noida, using the Yamuna Expressway, eating breakfast at Jewar, & then using the Agra – Lucknow Expressway, we made good time & reached Lucknow by evening.
The Agra – Lucknow Expressway was a breeze to drive on. An empty six – lane highway, with high toll fees (no wonder it is empty), & with almost no stops, the expressway allowed us to cover a large distance in a short span of time.
A highlight of the Agra – Lucknow Expressway is an emergency airstrip built on the expressway itself. The airstrip stretches for a little more than three kilometers. If an emergency landing of IAF combat jets is needed, this can be used.
Caution: Do not get tempted into exceeding speed limits on the Agra – Lucknow Expressway. Like all Indian highways, it can be unpredictable. Also, Indian cars are not made for extremely high speeds. There are enough & more cases of tires bursting on the Expressway.
The First Evening
Our first evening in Lucknow was our anniversary itself. We chose to spend it in a relaxed manner, dressing up, lounging on the rooftop bar of our hotel, raising a toast, coming down to the in house restaurant, hogging on Awadhi cuisine, & retiring early.
At times, a little thing like sitting under the stars can bring immense happiness. As the night got colder, our souls became warmer. We thanked our gods for all the good things bestowed on us…
Saraca, the open-air bar overlooking the lawns, is just what the doctor ordered. Here, it was quite cold but, luckily, they had heaters placed around tables. The dim lighting of Saraca & the twinkling lights of the surrounding buildings created a romantic ambience. We sipped on colorful Long Island Iced Tea & Mojito, both well made. To accompany the drinks, we had Galawat Kebab, which was good too.
Saraca was perfect to relax. Exotic drinks, Awadhi starters, & music under the stars…
Time to call it a night after some more yummy in our tummy. Azrak, the restaurant at lebua, serves Awadhi food. If Awadhi cuisine isn’t well made, it can turn the dishes oily. But we did not face any such challenge here. We had Awadh Dum Murgh Biryani, Bakarkhani, Dum Murgh, & Ulte Tave Ka Paratha. We are fans of Bakarkhani, & this one lived up to our expectations too.
Azrak is one of those laid-back places; do not hurry through your meal here.
The Next Day
We had traveled over a December long weekend. Fresh after a restful night, we were ready to explore Lucknow. While we waited for our Uber, we posed & clicked with the vintage cars in the lebua premises. The best way to get around old Lucknow is by public transport.
Our first stop was the Bara Imam Bara. An imam bara is a hall for Shia Muslim ceremonies, especially Muharram. The Bara Imam Bara is an imam bara complex built by the Awadh Nawab in 1784. This was the year famine had hit Awadh. Through the Imam Bara construction, the Nawab wanted to provide employment for people. The construction & the consequent employment lasted for 10 years, same as the famine duration.
As we entered the compound, we were struck by the imposing gateways. We entered one, came across a circular garden, & then chanced upon the second gateway. The second is the main gateway where we purchased tickets. As we walked further, the Asfi Masjid came up on our right. It is the last monument to be constructed without using iron.
Moving on to the main imam bara, we got ourselves a guide & entered a large vaulted central chamber (largest in the world). In the center of the chamber is the tomb of the Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-Ud-Daula. On the upper floor is a labyrinth, famously known as the Bhool Bhulaiya.
When we emerged from the passages onto the hall balcony, we could not help but be amazed at such a large structure being built without beams/ pillars. Caution – Walking on the narrow terrace is not for the fainthearted! Or for those with acrophobia or vertigo!
The Bhool Bhulaiya legend says there are 1,024 ways to get inside the maze, but only two to come out! The network of passageways winds its way inside the monument, & eventually leads to the roof. The roof was meant to give a panoramic view of the Awadhi city. In the 21st century, however, this is not easily possible.
We were thrilled with the Bhool Bhulaiya. For the first time, we got a chance to see a heritage monument by actively participating in it. Namely, finding our way out of the incredible maze! The architecture is worth a mention, specially of echoing walls, & hidden cloisters.
A flight of stairs leads down to the Shahi Baoli (royal stepwell). Around the Baoli is a multi- storey structure with arched windows & inter-connected galleries. Apparently, the Baoli still has running water. Rumors of the Baoli being connected to River Gomti, & of treasures/ treasure maps/ keys to some hidden treasure underneath are quite rife. Exceptional architecture here!
Before we left the Bara Imam Bara, we found another trivia – Ordinary people built the edifice during the day. At night, noblemen broke down whatever was raised that day. This was by the order of the Nawab, to ensure continuing employment for the masses.
Through the Bara Imambargah complex, we caught ourselves gaping at the architecture! For a heritage lover, the Bara Imam Bara scores not only on the heritage but also on the maintenance of its premises, and the easy & fair availability of authorized guides who explain the history behind the monument. To enjoy the monument fully, do take a guide.
Out of the Bara Imam Bara, we hopped onto a tanga (horse carriage). Our first carriage ride! To double the excitement, we spotted the Rumi Darwaza coming up ahead. It is a gateway built under the patronage of Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula, in the same year as the Bara Imam Bara.
The front facade of the Rumi Darwaza is a fine example of Awadhi architecture! There’s no ticket to see it. Caution – As the Rumi Darwaza is an operational gateway, you must be careful of traffic.
The Husainabad Clock Tower is a 19th century marvel. It was constructed in 1881 to mark Sir George Couper’s arrival, the first LG of United Province of Avadh. You can spot the Clock Tower from kilometers, but as you come closer, you can also see a large step-well next to it.
The Satkhanda is a watchtower from the 1800s. The iconic tower has an octagonal base, arched windows & Islamic design details. It is located next to the Husainabad Clock Tower; so, if you are in the area, you cannot miss it. A reminder of Lucknow’s Awadhi & colonial past.
The Husainabad Picture Gallery houses portraits of the erstwhile nawabs of Awadh. The portraits are quite fine, with intricate details. The caretaker pointed out to us a few amazing bits here & there. Like how the nawab’s shoes seem to move!
Our minds were also blown off by the view that the Picture Gallery offered. The Clock Tower to the left, Chota Imam Bara straight ahead, & the Satkhanda to the right. Photography is prohibited at the Gallery. It does not seem to be frequented by tourists; we had the place almost to ourselves.
There is no dearth of darwazas in Lucknow. The Husainabad Darwaza is an outer gateway to the Chota Imam Bara. Passing under arched gateways will remain high points of our lives.
Chota Imam Bara is the popular name of the monument; its actual name is Imam Bara Husainabad Mubarak. It was built under the patronage of Muhammad Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh, in 1838. Today, it serves as a mausoleum for him & his mother.
Indian heritage buildings are nothing short of fascinating. Not just architecturally, but from an engineering POV too:
We noticed a goldfish at the entrance. It is an anemometer. One of the earliest ones in India.
A golden statue at the entrance holds a chain that is connected to a spire. This works as earthing.
A Shahi Hammam (royal bath) houses stained glass windows, an elaborate hot water system & a jacuzzi setup. Apparently, when the nawabs would visit the Imam Bara, they would first complete their ablutions in the Shahi Hammam.
The Tomb of Princess Zinat Asiya is supposed to be a replica of the Taj Mahal. We, however, did not see the likeness.
Moving ahead, photography inside the main Imam Bara hall is prohibited. But the inside is worth seeing – chandeliers & crystal glass lampstands!
Looking back from the main Imam Bara hall, we saw the ceremonial gate reflected in the rectangular pond.
Caution – Women are required to cover their heads here.
Opposite the Chota Imam Bara is the Naubat Khana. A Naubat Khana was the orchestra pit of buildings, i.e., musicians would play their instruments sitting in the Naubat Khana so that their music could be heard far & wide.
In the context of the Chota Imam Bara, the Naubat Khana was more of a place from where the hour of the day was announced by beating drums.
We bid adieu to the Chota Imam Bara & hopped back on our tanga. It brought us to the Jama Masjid. The construction was started in 1839 under the patronage of Mohammad Ali Shah Bahadur. Apparently, he wanted this mosque to surpass the Delhi Jama Masjid in size. But, unfortunately, he died before its completion.
His wife, Malika Jahan Sahiba, got it completed, but the size could not be matched.
After all the sightseeing, we attacked what Lucknow is famous for – the Awadhi cuisine. If you are a non vegetarian visiting Lucknow, you MUST try the nihari with Qulcha at Raheem’s Qulcha Nihari. Tucked in one of the lanes of Chowk, the restaurant may appear a little dingy but do not let that deter you.
We walked in for lunch & had Mutton Biryani, Mutton Nihari & Qulcha. Each dish was mouthwatering. Portion size was adequate for two. Service was quick. Raheem’s can get quite crowded; you may have to wait your turn. But it is worth it. Families & women can easily go here; nothing to get intimidated about.
Stepping out of Raheem Qulcha Nihari with big smiles on our faces, we found ourselves in Phool Wali Gali. The flower mandi is 200-year-old. If we close our eyes, we still remember the fragrance!
It is not just heritage structures that lend an appeal to a place; it is also the traditional markets, cuisines, & culture. Chowk contributes majorly to Lucknow’s history! This market area is heaven for foodies & shoppers. The best way to get around is on foot. Do not hesitate to explore the tiny gullies!
We had heard a lot about the Malai Gilori at Ram Asrey. We had to check it out. Ram Asrey was in another gully of Chowk. We walked here from Raheem’s, taking in the sights & sounds of this centuries’ old market. Ram Asrey is a large sweetmeat shop & goes back hundreds of years.
The Malai Paan was a little different from what we expected but delicious, nonetheless. Go ahead & try other mithais too. A heaven for those with a sweet tooth.
We wanted to explore the British Residency post this, but, for some reason, we could not get any public transport to the place. Uber cabs were taking too long to arrive, & rickshaw pullers did not seem to know where the Residency was. After waiting for almost half an hour, we got an Uber cab ready to take us to our hotel.
In the evening, we decided to visit Khadi Weavers, a store we had (again) heard a lot about. It has all Khadi products under one roof. Men’s wear, women’s wear, personal care products, you name it! Khadi Weavers is amazing. The store is compact, neat & well laid out. The clothes are to-die-for & so reasonably priced!
We came out with a bag full of garments. This was after we had to stop our greed from taking over our senses.
We ended our day at The Mughals Dastarkhwan. We were advised to try this restaurant over Tunde Kebabi. Glad we did! Dastarkhwan had a large waiting time, which indicated to us that it was, indeed, popular. It has a proper waiting area outside, where the smell of the tandoori dishes’ wafts in, & gives a boost to your appetite.
Finally, when we were seated inside, we had Dhania Roti, Galawat Kebab, Mutton Rogan Josh, Plain Rice, Shahi Tukda, & Ulte Tawe Ka Paratha. The Dhania Roti (chapati with coriander filling) was a first for us. The Galawat Kebab was, truly, melt-in-the-mouth. The service was quick. The Mughals Dastarkhwan is a family-friendly place.
We cannot wait to go back!
A post – meal drive took us to the Lucknow Charbagh Railway Station. In a place like Lucknow, you cannot possibly escape heritage. Designed by J.H. Hornimen, the Charbagh Railway Station construction began in 1914. It is a fabulous mix of Awadhi, Mughal & Rajput architecture!
If you are up for it, step out in the cold night to have a kulhad chai. It will fill you with warmth…
The Last Morning
It was time to head back home but only after a hearty breakfast & a photo shoot! (P.S. The Azrak breakfast spread was great.)
As we crossed our favorite mustard fields on our way back home, we made up our minds to return to Lucknow. After all, still lots to see & eat.
For the frugal us, our sixth anniversary was a time to splurge. The least we could do was stay at a fantastic place — the lebua Lucknow.
A boutique property, in the heart of Lucknow, is housed in an old, traditional bungalow with a lush green lawn. Almost entirely white in color, lebua exudes calm. An aangan (courtyard) is surrounded by beautiful rooms. On the grounds you can find vintage cars & two-wheeler, & a garden full of flowering plants & trees. Large, colorful bougainvillea! The hotel had a few Awadh/ Lucknow books on sale at the reception.
Our room was more than comfortable. With a four-poster bed, we felt we had been transported back in time.
Thank goodness for the folks who restored this heritage bungalow! When you travel to Lucknow, & if you can, please stay at lebua. Its modern hospitality blended with traditional ethos will impress you.
What is it about travel that entices me so? Be it global or national; by air or rail; long or short; with family or friends; official or personal – every single time, my eyes light up. It is not just about travel; it is also about the thoughts that rush to me when I travel. This dawned on me during my travel for an engagement to the hinterlands of UP.
When I tumbled my way in the Bolero from Jagdishpur to Lucknow at sunset, there was a smile on my lips. ‘Riding into the sunset’ was the theme in my mind. The roads were neither great nor poor; yet, I was at peace. I had seen rural youth learning skills to become employable. Their sincere faces were etched in my mind. When I closed my eyes, I could visualize them toiling under the hot asbestos roof, trying to make themselves productive. I thought of us, the privileged ones, how we still curse our lives…
When I traveled from Raebareli to Lucknow, my thoughts wandered to the video I had seen of the poorest of poor. They strove to make a better life. They fought to overcome the odds. In a land where women are still exploited, harassed and oppressed, it was heartening to see groups of women come together to rise from the ashes. Even at a towering 5’8″, I felt small in front of them.
In Amethi, I stayed at a guesthouse which was austere but the hospitality freaked me out. The cook stuffed us with the tastiest food possible. The tehzeeb, I realized, was not limited to Lucknow alone.
Lucknow brought back a sense of belonging, though, frankly, I did not remember a thing from my childhood. Still, it felt like home. Tunde kebab and kulfi at Aminabad, walk at Hazratganj, sightseeing at Bada Imambargah, crossing Cantt, kulfi at Chhappan Bhog, Chikankari shopping at Chowk, Walk in Ambedkar Park, and kulfi (again!) at Nishatganj – spread over 5 days. Courtesy from the most unexpected of quarters. Masha-Allah! Being disappointed with the ‘sandstonification’ of Lucknow. And still being enchanted with how Laxman ka Teela became Teele wali Masjid!
I had thought that the beauty of Bhutan brought out the poetess and thinker in me. But I realize it happens to me every time I travel somewhere.
History comes alive, Battles of yore resound
The walls conceal mysteries infinite, I realize as I walk up the stone steps;
The India of today, not very different
Similar battles, similar mysteries, I realize as I walk down the stone steps.