Are You in Lucknow? Again?? – Part 2
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!
Saint Joseph’s Cathedral
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!
La Martiniere College
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!
Roastery Coffee House
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.
A busy but really satisfying day came to an end!