Slice of slow travel

Slice of slow travel

Lucknow, the vintage City of Nawabs, must be savoured at its deliciously slow pace, suggests Shilpi Madan

Asfi mosque shrine

There is a delicious sense of languor that fills you when you alight at the mint new, international Choudhry Charan Singh Airport, or chug in at the quaint Charbagh Railway station: Lucknow spells sheer calm, sometimes splendour, and always an all-pervasive lull in its Mughal architecture, lip-curling Awadhi kebabs and biryani, near-ethereal chikankari and more.

From the airport, it is best and safest to avail of the pre-paid air conditioned taxi option to get to your destination. The wide, beautifully-maintained roads via the cantonment are a brilliant choice as opposed to the traffic-crammed Charbagh station route leading into the city. Once inside the main city, bank on the locally and easily available rickshaws with their pullers yanking you aboard and away on trundling wheels. It’s quite a joyride as you hold on to your sliding rear on the smooth, shiny seats while the rickshaw-puller skates around the crossroads and screeches to a crisp halt at your destination.

Wing into the city between October and February. You can enjoy the chill in the air and do full justice to the rich food. During summer, the temperature pegs itself around an average of 42 degree celsius to sap you, so you need to stay well-hydrated.

Rumi Darwaza
Rumi Darwaza


Lay of the land 

Lucknow spins magic through an endearing combination of the old and the new. Hazratganj forms the heartbeat of the city. Lined with New York-style lamp posts, the central strip boasts of a spic and span, black and white facade along the old, magnificent arches which are hundreds of years old. Everything is located here: from bookshops to chikankari studios to the Apple store to salons, street food stops, coffee shops and cinemas.Always buzzing.

The Chowk is called old Lucknow. Replete with beautiful domes and arches, several monuments, thousands of chikankari workshops and colleges, this is the relatively conservative part of the city. Best explored on foot or on rickshaws as the narrow lanes prevent tashreef (arrival) by car.

Gomtinagar is the newly developed section. You can navigate the smooth, broad roads easily without experiencing a traffic crunch. Zip across Lohia Path across the Gomti river and check out the malls, multiplexes and more. This part of the city houses apartments, a concept that was earlier virtually unknown to the residents, who have been living all their lives in expansive bungalows knitted to green lawns.

Must do

You’ve done Lucknow if you have slurped on the juicy local mango varieties of duessehri, langda and safeda, freshly plucked from the umpteen legendary orchards of Malihabad during the sizzling summer. Hopped on a tonga for a racy, jerky horse buggy ride through the old, forgotten lanes of the city in Chowk. Savoured the melt-in-the-mouth, magai saada paan near La Martiniere Girls School. Soaked up the beauty of the thriving Botanical Gardens during winter, redolent with flowers and ferns, and enjoyed admiring the vivid varieties of hybrid blooms at flower shows carpeting the massive lawns of the grand Governor House. Or better still, managed to gain entry into the lavish, immaculately maintained sprawling Sahar Sheher in Gomtinagar, complete with a mini farm, lake, auditorium...

Ghalouti kebab
Ghalouti kebab


Awadhi cuisine 

The odyssey of Awadhi cuisine begins at Dastarkhwan opposite Islamia College. Devour perfectly done, soft and moist, fried mutton chops with parathas, bhuna mutton gosht, kakori and galouti kebabs, kali mirch chicken... with your hands to relish every morsel. Wrap up with the treasured matka kulfi. No bookings, remember to pre-order the lipmacking nalli nihari and raan (both mutton preparations) 24 hours in advance. The restaurant has four branches, of which, this one is virtually crown-worthy.

Sakhawat Ali in Qaiser Bagh wings in with the delicious smell of shammi kebabs, galouti kebabs, mutton handi biryani and khatti machli that makes your heart do cartwheels. Consider yourself hooked and booked at Sakhawat. First, attack the kakori kebabs with mint chutney and onion rings followed by the signature, yummy mutton biryani. Tuesdays off. Remember to ask for the Friday specials. The eatery opens at 5 pm, with preparations selling out within a matter of few hours.

At Tunday Miya in Chowk, your passionate affair with meat continues, shamelessly and relentlessly. What started off as a beat down kebab-paratha shop in a winding alley of Akbari Gate area in 1905 is now a Mecca for kebab enthusiasts. Tunday Miya’s world-famous kebabs are an exotic union of pounded meat and special spices. Try the galouti kebabs, hissing on the mammoth tawas, feel them dissolve in sheer ecstasy on your palate, while you eye the coral sheermal next.

Called MBC in colloquial lingo, Mahomed Bagh Club is an Army club in the leafy cantonment area and holds bragging rights to fantastic, massive green lawns on all four sides, an outdoor swimming pool, the best fish fillet, fish fingers, besan roti with melting globules of yellow butter and lime and mango pickle, galouti kebabs and amazingly thin, crunchy, homemade wafers. Devour the chunky slabs of traditional Black Magic ice cream: layers of chocolate cake canoodle with vanilla ice cream smothered with miniscule cocoa pellets. You need to accompany a member of MBC to get inside here.

Arechitectural wonders

Soak up the splendid architecture of Lucknow’s baroque edifices:

Bara Imambara: Built by the fourth Nawab of Awadh, Asaf-Ud-Daula, the structure is also called Asfi Imambara. It was built as a part of a relief project for a debilitating famine in 1784. Take a tour through its 50-ft -high sprawling hall where there are absolutely no pillars, grids and beams. The enigmatic, famed labyrinth, Bhool Bhulaiya, is located on the upper floor. Experience the spooky echo of the sound of tearing paper or striking a matchstick at a certain point inside the maze, while on the guided tour.

Chhota Imambara: The gold-plated, radially ribbed domes of the Hussainabad Imambara or the Palace of Lights beckon in sheer splendour when lit at night. Built in 1837-40 by the third Nawab of Awadh, Muhammad Ali Shah, to stand as his own mausoleum, the Chhota Imambara comes replete with Quranic verses and lavish Belgian chandeliers.

Rumi Darwaza: Often called the Turkish Gate, this ‘gateway to paradise’ is a magnificent 60-feet-high doorway that was shaped along the lines of a similar gateway in ancient Constantinople, hence the name. The uppermost section of Rumi Darwaza is a beautifully-carved octagonal umbrella that can be accessed by a staircase.

The Residency: Also referred to as the British Residency, these ruins with canon shot walls are located in the heart of the city. Constructed during the rule of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan II, the collusion of erstwhile buildings served as the residence for the British Resident General who was a representative in the court of the Nawab. 

Prince of Wales Zoological Gardens: Make time for a trip to the renowned Prince of Wales zoo. Kitted out with a spanking new toy train that takes you on a succinct tour as you squeal excitedly on spotting the white reindeer, pelicans, emu, Bengal tiger, vultures, and more. Swing through the fantastic aquarium and museum here. Hop onto a golf cart to ferry you around if you wish.

 Shop till you drop

Splurge on chikankari at Ada and SEWA for chikankari. Sheer muslins sheathed with delicate gossamer embroidery pirouette in a variety of stitches like tepchi, murri, jaali, phanda, daraz... Pick salwars complete with dazzling lace, unstitched suits, crisp cotton sarees sheathed in fine chikankari, chic georgettes in powder pinks, blues and yellows, fab souvenirs in tunics, churidars, salwars and table cloths to napkins, bags, kurtas, handkerchieves and stoles: timeless chikan paisleys and floral patterms appear in flattering combination with silks, chanderi cottons and crochet trims for a trendier appeal here.

Rare tomes tracing the legacy of Nawabs, exhaustive maps of Lucknow, treasured books on shayri (Urdu poetry) and literature detailing the fascinating Mughal era (and its delicacies) and more jockey for attention at the oldest, bulwark bookshop in Lucknow, British Book Depot. Established in 1936, it was a favourite with late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Street food specials

Admittedly, food is exalted to the level of a gastronomic feast in the city of Nawabs. So keep tucking in the tasty tidbits that compose the food symphony. 

There is a sort of wondrous, non-replicable delight when you sink your molars into the hot, puffy, fried khasta, and take a purposeful bite of the crunchy jalebi next at Moti Mahal. Try this for breakfast and you are set to embark upon your Lucknow ditty. Come here for the best malai pista kulfi too. Cut in fat slabs, the yellow cold dessert comes complete with quivering orange and white falooda.

Mu Man’s Royal Cafe offers the best chaat! Crisp potato slivered tokris form the cup for the famed basket chaat here. A delectable medley of tamarind chutney, spicy potatoes, crunchy small, disc-shaped puris topped with creamy yoghurt and fried yellow sev and boondi balls. You must try the spicy matar, aloo tikki, a huge crunchy potato patty smothered with imli chutney and curd. The golgappas are a fabulous rendition. Filled repeatedly with a tangy solution in a water cooler (mineral water is used) and served up in tiny clay saucers.

Makhan Malai is a treasured winter treat. Beautifully frothy, light, irresistible to its creamy, saffron soul. The cold pistachio slivered butter cream nestles in huge earthern pots covered with red cloth, and sold on the streets especially near Gol Darwaza in Chowk.

The silver warq on top adds to its sweet appeal. Blink, and it dissolves in your mouth. Droolworthy!

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