Tryst with the royal land of Lucknow

Travel tale

Wide roads, statues of Dalit leaders, and a number of elephant sculptures were my only memories of Lucknow, courtesy a half-day trip to the city to attend a friend’s wedding. Recently, our cousin invited us again, and my brother and I were excited and also confused as we weren’t aware what the city had in store.

But I must admit that it surely surprised us!
We decided to take a flight to avoid train delays during winters. After dropping the luggage at our cousin’s place, we were looking forward to a grand New Year’s Eve dinner at Oudhyana of The Taj Vivanta. A royal and delightful meal rested in our wait and there were live ghazals to give company. There was such variety in the menu with many dishes being new and some bizzare like Ande ka Halwa or Lehsun ki Kheer!

The next day, we headed to Daulatganj, the old city of Lucknow and the address of Nawabs in the times of yore. We found that the Bara Imambara, a congregational hall for Shia Muslims, was closed till 1 pm as the Friday prayers were being observed. Till then we took a horse-driven tonga to the Chota Imambara; it was a short ride passing through the magnificent Rumi Darwaza. A guide informed us with rote-learned information about the technology used in the Hamaam and the complex, proving that Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah was way ahead of his times. The Imambada, a colourful and breathtaking structure, housed the crown of the ruler, grand chandeliers and ceremonial tazias in the main hall.

When we returned, it seemed like the whole Lucknow had come to witness the grandeur of Bara Imambara because such was the crowd. The complex includes the Asfi mosque, Bhool Bhulaiya, Baoli and two imposing gateways.

Through the confusing turns the Bhool Bhulaiya, our guide told us about the science used in this architectural marvel of the 18th century. He showed us the doors to one of the secret tunnels which opened either to Faizabad, Allahabad or Delhi among many other things.

Possibly the only existing maze in India, the puspose of building the bhulbhalayah was only to support the weight of the building constructed on marshy land. To my surprise, the Imambarahas have no beams supporting the ceiling and its roof is made up from the rice husk which makes it a unique building.

After an exhausting day, our hungry stomach took us to a restaurant named Baati Chokha, serving traditional Banarsi cuisine. I must say that the Baati-Litti-Chokha thaali was one of the tastiest meals I have ever had.

The traditional and authentic setup added to the ambience of the place.
The next day I embarked on a solo shopping expedition to Aminabad and Chowk, the two old marketplaces which claim to have the best Chikkan in Lucknow. But soon after, I realised that the company of a local is essential having knowledge of the same. Nevertheless, it was fun to make way through the crowd, interact with locals and explore the old havelis of the area.

Alas! At Chowk, I found a wholesale Chikkan shop with a variety. After a series of approvals and rejections, I came back as a satisfied buyer. At night, Hazratganj, a posh and lively marketplace similar to Delhi’s Connaught Place, became the last stop of the trip. Being a vegetarian, I missed tasting the legendary Tunday Kebabs, though.

Historically known as the City of Nawabs, I prefer to call Lucknow ‘a city of political parks’. On one side, one can find grand Ambedkar Sthal built by Mayawati, and in competition, stands the Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Park by Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party. I decided to skip both.
A junction of history, politics and lifestyle, Lucknow is a worthwhile experience. There is a magic in the air of the city enchanting enough to make you fall in love after the first meet. Until next time, aadaab!

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