A glimpse into the heart of Lucknow, India : Must do's

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

A trip into our childhood...

When it comes to taking your first trip into the crazy, chaotic and unique country called India, its likely to be a love/hate relationship. Being one of the oldest civilizations, Indian culture is omnipresent even as the country evolves and grows. Little reminders of what Indian heritage stands for remain deeply rooted into the bustling everyday.

The textbook approach for exploring India today has become limited to the golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur. Of course this is hardly surprising considering the the area's beautifully preserved traditional architecture. However, this is only a scratch in the surface as people miss out on seeing the many testaments (architectural, artistic, religious you name it) to the numerous historical eras and cultural invasions that can be seen as you travel from city to city. Keep in mind though, some of these testaments don't come in the same perfectly preserved mould you may find in a city like Jaipur. At the expense of exuding the standard 'eat pray love' attitude, I must say if you wish to travel the off beat path, keep on reading.

This July, we went back to our hometown in India after five years of longing and missing our family and friends. The trip felt like meeting an old friend; changed in some ways, the same in many. Modern day Lucknow is charmingly rough around the edges, it speaks with a soft and gentle lilt and has birthed monuments that bore witness to the vibrant cultural hub it was during the Mughal era in India.  A major metropolitan city now, the city still carries its past as a huge artistic hub in 18th and 19th centuries with pride. The Nawabs that ruled the city during this period were connoisseurs of the arts and this fact remains the ultimate tourism tagline for the city.Of course the city has expanded to incorporate sky high buildings and numerous shopping centers but the heart of Lucknow is still thriving albeit it may have been pushed slightly to the fringes with the area now being called 'Old Lucknow'.

The vicinity of Old Lucknow occupied the numero uno on my 'things to explore'. Here are some things we decided to explore:

1. The Bada Imambara
Also known as the Asfi Imambara as an ode to the ruler who constructed it, this monument is as  Lakhnawi as it gets.  If you decide to visit here, I recommend getting a tour guide as they certainly do justice to the history and architecture of the place. From our visit, I learnt that Nawab Asaf Ud Daula used the building as a source of employment in the years that Lucknow suffered from famine. The historical aspects aside,the architecture of this building alludes heavily to the Mughal reign in Lucknow and is treat for those that admire the distinct aesthetic of the time period. My most memorable part of this visit was the bhool bhullaiya (maze) that occupies the upper three levels of the building. The guide usually gives you the option of doing the maze on your own or letting him guide you through. Unfortunately we were pressed for time and didn't get a chance to navigate the maze on our own but I definitely suggest it if you have the chance.

2. Chota Imambara
The smaller counterpart to the above, the Chota Imamabara is located at a short distance and goes through the beautiful Rumi Darwaza. Alas, when we arrived there the place was under renovation and much of its beautiful exteriors were hidden. We did however manage to look at the gallery of brightly coloured chandeliers that look dazzling in the mirror adorned room.

As someone who loves visiting galleries, I longed to explore Mughal artworks that are housed in the Hussainabad art gallery. Hard pressed for time as we were, we had to give this a miss but definitely go in for a peak at portraits of Nawabs that embellish the walls here.

3. The Residency
Walking through the residency transported me instantly to the rich history of the city. The Residency bore witness to the Siege of Lucknow and has the battle scars to prove it. Today, the incredibly well preserved remains are surrounded by lush, green gardens and is the perfect spot for a picnic visit during the day.

A cursory warning: The Residency is a popular hideout for young lovebirds and if you wish to travel with family, avoiding the nooks and crannies is best. 

Aside from the older parts of town, we also got the taste of contemporary Lucknow through Ambedkar park. The park has had a serious make over in recent years and was far grander than what I remembered of it. Although the natural imagery we often associated with parks is largely missing here, the striking use of stone work and sheer grandeur of the statues it houses is something worth seeing. We visited the park at dusk and watched the buildings transform as the pink cotton candy skies transformed into a starry night.

Lastly, our grandparents reside in the central shopping and food precinct of Lucknow, Hazratganj and we had ample opportunity to bask in the true essence of the city. Here are some small things that made all the difference.
  • Eat Lakhnawi chaat for the unique flavour you are unlikely to find in the Indian restaurant around the corner. It's spicy, crispy and absolutely delicious. 
  • I love nothing more than the fragrance of fresh flowers and as the day progress to night, you are likely to find many local sellers roaming the market streets with fresh gajras (flowers to put in your hair).  Best way to channel your inner Indian princess. 
  • Chikankari is a type of embroidery that is distinct to the area and many local shops stock beautiful handmade chikan work saris. 
  • I assure you if you are not of an Indian background there is nothing you will taste in your life that can match the flavour of a freshly made piece of paan. And biased as I may be, you won't find better paan anywhere other than Lucknow.
Our trip to Lucknow was a memorable part of the year for me and going back after so long was refreshing, exciting and grounding. The visit also happened to fall during the period of Ramadan and left only a few days short of the festival of Eid. With a hearty Muslim population in the city, the atmosphere had a festive buzz I realised I missed most. For me Lucknow is the underdog, the pleasant surprise you don't expect to find. Travel there for people who always say 'pehle aap' (you first), the art that runs through its veins and the chaos that surrounds it all.

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  1. Wow, what a fabulous article! Stunning photos! Cheers, Madge

  2. Wow, such beautiful photos that truly capture such an amazing country! I love the Indian culture, especially the female cultures, it's so feminine! I've never been there before, but I definitely intend on visiting some day, since I have some fiends who live there! Thanks for sharing and I hope you have an amazing day and start to your weekend, beautiful!



  3. Incredible photos! I love this visual feast of India as well as your in-depth insights into exploring this area of the country. Thanks for a wonderful post!


  4. Amazing photos! I wish that I can visit Lucknow one day.