Lucknow City Guide

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City Guide of Lucknow

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Bara Imambara lucknow
Lucknow is known all over the world for the tehjeeb or the courteous behavior of its people. It is a rare city. Few places in the world are endowed with such rich cultural traditions, as is this romantic city of the nawabs. Whether it is history, architecture, music, dance, handicrafts, etiquette, or sports, Lucknow has its own story to tell.

Surprisingly, the story of Lucknow began not so very long ago. Though the city traces its origin to the Suryavanshi dynasty of Ayodhya in ancient times, and derives its name from Lakshmana (the brother of Lord Rama), Lucknow actually came into prominence during the 18th century. In 1732, Muhammad Shah, one of the later kings of the once-powerful Mughal dynasty, appointed Mohammed Amir Saadat Khan, a Persian adventurer of noble lineage, to the viceroyalty of the area known as Avadh, of which Lucknow was a part. Saadat Khan was the founder of the famous dynasty known as the Nawab Wazirs-a dynasty that changed the face of this hitherto little-known place. Under his successors, Lucknow flowered as never before and all but became the cultural nerve center of northern India. The rapid growth of Lucknow dates from 1755 when the fourth Nawab, Asaf-ud-Daula, transferred the capital of Avadh from Faizabad to Lucknow and set about gifting to the city some of its most splendid architectural marvels, a tradition that was sustained by this successors. During this period, Lucknow also established its prominent place in the field of poetry, music, and dance. A colorful local culture, incorporating fairs and festivals, also flourished alongside. But what really set Lucknow apart from others was a certain elegance and grace of lifestyle. A romantic and courtly ambience became a part of the city. In fact, even today the city breathes history, and the sound of laughter and music, the tinkling of ankle bells and the mellifluous rendering of Urdu poetry (shairi) still echo and reverberate through the long corridors of time. Even today, when one wanders through the city, s/he will encounter the kind of refined courtesy and polish that seems to belong to another age.

Lucknow today, nestling on the banks of the river Gomti, is a modern, bustling metropolis and serves as the capital of the large north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. But despite the changes it has undergone over the decades, it still retains the vestige of the culture that once made it one of the most celebrated cities of the land. It represents a harmonized blend of the old and the new; it has the advantages of a big, modern city, without any of the disadvantages. There is a profusion of parks and gardens redolent with nostalgia of another time. More importantly, residents of Lucknow have an extremely relaxed and laid-back attitude to life. So even though Lucknow is a big city today, there is none of the mad rush and hectic pace that one normally expects in a busy metropolis.

Lucknow abounds with lovely monuments that tell the story of their time. For any visitor to this city, a trip to the various architectural wonders is an absolute must. Among the most important monuments are the Imambadas, the many mosques, the Roomi Darwaza, and the many splendid Mughal architectural marvels.

The Bada Imambada or Asafi Imambada (Imambada: patriarch’s place) is an important tourist attraction of Lucknow. It was built by the then Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1784 to provide succor to the famine-stricken people. Apart from the galleries in the interior, there is no woodwork anywhere. The interior vaulted hall, measuring 162 feet long, 53 feet broad, and 50 feet high is said to be one of the largest apartments of its kind in the world. From the outside, a staircase leads to a series of artfully designed labyrinths (bhoolbhulaiyan) where it is very easy to get lost! You could wander through the zigzag narrow galleries for hours without finding your way out! It’s a very eerie sensation, moving towards the sunlit corridors that seem to be going out, only to find that you are actually deeper in the labyrinth! Most visitors therefore are only allowed inside with guides who are, quite amazingly, familiar with the maze. In fact, a favorite trick of all guides is to tell the visitor that he will be given 15 minutes to find his way out. Most visitors, needless to say, fail the test! There are also large underground passages that have now been blocked up. Next to the Imambada, in the same compound, is a majestic mosque and to its right, a row of cloisters concealing a huge well, which is said to be fathomless.

The Hussainabad or Chota Imambada is an exquisite building built by Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah in 1839 as a burial place for himself. As you enter the compound, you step into a large courtyard with a rectangular raised tank spanned by a small bridge. The beautiful Imambada, reflected in the placid water of the tank is one of the prettier sights in Lucknow. On either side of the courtyards stand a miniature version of the Taj Mahal. In one of them lies buried Zinat Asuja, the daughter of Muhammad Ali Shah and in the other are preserved the remains of her husband. The walls of the Imambada are embellished with calligraphic verses in Arabic. The interior of the Imambada houses an exotic assortment of objects ranging from elaborate chandeliers and gilded mirrors to tazias made of sandalwood, wax, and paper. A silver railing encloses the graves of Muhammad Ali Shah and his mother. During Muharram, both the Imambadas are ablaze with illumination.

Apart from the Bada Imambada, Asaf-ud-Daula also built the great Roomi Darwaza as a relief work during the famine of 1783. Said to be a facsimile of one of the gates of Constantinople, this soaring edifice, which is 60 feet high, can match any similar structure in point of beauty and splendor.

Then there is the Jama Masjid, a great mosque with two minarets and three domes, which stands to the west of the Hussainabad Imambada. It also owes its origin to Muhammad Ali Shah who started the construction but did not live to see it completed. That task was left to Begum Malika Jahan of the royal family.

The Hussainabad Clock Tower, rising to 221 feet, was started in 1880 and completed seven years later. The clock itself, which was designed by M. J. W. Wanson of London, is said to be the largest in India. Nearby is the Picture Gallery, a double-storey redbrick building built by Mohammed Ali Shah as a baradari. Today, it houses enormous portraits of all the Nawabs of Avadh, most of which were painted in the late 19th century by European artists. The portraits, which have recently been restored, give a good insight into the grand costumes and jewelry favored by the Nawabs.

The Residency was built in 1800 by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan for the British Resident at his court. Originally a very extensive and beautiful building, it received heavy shelling during 1857, when the First War Of Indian Independence took place. The inhabitants of the Residency faced a siege of 140 days before they were rescued by British troops. The red building is today in a dilapidated state and marks of cannon shots can be seen on almost every wall. Surrounded by shady green trees, the ruins of the Residency stand, still and quiet, in the afternoon sunshine. A brooding silence engulfs the ruins and one almost expects the ghosts of the dead to suddenly materialize and flit across the rooms.

A little distance away from the Residency is the glorious Chattar Manzil that served for a while as the palace of Begum Hazrat Mahal, the heroine of India’s first fight for independence against the British. For English travelers in the 19th century, it seemed like something out of Arabian Nights! Today this splendid building houses a prosaic Drug Research Institute.

Among the other fabulous monuments of Lucknow are the Kaiser Bagh palaces, built by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Avadh, who was robbed of his kingdom by the British and confined in Calcutta where he spent the last years of his life, pining for his beloved Lucknow. The buildings are said to have cost around 80 lakhs when they were built in 1850. Today a great deal of Kaiser Bagh has disappeared (the destruction took place in the 1857 uprising), but the name still applies to the historic quadrangle where Wajid Ali Shah, wearing the dress of a dramatic performer, used to participate in fairs. There are several small pavilions for the performance of plays. The surrounding yellow buildings called Lakhi were, at one time, the harem.

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Tomb of Mushirzadi
If one were to continue enumerating all the sights and sounds that Lucknow is famous for-like the La Martiniere School for Boys (housed in an Italian style building constructed by Major General Claude Martin for his own residence in 1793) or Nadan Mahal (one of the oldest structures of the city) or Moti Mahal (constructed by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan who used to watch the fights of large animals from Mubarak Manzil, which is in the same compound)-one could go on forever. Perhaps the wise thing to do is to explore this fascinating city on one’s own. Apart from the well-known buildings, it is entirely probable that one may discover some concealed gems in the form of the Charbagh Railway Station, Biblapur Kothi, Dilkusha Palace, Zoological Gardens, State Museum, Tarawali Kothi, Khursheed Manzil, Shah Nazaf, Botanical Gardens (Sikandar Bagh), Badshahi Bagh, Aliganj Mahbir Temple, Kaiser Bagh, Mothi Roshan-ud-Daula, Lal Baradari, Lakshman Tila, Dargah of Hazrat Abbas, and the Alamgiri Mosque.

Lucknow has a number of sites to go shopping. Blended in history, these shopping places also are used as the popular means of passing time and lazy strolling. Hazrat Gunj (named after Begum Hazrat Mahal) is a fashionable shopping plaza overflowing with shops and restaurants. Strolling leisurely in Hazrat Gunj and stopping for a bit of window-shopping or meeting friends at your favorite corner is a popular pastime here. Aminabad is among the busiest markets in the city where one can pick up all kinds of things. But it is primarily known for jewelry and pickle shops. Shopping in the Chowk, an old locality of Lucknow, is also a delightful experience. While doing the rounds of the shops, a visit to Nakhas, the Sunday market, is obligatory. A colorful, noisy pavement bazaar, it is a veritable storehouse of antiques and curios. The visitor can pick up old, beautifully carved paandans (boxes in which the various ingredients that make up a paan are kept), khaasdans (pretty little containers in which the paans are served), and all kinds of other such charming objets d’art. Nakhas also has a bird market. And pottery lovers should make a beeline for Chinhat, located just a few kilometers away from Lucknow. There are pottery factories here that churn out attractive planters, bowls, tea sets, mugs, vases, and dinner sets-all available at very reasonable prices.

While in Lucknow, the visitor can pick up several items that are special to Lucknow. For a start, there is the extremely popular and delicate embroidery called chikan, which is today done on anything and everything-from nightdresses to table lines and saris. In the old days, Lucknow’s needle workers vied with each other in producing the finest, most delicate chikan embroidery on the garments of that age-on topis (caps), angarkhas (tunics) and dupattas (long scarves). Chikankari or chikan work is usually done on very fine cotton cloth of pale, soft colors. The whole effect of white chikan work on these fine, delicately colored cottons is one of ethereal, cool loveliness. Today, the work is almost completely in the hands of the Muslim women.

Befitting a city of refined, artistic people, addicted to the more subtle pleasures of life, Lucknow is an excellent place to buy vials of exotic Indian perfume, known as ittar. Highly concentrated, ittar (also attar) should be used very sparingly-just one drop is enough for the perfume to cling to clothes. The more popular perfumes are khus, distilled from the root of a kind of grass found in various parts of Uttar Pradesh, and kewra, which is abundantly available in the state of Orissa (and so the portable distillery is sent there every year!). But probably the most remarkable ittar is that which exudes the perfume of moist wet earth, evoking memories of cool, silvery monsoon showers drenching a brown, parched earth.

Lucknow is justifiably famous for is its gastronomic delicacies. Fabulous sweetmeats, which melt when placed in the mouth, can be bought from the famous sweet shops in all three main shopping centers. Pickles, made from fruits and vegetables are another must on every shopper’s list. And, of course, the visitor must sample the delicious Lucknawi cuisine that boasts of such mouth-watering preparations as biryani, (fried rice) and various kinds of korma, (special gravy), keema (minced meat) and meat koftas (meat balls), kebabs (barbecued meat), etc. Indeed, entertaining in Lucknow was elevated to a fine art in the days of the Nawabs, and even today, a traditional Lucknowite will serve an excellent dinner to his guests. In fact, in the old days, hosts would compete with each other in organizing the most sumptuous dinner parties. The story goes that a famous Nawab became tired of serving the same dishes every time and so he racked his brain in an effort to find a novel way of serving food.

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By Air Lucknow is connected by daily flight from major towns and cities of India.

By Train Some well-known trains-Gomti Express (New Delhi to Lucknow), Neelachal Express (New Delhi to Puri), Vaishali Express (New Delhi to Barauni), Ganga-Jamuna Express (New Delhi to Lucknow), Sabarmati Express (Ahmedabad to Varanasi), and Avadh Assam Express (Guwahati to New Delhi)-connect Lucknow to the rest of India.

By Road Lucknow is also well connected to other cities of the country by road. The distances to some nearby cities are as follows: Delhi, 499 km; Jhansi, 340 km; Srinagar, 1394 km; Varanasi, 319 km.

Local Transport
Taxis, tongas, cycle rickshaws are available throughout the city. Charges vary according to the distance.


Nawabganj Lake
Located at a distance of 40 kilometers form Lucknow is the Nawabganj Lake. It is a colorful bird sanctuary. There is a motel run by the Tourist Department.

Fifteen kilometers from Lucknow is Kukrail, developed as a picnic spot by the Forest Department. There is a deer farm and a crocodile nursery. A children’s park, cafeteria, and a rest house have also been built to facilitate the visitors here. One can see spotted deer, black buck, sambhar, and a variety of birds in their natural abode.

Chinhat Picnic Pavilion
At a distance of 15 kilometers from Lucknow is the Chinhat Picnic Pavilion. There is a rest house by the side of Kathauta Lake. One can also visit the neighborhood Chinhat pottery units.

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