A DAY IN THE GOLDEN CITY
Lucknow was the melting pot of India, way before cities like Mumbai or Delhi came into existence. Also known as the Golden City of India and the Constantinople of the East, this city offers so much that it can take a whole lifetime to understand this beautiful city of Shia-Nawaabs. But all we had was just one day.
We were on a road trip from Delhi to Lucknow for a friend’s wedding, and so without wasting our time, we got out to explore the city in the morning. The first destination was Hazratganj, because some of us guys had to shop a little. Honestly I wasn’t expecting so much crowd, but it was just like visiting CP in New Delhi. Hazratganj is an old fashioned shopping street, with buildings and shops on both sides of a wide road. The place looks exactly lice the MI Road of Jaipur, but has the energy of any busy centre point of a big city.
After shopping for some guy stuff (ahem), we quickly headed towards Chota Imambara, as it was afternoon already.
Imambara is usually the name for a congregational hall built in the memory of the revered prophet Muhammed. Chota Imambara of Lucknow was built by the 9th Nawaab of Oudh, Muhammed Ali Shah. The main hall also serves as the mausoleum for the Nawaab and his mother. Besides a mosque and the main hall, it also has two more tombs that are replicated after the Taj Mahal. The daughter of the Nawaab and her husband sleep in these two tombs.
Outside Chota Imambara, you notice another structure that looks like an unfinished and crude copy of the leaning tower of Pisa at a distance. This is ‘Satkhanda’ (meaning ‘with Seven Blocks’), a watch tower and a lunar observatory commissioned by Nawaab Muhammed Ali. The plan was to make seven stories, but the project came to a halt after the Nawaab’s death in 1842.
We were losing light and so we headed out to Bara Imambara. This was built by Nawaab Asaf Ud-Daula (the 4th Nawaab of Oudh). This complex includes the main congregational hall, a baoli (stepwell), a labyrinth and a mosque. 1785 was the year of a cataclysmic famine and so the Nawaab commissioned the construction of this complex in order to provide employment to his people. Built in Persian and Mughal style, this hall also serves as the tomb of Nawaab Asaf Ud-Daula and the architect Kifayatullah (who was a Delhite BTW). The building has a labyrinth called ‘Bhool Bhulaiya’ which is a maze of passages running over the congregational hall. Though the guides might try to scare you, but its quite simple to find your way through these passages.
PRO TIP: NEVER HIRE A GUIDE !
Soon, it was the closing time and a phone call from our friend who was about to get married in a few hours reminded us why we were in the city. So we got back to our hotel and switched from ‘the tourists’ mode into ‘full Hulk Desi Wedding attendees’ mode. We left the city same night, but its still calling us and we are planning another trip together.