Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, is a quintessential town of North India. Its low rise buildings, man-drawn rickshaws, history, and architecture give a sense of the old India charm. Ruled by Nawabs in the 18th century, the city still retains the essence of their culture in their language and their lifestyle.
I got a chance to visit this city in December with my husband, for the weekend, and they were filled with sightseeing, shopping, and gorging on delicious food.
What to see
It is a huge complex spread across 100 acres, that served as a resident for the British General who was a representative in the court of the Nawab. Originally built by the 5th Nawab of Awadh (archaic name of Lucknow), it now lies in ruins. Much of it was destroyed during the siege of Lucknow, which took place in 1857 as a part of the first battle of independence.
The complex today houses a museum, a beautiful imambara, a cemetery (which has the graves of around 2000 British soldiers who died in the 1857 revolt), ruins of a lavish banquet hall, Dr. Frayer’s house, Begum Kothi and various other structures.
The red stone buildings with their cannon marks and fallen walls tell a somber story of an era in India’s history, which feels surreal.
The ruins are well maintained with huge lawns and gardens surrounding them. This is a must see place for visitors in Lucknow.
The first thing that strikes you when you visit Bara Imambara (Bara means big), is the sheer size of it. With beautiful architecture and Mughal designs, it is an imposing structure. You can’t help but stare at it for some time and drink in the sight.
Built in 1784, Bara Imambara also known as Asfi Imambara has three sections; the mosque, the bhul-bhulaiya, and the bowli (step well), and guides are available to take you around the property.
I found bhul-bhulaiya very interesting. It is said that there are 1024 ways of reaching its terrace but only one way to come down. The sights from the top are quite lovely and one can just sit on one of the various balconies and enjoy the calmness.
Situated close to Bara Imamabar, this is a beautiful structure built in 1838, by the then Nawab of Awadh. It initially served as a congregation hall for Shia Muslims. The exterior of this building is covered in Quranic verses, written beautifully in Islamic calligraphy.
It is also known as the Palace of lights, as during special festivals like Muhurrum it is decorated with lights and chandeliers.
This is the iconic gate of Lucknow. Built in 1784, this 60 ft tall structure is a resplendent example of Awadhi architecture. There is not much to do here, but still one should not miss it because of its sheer beauty. One can admire this structure while passing from the Bara Imambara to the Chhota Imambara.
Ambedkar Memorial Park
It is a relatively modern park completely built using red sandstones brought from Rajasthan. The quality of work done and the effort went into developing this park pleasantly surprised us.
Located in Gomti Nagara, one of the poshest areas of Lucknow, it was built in the memory of those who have dedicated their lives to humanity and equality like Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, Jyotirao Phule and many more.
The park is quite huge and you will require a couple of hours to explore it.
What to shop
Lucknow is famous for its chickankari (thread embroidery). Buying Chickan from here is a must, it is famous worldwide.
If you want to shop from proper outlets visit Janata Market located in Hazratganj, one of the most popular and most filmed locations of Lucknow. You will find beautiful chickan kurtis, salwars, and sarees, etc. here, but their price is on the higher side. Those who don’t mind shopping from crowded markets, visit Aminabad or Chowk. They have myriads of stalls and shops selling beautiful chickan work at very reasonable rates.
Where to eat
People visiting Lucknow should definitely try its Chaat. One of the most popular Chaat joints is Royal Cafe, located in Hazratganj. It has a plethora of Chaat varieties, each one more delicious than the other. There are also numerous street vendors selling Bhel Puri (a type of chaat item), which is hygienic and tasty.
Also if you want a true experience of being in Lucknow visit the stall of Sharmaji ki chaai. Have their popular chaai with bun-maska and samosa! The number of people visiting this stall, from locals to travelers, is an indication of how popular Lucknow food is.
Lucknow is an important part of India’s vast history. It gives a glimpse into the country’s struggle for independence, the royal lineage of Nawabs, the years-old elegance, customs, and traditions that still live on.