Razy Shah | December 03, 2015
Lucknow is the capital city of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh. Situated on the banks of the Gomti River, the city used to be the seat of the Nawabs of Awadh during the Mughal Empire. The 18th and 19th century reign of the Nawabs saw the flourishing of the arts, culture and cuisine. Their legacy still lives on today in their beautiful monuments, tehzeeb and Lucknow cuisine.
Lucknow is famed all over India for its culture, poetry, beautiful monuments and the Nawabi cuisine. For the global traveler, visiting Lucknow is rarely on the itinerary. It is overlooked in favour of Agra and Varanasi. If you are looking for a city steeped in courtly manners, rich in history, filled with architectural wonders and fine cuisine, then Lucknow has to be a stop on your next trip to India. And you won’t have to jostle with hordes of tourists!
The Asafi Imambara is the pride of Lucknow. It is more popularly known as Bara Imambara. Bara being the Urdu word for big. The Nawabs were of the Shia sect of Islam and hence the presence of a number of Imambaras that dot Lucknow. An Imambara is a congregation hall for Shia ceremonies and used during the month of Muharram by Shia Muslims.
The Bara Imambara was built in 1784 during a time of great famine. The ruler at that time, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, conceived the major construction project as a means of employment for his people. The imambara lives up to the Bara in its name with two lavish entrances, a massive courtyard and multiple lawns that result in an awe-inspiring complex. One of the many highlights of the Bara Imambara is the legendary Bhool Bhulaiya. It is a labyrinth that is impossible to navigate without a guide.
Rumi Darwaza is a beautiful gateway built in 1784 by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. It is said to be modeled after a gateway in Istanbul. The Rumi Darwaza is now an icon of Lucknow and is used in marketing collaterals to represent the city. Built in the Mughal and Awadhi architectural style, the gateway is adorned with beautiful calligraphy and floral engravings. Traffic passes through the three archways in the centre of the gateway. A popular way of experiencing the Rumi Darwaza is on a tanga (horse carriage) ride through the archway towards the Bara Imambara.
The Nawabs of Lucknow were originally from Iran and were Shia Muslims. Hence, the strong Shia identity of the Lucknow. This imambara (congregation complex) was built in 1837 by Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah. It was built also to serve as his final resting place. Chota means small and hence the name Chota Imambara.
The imambara is ornate and has a water feature that runs right up to the imambara. Both sides of the water feature are flanked by replicas of the Taj Mahal. One of the replicas houses the graves of Muhammad Ali Shah’s daughter and husband. The other replica was built solely with the purpose of creating symmetry. Symmetry is an important aspect of Mughal architecture. The two replicas cast a wonderfully symmetrical reflection in the water channel.
The interior of the Chota Imambara houses the graves of the Muhammad Ali Shah and his mother. The interiors are adorned with beautiful glasswork and calligraphy of Shiite religious text. A notable feature of the Chota Imambara are its ornate chandeliers which were imported from Belgium. The Chota Imambara is dubbed as the “Palace of Lights” because of its decorations during the eve of Muharram.
The Residency of Lucknow was the official residence of the appointed “Resident” who would manage relations between the British Empire and the Indian princely states. The Residency of Lucknow is built on the highest point of Lucknow and was the site of the historic battle christened the Siege of Lucknow.
When the mutiny of 1857 was sparked, all 1700 European residents of Lucknow found refuge in the residency compound.
The ruins of the Residency are maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. It is a national monument and serves as a reminder of the first battle of independence. A walk through the residence compound is a surreal experience as you witness walls damaged by cannons and memorials erected for those who lost their lives in the battle.
The Siege of Lucknow has some interesting and poignant firsts. It has the largest number of Victoria Crosses to be awarded in a single day (24 earned on 16th November 1857). It also saw the first black person to receive the Victoria Cross for his efforts during the siege.
La Martiniere is a prestigious educational institution in Lucknow. It is part of the La Martiniere schools founded by Major General Claude Martin. Construction began in 1785 to be the residence and eventual mausoleum of Claude Martin. Unfortunately, he passed on before the completion of his grand home. His will declared that his massive wealth be used to run an educational institution in Lucknow, Calcutta and Lyon under the La Matiniere name.
In 1857 during the Siege of Lucknow, the Martinian schoolboys were called upon to assist in the defence of the British Residency. It was the first time in history that Britain had called on schoolboys to participate in a military conflict. This participation earned the school a British battle honour. It is the only one of two schools in history to have this honour.
La Matiniere is set in a sprawling campus of over 200 acres. The main building, Constantia House, is mix of medieval, European and Mughal architecture.
There you have it, our pick of the 5 must see places to visit in Lucknow. Have you been to Lucknow? Let us know which are you favourite places in the comments below.
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