Even though it may not sound familiar like Delhi or Mumbai, Lucknow is indeed the largest city and also the capital of Uttar Pradesh state, located in northern India. Thanks to Thai Smile Airways, I could take a direct flight from Bangkok to the city with a unique name. The first sign I saw upon my arrival: ‘Welcome to the city of Nawabs’ led me to some research about this city. Nawab is a title bestowed to a Muslim ruler during the time of the Mogul empire, and also a clear sign that Lucknow has bound deeply to Muslim culture – shown from the exquisite religious sites I noticed around the city.
Bara Imambara, boasting one of the largest vaulted halls in the world, utterly astonished me. Walking past the entry gate, I faced a picturesque courtyard adorned with vivid flowers. Bara Imambara was built as part of a relief project for a major famine to provide employment for people. Bara Imambara means a big congregation hall for commemoration ceremonies. It hosts a unique style of construction: the blocks have been put together in an interlocking system. So, the roof stands steady till date without any pillars to support it. There also exists an amazing maze of corridors hidden between the building’s walls called Bhulbhulaiya, which are worth exploring.
I was then introduced to Chota Imambara. Also known as Hussainabad Imambara, this place was built as the mausoleum of the builder and his family. I found a stream runs through the middle of the garden with a crossing bridge, leading my eyes to the glittering gold-plated dome and turrets of the imambara. Despite its smaller size, Chota Imambara is more ornate in design than Bara Imambara. I reached the facade and got stunned by the elaborate walls bathed in Arabic calligraphy.
Then, numberless splendid chandeliers illuminated the main hall, along with the throne and the crown of Muhammad Ali Shah. On the eve of Muharram, the entire monument with its chandeliers is lit up, making the Chota Imambara its glittering best and known as the Palace of Lights.
Apart from two distinctive imambaras, the other unparalleled architectural work is Rumi Darwaza – the gateway to Lucknow’s rich heritage. Its nickname Turkish Gateway is supposed to come from its similar design of a gateway in ancient Constantinople. With its grandeur and 60-foot height, the uppermost marked with the octagonal shape could be approached by a staircase.
MEMORIAL AND COLONIAL
Lucknow is truly a multicultural city. The city’s contemporary culture is the result of the amalgamation of the Nawabs, the Muslim rulers, and deep-seated Hindu principles. I was able to notice a representation of ‘Varna’ – the traditional social classes of Hinduism that appoint each individual’s duties according to one’s own nature. Indian society has long lived well with this bygone system, despite some people having struggled against it.
Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, whose immensive memorial stays at the heart of Lucknow, was one of the spokespersons of the backward classes and castes in India. Born as the untouchable caste, Ambedkar became the nation’s first Law Minister. He thus represents a symbol of reformation and a massive Ambedkar Memorial Park was built to commemorate his lifetime devotion. I encountered a very vast complex with distinctive Ambedkar Stupa made from red sandstone imported from Rajasthan. The sanctum consists of many statues depicting the biography of Ambedkar.
Opposite, the Sangrahalay Museum is topped with two domes, in which large statues of those who have devoted their life for humanity, equality and social justice stays solemnly. Then, I made my steps through Pratibimb Sthal, the main walkway guarded by statues of elephants to approach the Drashya Sthal, offering a vantage overall viewpoint. The park has a serene atmosphere and becomes more celestial at night when the entire place is illuminated with colourful lights.
An absolutely new image of India for me is complete with the Constantia House in the campus of La Martiniere College. Six-storey Constantia stands on a landscaped terrace, with a solid fluted column with a Moorish cupola at the centre. It is a unique combination of a banquet hall, a mausoleum, a mansion, a palace and a fortress with intricate defence arrangements.
YES, IT’S (LUCK) NOW
I would say this laid-back town is inimitable as it forms a synergistic link between culture and modernity – the reminder of the Mughal touch with a tint of the Gothic. Don’t miss delectable Awadhi cuisine. This gastronomical type resembles the Mughali cuisine with certain adaptation. Try Galawati Kebab or Lucknowi Biryani for a clearer understanding. I did some shopping at the bazaars of Aminabad and Chowk – which are bustling yet interesting – while the Hazratganj area is full of glittering shops, magnificent arcades, and fancy eateries. And I was suggested to take some Chikankaari, an exquisite embroidery on fine muslin cloth, back home.
When the plane was departing from Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport of Lucknow, I felt no regret that I decided to visit this city. As an Indian proverb says: “Believe what you see and not all you hear”. Let’s get to know Lucknow yourself!