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For the love of Lucknow

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

Past the deafening honks of vehicles, and the clamour of crowds walking by, stands the mammoth arch of Rumi Darwaza, welcoming you to a city stuck in time. On cold winter mornings of January, the whiff of rich street food carefully mixes with the thick fog. The remnants of the Nawabi gates peeking through leaves washed with sunlight give a greeting fit for a king. Eventually, you realize Lucknow is a romantic shayari that was always awaiting you.

On January 15, 2021, I took a flight from Bengaluru to Lucknow. The city welcomed me to a sunny morning with a temperature of 18 degrees celsius. Matar paratha with malai, cozy blankets, the warmth from the heater, a drive along the Gomti river, and the stories narrated by my friends with a warm cup of coffee -- in the next 10 days to come, Lucknow would etch itself onto my heart.

Time Travelling

We took the best possible transport to reach old Lucknow -- an autorickshaw. With old Hindi songs blaring from the auto’s radio, we teleported through Rumi Darwaza to an ancient time, when Lucknow was ruled by the Nawabs in the 18th century, and later on, by the British. The cobbled stone roads led the path ahead to Chotta Imambara, Bara Imambara and the Husainabad Clocktower.

Guarding the Chotta Imambara is a high-rise fortified gate, with a scalloped archway that is threatening and mystifying at the same time. But, the chaos of the city seemed to drown as we passed the gate. The intricate latticework on the white marble of Chotta Imambara was something out of a fairy tale. On the inside, it stored a bric-a-brac collection from around the world, from Japanese lamps to German silverware. Our next stop was the red-bricked Husainabad clocktower, built-in 1881 to honour the first British lieutenant governor of the united province of Avadh. It overlooked an enormous reservoir and amphitheatre, where we sat and enjoyed a cup of hot tea.

We crossed the withering red sandstone of Rumi Darwaza, which was carefully sculpted to form details over its limestone coating. The crowd of tourists and the hawkers selling faluda and balloons hustled around the grand monument known as the Bada Imambara. The perfect blend of science and art has made it an architectural marvel. It was constructed in 1784 by the Nawab to increase employment during the famine.

As I walked the grand staircase, my eyes were drawn to the twin-fish insignia carved onto the central archway -- the symbol of the Avadh Kingdom. Overlooking a lush garden filled with newly bloomed flowers stood the main complex of the Imambara, the grunge and brown Asfi Mosque to its right, and hidden behind the greens to the left stood the Shahi Baoli.

However, beyond the archways, corridors, and tombs was the Bhul Bhulaiya. The labyrinth with a network of corridors features 489 identical doorways. Mind you, it is quite easy to lose your way inside without a guide! We continued climbing up with the crowd, crossing secret doorways and dead-ends until we reached the roof that gave us a breathtaking view of the city.

The Royal Dawat

The story of Lucknow is incomplete without the mention of its rich Awadhi cuisine. The aroma of the meaty delights lured me like a siren inside the Aminabad market. Even when the roads were barely visible in the sea of people and monkeys that hopped from roof to roof, I still caught a glimpse of kebabs and mughlai parathas. The night we visited the streets, it was almost impossible to enter the legendary Tunday Kebabi. Instead, we took the right turn inside a dark and damp lane to reach Alamgir Hotel.

Here, we encountered more delights -- thick dough shaped to make khamiri rotis, sheermal, and naan in hot tandoor clay ovens, pasty minced meat kebabs, fried on cast iron skillets, and spicy mutton nihari stirred in giant handis. We made sure to order one plate of each! Walking back, we indulged in the sweet deliciousness of phirni by the road.

On one of the days, my friend took me to Naushijaan Darbar to try an array of mughlai kebabs. From boti and kotli kebabs to seekh kebabs and chapli kebabs, the options were endless! Furthermore, in the winters, the weather became perfect to savour the sweet and cloud-like makhan malai. Whether I was eating Avadhi biryani in Hotel Lineage or treating myself to chaat, Lucknow was my gastronomic heaven.

On my visit to Lucknow, I observed the fondness and the tehzeeb with which the locals presented their history, culture, food and aesthetic values. There was a satirical melody in which they spoke, as if they were just another traveller stuck in the blend of calm and chaos. Upon my visit, I left a piece of my heart with them.

(Adyasha Mishra is a lost soul, surviving in a world which is still tinged with patriarchy. A strong-headed feminist, she finds her peace in the fictional worlds of books and anime. A cat-lover, history and culture enthusiast, and a self-proclaimed fashionista, she hopes to, one day, bring about a change through her writing.)


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