24 Hours in Lucknow…
By Akshita Phoolka
I recently went to Lucknow to visit an aunt who moved there a few years ago. As most towns in India’s hinterland- UP go, I half expected Lucknow to be shabby, hot and boring and while the heat was soaring, Lucknow was anything but shabby and boring, Infact my 24 hours there were so packed with surprises that I can’t wait to go back for longer so I can spend some more time exploring the city’s rich history.
If you only have a few hours in the city like I did then first you need to find a place to stay in Hazratganj, the heart of the city, almost the equivalent of a city centre. Hazratganj, keeps it’s English past intact with all of the old architecture dating back to the times of the Raj still surviving. Being the heart of town it’s really the best place to shack up due to its close proximity to the famous chikan shops and Mughal monuments.
My day began early with a round of the shops in Hazratganj’s Janpath shopping area. The place to go here is Changga Mal, Established in 1897, not only does this place have the best and most authentic chikan work, but also two very eager salesman, who are going to win you over and make sure you don’t walk out empty handed. In Janpath I found this to be the best shop and spent almost 2 hours here. Just round the corner from Changga Mal’s shop is Sughandico. It’s a scent shop that you can literally smell from a mile. They house the most incredible ittar’s and naturally scented house cleaners that you’re definitely going to want to get your hands on. And if for some reason you don’t get your chance to go in, which is quite possible, you can order their wares online too.
After about a a 3 hour shopping spree I broke for lunch at Lucknow’s famous Royal Cafe. While there are heaps of more common places to break for lunch, this happens to be the best really and if you’re a fan of lassi then you have to go here. Expect to savour classic Lucknawi dishes here of course– I ate the city’s famous dum biryani and was surprised to find it was absolutely different to the Biryani served in Delhi. This is more fragrant and devoid of hot spices. It was an instant hit with me.
I could have done another round of shopping in Lucknow’s chowk area where apparently you get chickan at wholesale rates, but I chose to explore some of the city’s history instead and made my way to the iconic Bara Imambara.
Bara Imambara is a spectacular piece of architecture that rests in Old Lucknow. This area of the city is equal parts breathtaking and fascinating. Think cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages and overarching pieces of Mughal architecture all around. Start your little historic exploration at the Bara Imambara. Built by the Nawab of Awadh in 1784, pre-independence, not only will you be taken aback by its beauty, but also marvel at the dexterity and intelligence of the people who constructed it without the aid of maps and blue prints. The Bara Imambara has lots to soak in from the step well (Baoli), to the incredible labyrinth (Bhool Bhulaiya) built to fool English soldiers, and a wonderfully colourful central hall built for prayer.
Exploring the Bara Imambara takes time, almost an hour and a half. You’ll need a good guide to take you through the ins and outs of the place and talk you through the history of this place of worship. Once done here, head through the Rumi Darwaza (An imposing gateway, almost 60 ft in height, the Rumi gate was built in the 1700’s to mimic a similar gateway in ancient Constantinople. It was said to be the gateway to paradise) to the Hussainabad Imambara or Chotta Imambara as it is popularly referred to.
The Chotta Imambara houses the King’s famous Shahi Imam (bathing area). Showers and bathing tubs were already a thing with the king in the 1800’s, of course entirely different from the shoddy showers and bathing tubs were used. Lets just say the Shah cleaned up real good. If you go with a guide you’ll learn how the water systems and drainage worked.
Infact at all the monuments, it’s quite imperative to have someone take you through the details. It is fascinating to know how brilliant minds were back in the day and just about the lengths they’d go to to plan every little minute thing down to its last detail. I was astonished by the brilliance of these minds. As you make your way to the place of worship, get ready to feast your eyes on some of the most exquisite Belgian- made chandeliers. The place is a riot of colourful glass and gilded artefacts. I reached here just in the nick of time so couldn’t get a guided tour but I did have some time to snap all of its shiny, happy glory. There’s a lot of historic monuments that I couldn’t fit into my itinerary. I genuinely wished I had more time to explore. The more I saw, the more I fell in love with the city and the more I longed to see.
Completely famished from all the walking I made my way to Chowk, home to the city’s most famous eatery- Tunday Kababi. If you don’t eat here, you haven’t savoured Awadhi food at its best.
This place is packed to the rafters so brace yourself for the crowds and maybe even a wait till a table frees up. The restaurant isn’t gourmet, eating here is as local as it gets. Forget any terrifying ideas you have about germs, block all of it out and just eat the Galavati kebabs. The establishment is 100 years old and the galavati kebabs will not disappoint. Film stars and dignitaries of state have dined in its humble and noisy premises. It’s really that famous! Tunday Kababi is to Galavati kebabs what Moti Mahal is to butter chicken so you have to eat here.
24 hours are not enough for a city as steeped in history as Lucknow. Modern-day establishments have seamlessly set themselves within the old walls of the cities English architecture, alongside which over 200 year old Mughal monuments impose themselves on the city skyline. Amidst that there is the more new age restoration of the city with giant parks spread across the city, a river that is being cleaned up so that people may sit by its banks (they say they’re making it more enviable than the Thames. Let’s hope they do). By and large the roads and areas of the main city are clean and beautiful. Lucknow has a sense of romance about it that I didn’t quite expect. I loved my 24 hours there and I only wish I had a few more days to explore more because there is heaps more that one could do here. Hopefully I’ll visit again.
My Guest blogger this month is the extremely talented Akshita Phoolka, who (at present) lives in Delhi and is one half of a sister duo who are super creative and always involved in a variety of interesting ventures. Akshita is an editor,content strategist and writer, while Namrata is a graphic designer and art director.The siblings have a great eye for design and detail and and by natural extension are also extremely stylish ! I love their Instagram posts and their unique way of looking through the camera lens as well as capturing in words their life, experiences, places, design, architecture the list goes on!!
Here are a few images through Namrata’s lens via instagram…
Copyright © 2016 akshitaphoolka all rights reserved
Copyright © 2016 namrataphoolka all rights reserved