Sham-e-Awadh: An evening in Lucknow

Historians brag ‘an evening spent in Awadh is truly mesmerising’. Here’s your chance to explore Lucknow with us. Festivity is in the air! Sprits are high and so is the mood. Why not give this time of the year a cultural start. There can be no better time than this to explore the City of Nawabs – Lucknow.

Unknown territory
On my way to Mau, near Varanasi, I was a bit apprehensive about my work assignment. Aboard the Garib Nawaz Express, I started my journey. Early morning, when the train stopped, I looked out of the train window, to be welcomed by Lucknow junction. Unable to resist the temptation to visit the seat of power for Uttar Pradesh, I immediately picked my baggage and got down. Ecstatic is the word to describe the feeling when I touched down on India’s most ethnic and tehzeebdaar city. Dressed in my night suit, not for a moment, I felt awkward. After changing and depositing my luggage at the cloakroom, I made my out of the station.
Light November breeze ruffled my hair, tea vendors called out for a piping cup of adrak chai – a warm welcome, the perfect setting to explore the city of Nawabs. Early in the morning, without knowing anything about the city, I made my way to a local bookshop. The elderly shop owner Iklaque Khan enlightened me about the city, giving brief accounts about the foundation of the city, reason behind calling Lucknow the city of Nawabs and why the city is different to any other city in the country. Lying on the banks of river Gomti, Lucknow was founded by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula. The city of historical importance gets its courteous culture and delectable cuisine from the Nawab era, since the city operated as the state capital for Awadh. After hearing interesting description Lucknow, I picked the city map from the bookstore and decided to foray ahead. I did not hire tourist guide and chose to test the waters myself.

Regal eclipse
Moving ahead, I noticed the bickering crowd near the station. Real flavour of the city for sure lies in the area near station. In lucknow, street vendors called out for fruits, local breakfast – pakoras and samosas, while auto rickshaws called out for savaris. I sat in one of the autos to embark my day trip, my first destination – architectural marvels of Lucknow. The auto-wallah knew the city aptly and took me straight to Asafi Imambara, locally known as Bara Imambara. Grandest of all the monuments in the city, the Bara Imambara exuded majestic elegance. Built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1783, it is a place of religious importance for Shia muslims. The regal structure is home to Asfi mosque, the bhulbhulayia and a step well.

Dose of Nawab era
After clicking pictures I moved to my next destination – the Chota imambara, also known as Hussainabad Imambara in Daulatgunj area. I intrigued a local for some information about the place, he told me the imambara was supposed to serve as the mausoleum of Muhammad Adli Shah, the third Nawab of Awadh. He built the same in 1838. I was also informed people call the beautiful monument as ‘palace of lights’ for it is decorated with lights during festivals. Tombs of Muhammad Ali Shah and his family members sit inside the imambara. Decorated with Arabic calligraphy, the walls of the imambara remind us of the glorious past of Awadh.

Outside the imambara lies the magnificent watchtower called Satkhanda, it is called so because of the seven storeys that were supposed to compile it. Today the tower has only four storeys, since the construction of rest of the three storey’s was abandoned after the death of Ali Shah. The tower is modeled on Delhi’s Qutub Minar and Tower of Pisa, with a purpose of watch the moon.

Food for thought
By the time I got through, it was lunchtime. With rabbits jumping in my stomach, I looked for a nice hearty lunch option. It was when I saw a local eatery and binged on vegetarian food, keeping the non-veg options for evening. Dal was amazingly delicious, which aloo gobhi was bland, I asked the waiter about the reason, to be told tourists prefer non-vegetarian delicacies of Lucknow. With adab and tehzeeb, I was regarded as Mohtarma making to smile. I asked waiter about some shopping options, he told me to head straight to Aminabad, which falls in old Lucknow and is famous for chikankari. He also informed about other historical monuments like Rumi Darwaza that was built in 1784 and modeled after the Sublime Porte in Istanbul. Intrigued, I decided to give my shopping pangs a break and head to the Turkish Gate, the sophisticated name for Rumi Darwaza. Upon reaching the place, I noticed a gigantic façade, a gigantic gate depicting the fine architectural style of Awadh. A huge lantern sits atop the gate, beautifully carved flowers; light water jets on the sides of the arch for sure satiated my senses.

Shopping is something every woman loves, so do I. And when shopping in Lucknow, one cannot forget Chikankari products. Excited I took an auto and reached Aminabad, the district famous for Chikankari. Astounded, I stood at the mouth of the market, lanes and bylanes of shops boasting chikan fabric sat happily, waiting for customers. Hues of pastel shades came to life at Aminabad. The market resembles a lot to Delhi’s Chandani Chowk, where traffic snarls can give you a big pain. But then you have to pay a price for prized possessions. Shops selling jewellery, readymade garment, fancy dresses, daily use items, footwear and a host of chikankari products – sarees, kurtas, bed spreads and more totally makes the shopping spree a success. After shopping at length and picking up souvenirs for friends and family, I made my way out of the market to have an early Lucknowi dinner. There was no better option than Tunde ke Kebabs to satiate my hunger pangs. After over-eating and totally relishing the melt-in-mouth kebabs, I realized why Lucknow is known for its cuisine.

Absolutely satisfied with my adventure in this unknown territory, I took a cab to Varanasi. While going back, I took with myself a packet of culture, legendary etiquettes, art, culture and cuisine of Lucknow. I bid the city adieu with a heavy heart and promise to come back for its elegance and cultural flamboyance.

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