The weather has followed me over from Ayodhya. It’s a curse.
Lucknow is the capital of Uttar Pradesh and the Mahatma Ghandi road where I am staying may as well be on a different planet to where I have been in recent days.
The streets are clean, there are rubbish bins every few paces that are used instead of the floor, the traffic is orderly without quite the same level of horn use and the people you see are clearly more wealthy. This is where the upmarket shops are clustered and there is even an Apple reseller in which I felt compelled to have a little play. In the interests of research of course.
In common with all cities, a foreigner is nothing unusual so you are largely ignored. However, this is where Lucknow money comes and with that comes beggars and there are many of them, all with their little patch of territory. They are very persistent but eventually they get to know that you are not dishing out so leave you alone. I don’t give to beggars full stop. If that makes me a bad person I can live with it.
Staying in posh street has it’s downsides. It takes me a while to find a chai wallah for breakfast. I have time in Lucknow but I have decided to have a full on day ticking boxes and spend tomorrow shopping in the various malls and bazaars. This then will be my final post before I get home.
Despite the mist and low cloud it becomes very clear that Lucknow is a dream for lovers of Muslim architecture. Onion domes and minarets can be seen pretty much everywhere. I have only walked to the end of MG road when the tomb complex of Saadat Ali Khan, one of the last Nawab rulers of Lucknow hoves into view. Crumbling as so many things are in India and some of it rather clunkily restored but interesting all the same.
A little further west and in none of the guides is the Victoria memorial. A marble obelisk covered with carved marble arches, balustrade and topped with a dome. It cannot possibly compete with the magnificent memorial in Calcutta but with this one you do not need to be breathing smog to view it.
Next stop is the Residency. In short, this was the home for many of Lucknow’s British administration and community and became a refuge when in 1857 Indian insurgents unhappy (to say the least) with foreign rule laid siege to the compound for 5 months resulting in the deaths of around 2000 inside the compound from battle, dysentery and cholera and no doubt countless Indians without.
The siege was eventually relieved by a British column and the conflict became known as the first “Mutiny” or as is now proper, the First War of Independence. It was the very beginning of the end for the British “Adventure” in India.
The compound is little more than battle scarred ruins but for someone with even a passing historical interest it is a fascinating site. The small museum contains British made etchings showing just how magnificent Lucknow must have been during that period. In common with much of India it seems that the best way to see it is to invent a time machine and go back to the period between 1850 and 1900.
The heavens open when I am exploring the cemetery and I get soaked seeking cover back at the museum. Luckily the staff have lit a fire so I stand in front of that until I’ve dried a little. Conversation is somewhat stunted as they have only the English required to man the museum and “Have you seen the weather forecast” is way beyond the scope of my Hindi iphone app.
A few kilometres further on is the truly awesome Bara Imambara another tomb but this huge late 18th century building was built primarily as a job creation scheme to avoid the ravages of a serious famine. I read in one of the guides that day and night shifts were organised. The night shift would tear down one third of what the day shift built.
It is a vast complex with the tomb building, mosque and the largest step well I have ever seen. The main hall of the tomb has one of the world’s largest vaulted ceiling. It is plastered and decorated like thick white icing on a cake.
All around the central hall is a labyrinth of stairs and walkways that lead up to terraces at the top of the building and to balustraded walkways around the top of the main hall where you can get a close look at the “icing”. I am not good with heights at the best of times and the low balustrade finishes me off so I retreat to the safety of the ground.
For me however the star of Lucknow so far follows next. The Chotta Imambara is described as the baby Imambara. It’s still a tomb but is much more intimate and manageable. It is elaborately decorated in calligraphy, beautifully proportioned and lays in front of a reflecting pool that even with the inclement weather makes it a truly magnificent sight.
The main hall is however somewhat gaudy and the Hammam connected to it is of little interest despite the guides bigging it up before you enter so that you can pay them to tell you what you already know.
The R350 combined ticket for the Husseinabad sights also covers the tallest clock tower in India. Very impressive but I’m buggered if I am going to climb it even if I am allowed. The picture gallery features portraits of Nawabi rulers from the early 18th century until the last. They get fatter and fatter. It’s good to be the King.
Time is marching but it still leaves me with a couple of hours left before my alcohol dependency rises beyond refusal (only kidding….) so I may as well start tomorrow’s shopping a little early.
This post is my last whilst in India as tomorrow will be a relaxing and a shopping day and I will not be able to weave interesting descriptions of modern malls and bazaars. I will now admit to being more than little weary. I have walked my legs off this trip. I will make a final post when I get back to the UK with links to image galleries. I rather hope my lucidity and humour will have returned by then. Thanks for reading.