Lucknow - the city of Nawabs

The capital of Uttar Pradesh and once the city of Nawabs. Lucknow has always been known for its erudity, the refined way in which its people converse, the refined tastes and otherwise that is so much a part of Lucknow. The city probably derives its name from the legend that Rama gave away this part of the country to Lakshmana, his younger brother.

Lucknow was the abode of the Nawabs of Avadh, and their regal pastimes and pleasures are legendary. They refined their formal speech, were fond of song and dance, and nurtured Urdu verse as well as the Kathak school of court dances. The food from the royal kitchens was the result of creative experimentation, exquisite and delicate in taste. Their cuisine, and the fragrance of kebabs roasting over grilled fires in the evenings is still a common occurrence.

Their monuments excelled in the use of arches, pavilions and domes. Many of the royal residences built by the British to house their troops and officials during the mutiny of 1857 are now crumbling. However, the best known of Lucknow's architectural representatives are the Imambaras, and the bhulbhulaiyan, a labyrinth where getting lost is the simplest thing to do. Lucknow also continues to be home to the fine chikan embroidery executed with fine skill on fabrics, sarees and kurtas.

Residency

Built in 1800 for the British Resident, this group of buildings became the stage for the most dramatic events of the 1857 Mutiny or Uprising and the Siege of Lucknow.

The British inhabitants and Indian loyalists of the city all took refuge with Sir Henry Lawrence in the Residency upon the outbreak of the Mutiny. It was 87 days before a small force under Sir Henry Havelock broke past the forces that were beseiging the building to the remaining half-starved defenders. But once Havelock and his troops were within the Residency the siege immediately recommenced and continued from September 25 to November 17, when final relief arrived with Sir Colin Campbell.

The Residency has been maintained exactly as it was at the time of the final relief, the shattered walls scarred by cannon shots.

There are no set opening hours for the Residency but the model room which is significant part of the Residency is open from 0900 to 1730 hours. Admission is Rs 10 to the Residency gardens, to the model room, except on Fridays when it's free.

Martinere School

Outside the town is this strange school built by the Frenchman Major-General Claude Martin. Taken prisoner at Pondicherry in 1761, he joined the East India Company's army. In 1776 however he entered service with the Nawab of Oudh, while at the same time maintaining his East India Company connections. He started to build a palatial home which he named Constantia.

Martin designed much of the building himself. Gothic gargoyles were piled merrily atop Corinthian columns to produce a finished product. Martin died in 1800 before his stately home could be completed. It was converted into a school later.

The Bara Imambara

It was built in 1784 by Asaf-ud-Daula as a famine relief project. The central hall of the Imambara, 50 metres long and 15 metres high, is one of the largest vaulted galleries in the world and the roof has been put together with interlocking bricks without using a beam or a girder.

An external stairway leads to an upper floor laid out as an amazing labyrinth known as the bhulbhulaiya, where a guide may be useful in finding one's way around. From the top there's a fine view of the city and of the Aurangzeb Mosque. Entry fee is Rs 10 and includes a visit to the ancient well or baoli and to Rumi Darwaza. The Imambara is open from 0600 hours to 1700 hours.

Rumi Darwaza

Beside the Bara Imambara and also built by Asaf-ud-Daula, this huge and finely designed darwaza or gate is a replica of one in Istanbul. 'Rumi', derived from the name Rome, is the term Muslims applied to Istanbul when it was still Byzantium, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire

Lakshman Tila

This high ground on the right bank of the River Gomti was the original site of the town which became known as Lucknau in the 15th century. Aurangzeb's Mosque now stands on this site.

Jami Masjid

West of the Hussainabad Imambara is the great Jama Masjid with its two minarets and three domes. Construction was started by Muhammad Ali Shah but completed after his death.

Clock Tower

Opposite the Hussainabad Imambara is the 67 metre-high clock tower -- reputed to be the tallest in the country. The clock tower was built between 1880 and 1887.

Shah Najaf Imambara

This mausoleum takes its name from Najaf, the town 190 km southwest of Baghdad in Iraq where Hazrat Ali, the Shi'ite Muslim leader, is buried. The Imambara is the tomb of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar Khan, who died in 1827. His wives are also buried here.

The domed exterior is comparatively plain, but inside are chandeliers and it's said that at one time the dome was covered with gold. The building is used to store tazia, elaborate creations of wood, bamboo and silver paper which are carried through the streets during Muharram, the festival which commemorates the martyrdom of Mohammed's grandson, Iman Hussain and which are models of the Kerbala in Iraq. Many precious items from the mausoleum were looted following the Mutiny. The imambara is open from 0800 hours to 1700 hours.

Dilkusha Palace

To the southeast of the La Martiniere school is the Dilkusha Palace laid down admidst extensive parks near the banks of the river Gomti. It was constructed by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan as a hunting retreat.

Banarsi Bagh

This garden houses Lucknow's Zoological Park and the State Museum. The Prince of Wales Zoo which has been in existence since 1921, has a fairly large collection of snakes in the serpentarium. The State Museum on the other hand is one of the finest in the country and the oldest in the state. The numismatic, handicrafts, natural history and ethnographic sections of the museum are interesting.




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