The sights which Lucknow has to offer are truly made for the royalty. Each time when one passes through the Rumi Darwaza, it makes you aware that we are indeed witnessing a welcome fit for a king. I was well-aware of the rich history that Lucknow exhibits in its monuments, after browsing through some its images.
It took some time for me to decide, whether I should head to this city or not. But eventually, I made up my mind and flew to the historical city from the Garden city. The first structure that welcomed me was the Rumi Darwaza. The Rumi Darwaza's mammoth scalloped arch forms an entry gate to the old city, the gateway was designed in the line of Istanbul's Sublime Porte.
The gateway is one of the many in the city, which takes one through its rich past. It was governed by the Nawabs on the behalf of the Mughals during the 18th and 19th century and further by the British East India Company.
The city is a blend of chaos and calmness and fusing them together at the speed of the present day gives out the painstaking details of a bygone era. Next I decide to walk through Aminabad, which is one of the oldest markets in the city, which is bustling local businesses and textile industry which forms a large part of the city's economy.
One would find vehicles which battle for space along with humans, monkeys who run across rooftops and the aroma of the delicious food which emits from the food carts. Stepping aside for a moment and looking up, the sight which grabs my attention is the intricate latticework which are covered by the tangled electrical wires.
Lucknow grew under the rule of the Nawabs as a hub of art and culture. The Nawabs came from Iran and introduced their language, lifestyle, architecture and etiquette along with the Shiite ceremonies. Their way of life transformed the landscape of the city along with their investment in quality production which was almost to the point of excess.
On my heritage walk around Kaiserbagh, an area which was once home to a vast palace complex of the last Nawab, Wajid Ali Shah, our guide points out the Indo European architectural style found here. At the Kothi Darshan Vilas, which was built by Nawab Ghazi ud Din Haider Shah, which is now undergoing restoration has wooden windows that open inwards;this is a British feature, informs the guide.
The key to these influences perhaps lies in the fact that Haider Shah had a European wife and court artists from Britain. Chattar Manzil, Haidar Shah's palace, stretches along the banks of the Gomti which has Corinthian columns and scalloped arches that showcase Shah Jahan's style.
A similar kind of architectural grandeur comes to the forefront at the La Martiniere College, which is a palatial residence designed to serves as a boys only boarding school. The architect of this structure was a French major general named Claude Martin, who worked closely with the Britishers and as well as the Nawabs.
The La Martiniere college suffered damage during an earthquake in the year 1803, one can still get to see the detailing such as Matin's motto engraved on one of the balconies.
Lucknow's architectural heritage was not only damaged by earthquakes. During the mutiny of 1857, the British fought from the Residency and a large part of the structures was sandwiched between the Kaiserbagh complex and the fort of Macchi Bhawan.
The ruins of the Residency are amongst the well-maintained sites in the city and are ideal places to spend some quiet time in the open lawns and secluded corners. The Macchi Bhawan was devastated during the battle along with huge sections of Kaiserbagh, which were plundered.
Presently, there is not many tourists at Kaiserbagh or at the colonial, whichremains in contrast to the Bara Imambara and the Chhota Imambara. The Bara Imambara is a shrine, which was built by the Shia Muslims for mourning practices and was commissioned by Nawab Asaf ud Daula in the year 1784 to provide employment in the famine hit kingdom.
Standing outside the Bara Imambara, my eyes are drawn to the insignia of Awadh, which are two symmetrical fishes extending over the central arch. The emblem is said to have created by the first Nawab, Saadat Khan, during a sailing excursion when a fish jumped straight into his lap. The Hindus, who were accompanying him, said it was auspicious and which eventually led the Nawab to incorporate the fish in the royal insignia.
A Maze Work Of Corridors
The Bhul Bhulaiya in the Bara Imambara has a maze like network of corridors with 489 identical doorways which are positioned above the main hall grabs the attention of its visitors. The structure also has a large vaulted hall which is painted in the shades of pista green and white. At the centre lies the decorated graves of the architect and the Nawab side by side.
As our guide explains the blend of art and science which enables the centuries old narrow corridors to the offset the weight of the roof of the underlying hall. I couldn't help myself imagining the potential the place holds for the endless games of hide and seek.
The Chhota Imambara was built in the year 1843, less important in comparison to the brilliance of the Bara Imambara but it holds stock of a large collection of glass items from Belgium, lamps from Japan and China along with silver products from Germany.
One can hear the strong fondness for the past in a way that locals recall the Nawabi rule and the ideas of 'tehzeeb', elaborate presentation and aesthetic values. I realized the immense history that does not find its way to our history textbooks during my visit.