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|Few places in the world are endowed with such rich cultural traditions as in this romantic city of Nawabs. Whether it is history, architecture, music, dance, handicrafts, etiquette, or sports—Lucknow has its own story to tell.
Surprisingly, the story of Lucknow began not very long ago. Though the city traces its origin to the Suryavanshi dynasty of Ayodhya, it actually came into prominence during the 18th century. In 1732, Muhammad Shah, one of the later kings of the once-powerful Mughal dynasty, appointed Mohammad
|Amir Saadat Khan, a Persian adventurer of noble lineage, to the viceroyalty of the area known as Avadh, of which Lucknow was a part. Saadat Khan was the founder of the famous dynasty known as the Nawab Wazirs—a dynasty which changed the face of this hitherto little-known place. Under his successors, Lucknow flowered as never before and all but became the cultural nerve centre of Northern India. The rapid growth of Lucknow dates from 1755 when the fourth Nawab, Asaf-ud-Daula transferred the capital of Avadh from Faizabad to Lucknow and began constructing some splendid architectural marvels, a tradition that was sustained by this successors. During this period, Lucknow also established its pre-eminent place in the field of poetry, music and dance. A colourful local culture, incorporating fairs and festivals also flourished alongside. However, what set apart Lucknow from other cities of the time was a certain elegance and grace of lifestyle. In fact, even today the city breathes history, and the sound of laughter and music, the tinkling of ankle bells and the mellifluous rendering of Urdu poetry (shairi) still echo and reverberate through the long corridors of time. As you wander through the city, you will encounter a kind of refined courtesy that seems to belong to another age.
For any visitor to this city, a trip to the various architectural wonders is an absolute must. Among the most important monuments are the Imambadas, popularly known as the Bada Imambada (also Asafi Imambada) and the Chhota Imambada (also Hussainabad Imambada). The remains of the British presence and the battles fought during the Revolt of 1857 can also be seen here. Besides, there are the Shah Najaf Imambada, Residency, Rumi Darwaza, Kaiserbagh Palace Complex, National Botanical Research Institute and the State Museum and Zoo.
The places around Lucknow provide the visitor a further insight into the city’s religious and cultural heritage. The excursion spots also give one the idea of the region’s rich flora and fauna. For the religious-minded and for the nature lovers, the Kukrali Reserve Forest, Deva Sharif, Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary and Naimisharanaya are not to be missed.
The Bada Imambada or Asafi Imambada was built by Nawab Asaf-ul-Daula in 1784 as a relief work during the terrible famine that year. Apart from the galleries in the interior, there is no woodwork anywhere. The interior vaulted hall, measuring 162 feet in length, 53 feet in width and 50 feet in height, is said to be one of the largest apartments of its kind in the world. From the outside, a staircase leads to a series of artfully designed labyrinths (bhoolbhulaiyan) where it is very easy to get lost. You can wander through the zigzag narrow galleries for hours without finding your way out! It/’s a very eerie sensation, moving towards the sunlit corridors that seem to be going out, only to find that you are actually deeper in the labyrinth. Most visitors therefore are only allowed inside with guides who are familiar with the maze.
Also known as Chhota Imambada, the Hussainabad Imambada was built between 1837 and 1842 by Mohammed Ali Shah. The structure houses the tombs of Mohammed Ali Shah and his mother. The Imambada has a white dome and numerous turrets and minarets. Verses in Arabic decorate the walls of the mausoleum. The interiors are adorned with chandeliers, gilded mirrors, colourful stucco, the King/’s throne and ornate tazia or replicas of the tombs at Karbala. The Imambada also encloses a tank with small imitations of the Taj Mahal on each side. A clock tower estimated to be 67 metres high overlooks the Hussainabad tank. During Muharram, the Imambada is illuminated giving it a wonderful look.
SHAH NAJAF IMAMBADA
This mausoleum situated on the right bank of the Gomti houses the remains of Ghazi-ud-din Haider and his wives. In the centre of the building lies the silver tomb of Ghazi-ud-din Haider flanked by the more imposing silver and gold tomb of Mubarak Mahal, his European wife, on one side and another tomb on the other. The Imambada derives its name from Najaf, a town situated about 200 km south of Baghdad where the saint Hazrat Ali was buried.
Lying in ruins near Hazratganj area, which is the centre of the city, the Lucknow Residency reminds one of the British presence in this city of Nawabs some two centuries ago. The Residency was built in 1780-1800 for the British Resident in Avadh. During the Mutiny of 1857, the Residency was besieged by the rebels and it became the centre of the conflict in this area. The compound inside the Residency/’s walls is now a historic monument. The Treasury served as an arsenal during the Mutiny. The residency, to the northeast has tykhanas or underground rooms used in summers.
||Apart from the Bada Imambada, Asaf-ud-Daula also built the 60-feet-high Rumi Darwaza to create employment during the famine of 1784. The ornate gateway is said to be a replica of one of the gates of Constantinople.
KAISERBAGH PALACE COMPLEX
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah started the construction of this palace complex in 1848 and it was completed in 1850. The yellow buildings on three sides of the quadrangle were supposed to be the living quarters for the ladies of the harem. A picturesque white stone edifice, Baradari, stands in the centre. The edifice was paved with silver earlier.
NATIONAL BOTANICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE
The botanical gardens, which form the home of National Botanical Research Institute, are located at Sikandarbagh. It was at Sikandarbagh that pitched battles took place during the Mutiny of 1857.
STATE MUSEUM AND ZOO
The Lucknow Zoo in the Banarsi Bagh has a large collection of animals. Located within the zoo premises is the Lucknow Museum. The museum houses a large collection of artefacts and memorabilia. A splendid collection of stone sculptures brought from Mathura forms the highlight of the museum. There are also a statues of Queen Victoria and some of her court men kept in the garden area of the museum complex.
Excursions for Lucknow
About 25 km from Lucknow is the tomb of Syed Haji Waris Ali Shah, also known as Deva Sharif. The place is revered by both Hindus and Muslims. A large number of devotees visit this shrine during the annual Urs of the saint held in October–November.
Kukrali Reserve Forest
Developed by the Forest Department, the Kukrali Reserve Forest is a picnic spot situated at a distance of 15 km from Lucknow. There is a deer farm and a crocodile nursery. A children/’s park, cafeteria and rest house have also been built. One can see spotted deer, black buck, sambhar and a variety of birds in their natural abode.
Naimisharanya is an important religious centre situated at about 94 km from Lucknow. The place has the temple dedicated to the goddess Lalita. Other places of attraction here are Dadhichi Kund, Vyas Gaddi, Chakratirth and Hanuman Garhi.
Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary
Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary is situated at about 43 km from Lucknow on the Kanpur highway. The major attractions here are the Siberian migratory birds that flock the sanctuary every year. Best season to visit the sanctuary is between October and March.
• Area 310.1 sq. km
• Population 1,619,115
• Altitude 123 metres above sea level
• Languages Hindi, Urdu, and English
• STD Code 0522
• Best time to visit October to February