[Travel series] To the land of Nawabs!
The flight was early in the morning and more than an hour’s journey from Bangalore. I had hardly slept for 2 hours when Nidhi called me from AAO that she is starting from there in the cab and we should head to the airport together. I was already ready with my rucksack and she reached in less than 20 minutes as there was not-much traffic on the roads of Bangalore at 3 AM.
Two souls in the back seat of the car, we were quite silent when our driver started the car to take us to the airport. She was sleepy and I was nervous. Till now all the trips we did were carefree and we didn’t need to report to anyone but this one was quite different.
Before 4 AM we reached our destination and bid farewell at the gate and boarded our flights. 5:20AM my flight took off to Mumbai from where I had a connecting flight. It was raining heavily when we landed there. My first view of Mumbai, through the plane windows, was misty and green. The typical greenery between buildings and roaring waves at the border of the city.
My stomach started growling and I had nothing to feed it except a Samosa which cost 90rs per piece. But it was filling. It was the beginning of 15 days of a life on a very tight budget. I had to scribble down everything to report to Pushkar at the end of the day.
In next hour, I boarded my next flight to Lucknow and it landed 14:00 hours and the temperature was 34 degree. The sun was so bright that even to call out for a taxi I wasn’t able to leave the shade of the arrival gates.
During this wait, Pushkar called me with an update of the hotel that I was to stay the night. Local taxi drivers were driving around and at the end, I was left with no choice other than accepting one the offers of a taxi driver who said he would take me to my destination in 200 rs. But it was on sharing basis and hence I had to wait for the taxi driver to get one or two other passengers as well. In the hot sun without a shade in sight, the car was parked in an open parking lot and I was literally melting inside.
After waiting for 15 minutes, I took my bag and got out of the vehicle to get a Uber. Noticing this the driver ran after me, telling me not to call Uber. The reason was because Uber charges double for the trip. But I was not ready to trust his words and my Uber arrived in less than 5 minutes.
Driver Rahim was very talkative and was waiting for a reason to start a conversation about Lucknow. There was a lot of traffic and that lead us to halting at many places. Without much coxing from my end, he spoke about the politics of the land. He was happy to host someone from Kerala in his car. He had only heard about the place but never been there. He dropped me exactly in front of Vijay Hotel which in the small street close to Charbagh. It's very close and walkable distance from Lucknow Jn railway station from where I had a train to Allahabad the next day.
It was a relief to know that I got an AC room but in few minutes the bell boy came and told me that there was a mistake. The room I was allotted was actually a non-ac room. I shifted to the other room and by that time my vegetable fried rice arrived which I ordered as soon as I check in.
After finishing my meal, I got fresh and lay down in bed for a while. The streets around were noisy and alive. I could hear the train’s moving from my room and the sounds of rickshaws passing through the road in front of. One hour went by like that. I got up, locked the room and took day backpack with a water bottle and my camera bag.
My first destination was Bara Imambara. Google map told me it was 4 km away and when I asked around at the reception, the boy told me I can get an auto if I walked few meters towards the right of my hotel.
That walk was a complete different experience. On one side of the road were the backyards of branded hotels and the other was covered with slums. A Tuk-Tuk (It's the electronic auto which will take you around the city on shared mode or reserved mode (hire it for yourself)) was parked partially on the street and partially on the driveway of a home and another was getting washed on their front porch. All the waste and water was going into a small drain that ran very close to the front yard of the house. I came into their line of sight and waved at a Tuk Tuk which was empty. When I said Bara Imambara he told me it would cost 80 rs but if I wanted I could get shared autos on the junction ahead that would cost me lesser. But unfortunately, not being a native Hindi speaker I didn’t understand what he was trying to explain and told him I was okay with paying the 80 rs, which left him dumbfounded. Maybe hiring a Tuk Tuk just for one person wasn’t normal here.
After getting through the heavy traffic, he dropped me at Bara Imambara. It was crowded with a lot of local people and families. Kids were running around.
Bara Imambara is one the biggest building in Lucknow and was constructed by Asaf-ud-Daula, Nawab of Awadh, in 1784. Bara means big and Imambara means Shrine. The first entrance is an Arch shaped one which has an Iron Gate but no ticket counters. Once you get in you can see a cloak room on your right and a green lawn surrounded by some flowerless plants in front of you. It was the first time I saw greenery since landing in Lucknow. Walking around the sides of the lawn reached another structure which has a ticket counter.
Here if you purchase a ticket of 50rs, you can visit all structure. But it was another mistake I made that day, as I needed the whole day to come and explore. And since I reached there only after half a day, I would have to come back tomorrow and purchase another ticket.
After climbed the long steps that lead to the main enterance of Imambara. One security gaurd was checking the tickets, here I had to show my 15rs camera ticket too.
The first sight when I got in reminded me of my days in Bijapur Ibrahim Rouza. The walkway and the garden on either side resembled the same construction. The main building has a tomb of Asaf-ud-Daula. It does not have beams supporting it and it's one of the largest arched construction of its kind. There are 8 surrounding chambers with different heights and the space above these are reconstructed as a three-dimensional labyrinth with 489 identical doors. In fact, it is the main attraction of Bara Imambara and its called Bhul Bhulaiya.
To get into the structure you have to remove your shoes and at door, you will get surrounded by a group of local guides who are dressed in pale blue cloths. I ignored all the invitations and roamed around according to my will. The roof above was filled with kids and visitors and everyone was running around to find the door to the exit.
While getting down from there on my left there was another construction. It was Shahi Baoli. It's a unique construction for watching visitors who enter the premises. Due to the different heights and windows of the Baoli, there is a reflection of visitors in the well which is inside the structure. Here you need another guide to take you around.
I met Babar here, who played a significant role in the days to come at Lucknow and was a very nice person. I asked him a few questions about the places I was going to sightsee the next day. We exchanged phone numbers. He told me to give him a call once I got out the next day.
It was already 6 and the crowd did not dwindle in numbers. I sat on the steps of Mosque in the compound. This Mosque has Namaz only on Fridays and during that time the entry to the entire structure remains closed.
While getting back to the hotel I chose to get a shared auto and I knew I would not get a direct auto back to Charbagh. The driver suggested that I get down at Chowk and from there get another Tuk Tuk. I did as he said and return trip cost me only 25rs. Before getting into my room I strolled through the streets and had a fruit juice (no matter which fruit it is they add chaat masala) and a pani puri.
After a shower when I was about to sleep, it started pouring. That's how I survived one night in that super-hot city.
Next day when I woke up there was a message from Babar asking me when I was getting out. Ignored the message and without eating breakfast, I started my day walking on the streets. It was still drizzling and most of the shops were closed. I finally found one small tea shop where he serves only bread and bun with butter. It was yummy though. I got a Tuk Tuk to Chowk and then to Bara Imambara. Got tickets for Chota Imambara and Picture Gallery. And before that my destination was Rumi Darwaza which interestingly has another name. It is called the Turkish Gate.
If Bara Imambara is Mughal architecture, this one is Awadhi architecture. It's very close to Bara Imambara and is also the landmark of the city, standing at sixty feet with pride. Russell, a reporter from New York Times who accompanied victorious British after the first India’s first Independence war, said that the road from Chutter Mahal to Rumi Darwaza has the most beautiful landscape he has ever seen and that it was better than Paris or Rome or Constantinople.
The buses and other local transportation that go through the gate. And I also saw police officers get unauthorised food vendors to shut shop. It’s good to know that the people here care about the old architecture.
My next destination was the Image Gallery and Google map was really confusing. I kept walking in circles until I decided to call Babar. He picked up on the second ring and told me he would wait for me at the Picture Gallery. I got a Tuk Tuk that cost 5rs and got down at the Picture Gallery.
The guide I met there was happy to explain when I started asking questions about the 300-year-old paintings of previous rulers of the Lucknow. Paying him a tip along with Babar who was waiting outside I started walking towards Chota Imambara.
A long pool of water is the sight that welcomes you. You have to cover your head to get into the structure. It's the mausoleum of Mohammed Ali the third Nawab of Avadh and his mother, close to him. This main structure has numerous chandeliers and crystal lights. That's why most of the writers and travelers refer it as Palace of lights. Close to the main structure, there is a small size Taj Mahal you can see. This has 4 graves, of the son, daughter and son-in-law of the King Mohammed Ali Shah and one of the lady. Babar was silently waited for me while I was roaming around.
For the next destination, we needed to get a Tuk Tuk from there to Chowk and then to British Residency. Without asking me Babar paid for me. The guy doesn't smile but he was a real help as a local references.
As the name says The Residency has many buildings and monuments which were once a British’s residential area. They are protected now and you need to get a ticket of 15rs to get in. It's quite a long walk around to see and we had done it in 1 hour. Then it was time to say bye to Babar but I told him I wish to see Gomati River too. He said there was nothing to see, it's been polluted, but I insisted when we returned back to Chowk and he hailed a cycle rickshaw for me and instructed the driver where to drop me off and return back to the same place. I took out money from my wallet to pay Babar but to my surprise, he declined.
He told me to write well about the city. I insisted again but he did not budge. I asked him to pose for a photo with a smile and he did. I looked back when my rickshaw started heading towards the river and I saw him disappear into the crowd. I waved at him but he didn't see me.
After watching Gomti River from the newly painted bridge, I returned to Charbagh. Before vacating the room, I tried eating some street food but most of it seem oily and I was a little weary to try it. Instead I went back to drink the chat-masala-fresh-juices.
It was 7 PM when I started walking to the railway station. On the way i had one bread and omelet and a lassi with some fresh nuts and ghee. The day was ending in Lucknow and the people were gathering around the divider in the middle of the road and sitting on it for the evening. This was another surprise to me. Vehicles on both sides, and they dint care about it while sleeping or laying down on a knee height dividers.
Scribbling down two days into my mobile I was looking forward to the coming days in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. May be I will see more people like Babar on my way.
This travel post is a part of Aao hostels fellowship travel series.