Lucknow of the Lucknawi andaaz. The Imambaras and a gastronomical journey into Awadh and beyond. We all are fairly clued into what this bustling city offers. But visiting it recently, threw up many surprises, one of which was how yoga and meditation are entrenched in its ethos… On an early morning walk into the beautiful National Botanical Gardens and Research Institute, we found a hub of health and nature. Among the first research institutes in plant sciences, with a beautiful and burgeoning forest-full of flora, we took a walk under towering trees, rose gardens, even a pond with plump koi karp happily pouting for abundant feed under a water spattering fountain. In the gardens, there is a peaceful din around the Lord Shiva statue under a Banyan Tree with many practicing yoga, chanting Gayatri mantras and oums ringing out into the crisp morning air. We had taken our mats, and it was asanas, as birds chirped, the most calm and meditative of starts to a day.
The gardens have free yoga sessions, and a camaraderie of a small town where people meet and greet each other, indulge in chit-chat, unhurried about their day’s work… unlike us harried metro folk, enviable. We also peeked into a green house and stopped outside for a drink of aloe vera, palak, karela and amla juice to complete a truly refreshing morning with a honcho and yoga expert for company.
History resides in this city, and so does Bollywood. We gazed at the Rumi Darwaza — tall, regal and beautiful amid hustle and bustle of a city going about its business. The imposing gateway (we thought was named after Rumi the poet, it is not) was built under the patronage of Nawab Asaf-Ud-daula in 1784. Awadhi architecture is resplendent in its simplicity, and those cobbled roads lend it such richness, and the arches are still used by a teaming public. It was apparently modelled after the Sublime Porte (Bab-iHümayun) in Istanbul.
It’s been the backdrop for many a Bollywood film, the most recent being Ajay Devgn’s Raid that was shot all over Lucknow, but locals will pipe in about Sunny Deol’s run on the bridge from Gadar, and many more. Bollywood clearly loves Lucknow. And Lucknow reciprocates.
The Barah Imambara is filled with the faithful, and tourists. The complex has the famed bhul-bhulaiya (labyrinth), and a bowli, a step well with running water, which due to its architectural brilliance, one can actually see the entrance mirrored in the water, for the safety of the Nawabi ladies of yore. Our guide also spoke of the tunnel passageways that lead through a mile-long underground passage to a location near the Gomti River. The Asfi Mosque inside the Imambara has been a silent witness to a rich history. The Bara (big) Imambara itself is an afternoon of history… and the bhul bhulaiya, it is said, has 1,024 ways to reach the terrace but only one to come back! That got even some jaded adults excited about mastering the maze! We found out, after many a circle to and fro, up and down, back and forth, we needed help! This maze is possibly the only existing one in India. We were also amazed at the whispering halls inside, and also how one could strike a match at one end and hear it distinctly at the other. Some people call it a gravity-defying palace as it has no columns, and according to our guide, was built with a mix of mud, lentil, glue and more! Don’t believe us, but it has stood the test of time, clearly. That is in itself a marvel of Awadh architecture. We do hope it’s taken care of better, to preserve its glorious history.
The tehzeeb and khana
What consumed us was the honeyed tehzeeb (refined manners) that greeted us amidst old Lucknawis, even though they feel that it’s fast disappearing. The beauty and diction of their language settles warmly in your heart, as does the warmth of the people who will be quick to tell you where to pick up the best chikan, and give you a foodie trail fit for more hearty eaters! If you’ve not had the kulfi in Lucknow, then you’ve not lived. It is the most creamiest and yummiest — we had it again, and again. Wow. Some say it’s the milk, we think it’s the sheer passion people here have for their food and tradition. We had, one at Moti Mahal, fantastic. You can’t leave Lucknow without the chaat, chana bhatura and lassi! Phew! We had chat at Jains in Lalbagh… and some more kulfi plus lots of street food, like baati chowka Lucknawi style, dal pakodas and even freshly squeezed sugarcane juice. The boti kebab, biryani, different naans, breads, mutton and gravies at Zaika in old Lucknow were lipsmackingly delicious and according to our affable Lucknavi companion, the use of pure ghee helps do away with the Delhi belly, or in this case, a Lucknavi one! It did. We are glad we do not live in this city of foodie highs — we’d have serious weight issues.
Among the smaller cities, well-planned Lucknow is a breath of fresh air, and we hear it’s on its way to getting a metro too. As memories of Lucknow settle warmly in one’s heart, so does its history and tradition. And the food, which we will be back for!...