I struggled for sleep the whole night in the ORH in Allahabad. The ORH is beside the Allahabad railway station and the Parcel Office. It is noisy through the day and night. Add to that the incessant blowing of horns and sleep deserted me. By 4 am I decided not to try anymore and got ready for the trip to Lucknow. At ten to five I was well on my way. The road was more than free; there were just a few trucks on the NH24B. The distance was about 210 kms and the surfacing was adequate to maintain 60km+ speed. Except for some fog and the fact that one could not appreciate the country side, the early morning start was ideal to get a full day in Lucknow. A steady drive deposited me in the Officers’ Rest House of the Indian Railways Institute of Transport Management by 8.30 am.
The arrangement for stay at the IRITM was done by Gopal Mohanty from Calcutta. He has been a solid support to organise the logistics of the journey in the East and now in the North. Often I feel that his enthusiasm for the journey outstrips mine. Sunil Mathur is a dear friend and railway colleague, who is presently Executive Director of IRITM. He had given me elaborate directions to reach the IRITM, and even revised it with me three times, yesterday evening. I could have reached the campus blindfolded. This is my first visit to the ‘IRTS Institute’ and am happy to see the development of the Institute. The accommodation is arranged in one of the residential quarters used as ORH. I was scheduled to address the IRTS Probationers of the 2009 batch in the afternoon on my experiences in the Railways. As I had reached IRITM early I requested for a morning session so that I could be free to go around the Nawabi town in the afternoon. The request was granted and I completed the interface by 1 pm. The probationers seemed quite concerned about the work load expected of them and the hours they would be expected to put in.
Badre Alam was deputed by the office of Dr Jacob Thomas, Secretary Technical Education, Government of UP. I was fortunate to have him as my ‘guide’. There is not a place he does not know in this town and his knowledge of the various monuments came in handy. I would have been lost for centuries in the Bhul Bhulaiya had it not been for his expert guidance. He first took me to the grand Juma Masjid, a mosque built in 1845. The façade is elaborate and grand with a high, colored entrance doorway. The whole mosque is set on a high platform and is not open to non-Muslims. The next stopover was the Chota Imam Bara, built by Mohammed Ali Shah in 1832, where he and his mother are buried. The entrance gate is in itself a striking structure. The reflection of the main prayer hall and the entrance gate on the water in the rectangular tank in front of it is magical. On either side of the tank are two replicas of the Taj housing the tombs of Shah’s daughter and her husband. The prayer hall has many colorful tazias, numerous chandeliers and golden framed mirrors. The premise also has a Shahi Hammam, the traditional bathing place.
The 65m tall clock tower is the tallest in India and can be seen from all parts of the old city. The ‘Rumi Darwaza’ is one of the access points to the Bada Imam Bara. The Rumi (for ‘Roman’) Darwaza is reputed to be a copy of the entrance gate of Istanbul, which was at the time under Roman control. The gate is magnificent and it prepares you for the grandeur of the Bada Imam Bara, the imposing tomb of Asafu’d-Dawlah. The entrance gates to the complex are enormous and elaborately done. Immediately after passing through the second gate is the stately and attractive mosque on one side and the rather unusual water storage ‘Bouli’. On the opposite end of the second entrance gate is the huge prayer hall, which is considered to be one of the largest vaulted galleries in the world. The ceiling is beautiful, with domes on both sides and a flat roof over the main prayer hall. Many decorated tazias adorn the prayer hall. The tazias are small replicas of the tomb of Imam Hussain and are paraded during the Moharram ceremony. To one side of the central hall is the entrance to the Labyrinth, the Bhul Bhulaiya. This is a complex web of narrow passageways on the upper floors of the tomb and the central hall, which lead to the roof of the building. From one location of the passageway you can see right through the Imam Bara complex and watch over the entrance gates to the complex. There is a saying, “Even walls have ears”. This is demonstrated in the Bhul Bhulaiya, where even the faintest whisper is clearly audible if you put your ear to the wall. A match struck in one corner of the gallery of the central hall can be heard in another, separated by over 100 feet. Navigating alone through the narrow passageways with dummy exits and sudden drops is not meant for the fainthearted and the claustrophobic. Even with a guide I was not too comfortable. While exiting the Imam Bara I took a few tips in photography from Fareed, a young freelancing photographer.
Lucknowi tehzeeb is an experience. The language, the food and the respect for others is like none other in the country. I met Ibrahim, a friend of Badre Alam, before going in to the Chota Imam Bara. He insisted on a cup of tea after the visit and took us to a shop close by. He insisted that I taste the hot ‘carrot halwa’ at the shop - a personal favorite. Ibrahim suggested that I mash the khoa into the halwa and savor the delight. It was heavenly. I asked Badre to take me to sample the traditional food of Lucknow for dinner. He took me to Dastarkhwan where I had the most delectable Shami Kebab, Rogan Josh with chapattis and Mutton Biriyani. The quantities are so large that a half plate of each sufficed to feed two of us and the rates are extremely reasonable too. The aromas wafting from the cooked food are, in themselves, an experience.
I look forward to more kebabs and parathas tomorrow, and maybe I will spend another sleepless night, not due to any lousy disturbances but chewing the cud!