Lucknow is not what you mentally visualize it to be after you have been to Varanasi and Allahabad. It’s a city that has been transformed over the past few years, if local residents are to be believed. The roads have been widened, water and power supplies have been revamped and improved, the trans-Gomti area has been developed, et al. New Lucknow across the River Gomti transports you into another world. A drive through this area in the night gives you a feel of driving through a city in some other country. The newspaper this morning has reported a review of development works in various cities by the CM and her angst at the delay in execution. The CM is also quoted as having said that there is no shortage of funds and that the errant will face dire consequences. So, it looks as if the other cities will also see better times in the near future. Lucknow is a City of Parks; there are countless of them and they are literally just a stone’s throw away from wherever you are.
The Residency is spread over a vast 33 acres and was constructed to house the British Resident and his staff after the Nawab of Oudh agreed to homing a Resident in his jurisdiction. The capital of Oudh was shifted to Lucknow in 1775 and the Residency gradually grew in size. What I was amazed at was the construction methods and finishes of the day; the brick works are perfect and the manner in which brick columns and slopes are finished is a marvel. This complex withstood a 147 day siege during the First War of India’s Independence in 1857 when it lost more than 2000 men. Many buildings collapsed and the damage sustained by many others can be seen in the ruins of the Residency. The canon and bullet marks on certain buildings, especially the Treasury, are stark reminders of the fierce battle. The cemetery in the Residency has a common grave too, apart from embellished individual ones, including that of their leader Sir Henry Lawrence. Even in ruins the majesty of the Residency cannot be missed.
The pet project of the CM is the Samajik Parivarthan Prateek Sthal. The project is still evolving. I understand that there have been many changes and modifications to the layout and the buildings in the complex. The controversial ‘welcoming elephants’ can only be admired from a distance. The statues installed in the enclaves lining the driveway are guarded by policemen. When completed, the park and the complex will look like a grand Mughal complex. Self aggrandizement is a prominent theme of what is new in Lucknow. It is, however, heartening to see some parts of Old Lucknow like Hazrathganj getting a facelift.
Lucknowi Chikan work is famous all over the country and in the shop I went to I was told that the export orders are difficult to keep pace with. The range of selection is wide depending on the type of material and the needle work. Bargaining is an absolute must. My skills are abject in this area. Tunday Kababi is one of the most popular attractions of Lucknow. I was primed about it by Pradeep and Amritanshu in Gorakhpur. Hence, I fixed up with Badre Alam to have lunch at this joint, which was one of Azhar’s favorites. Just as you enter the shop you can see the kababs being made. The Gelawati Kebab melts in your mouth; there is no time or need to chew. The quality of the mince and the ‘secret formula’ of marination are the twin contributors to the magical kebab. The Mughalai Paratha is the natural accompaniment to the kabab. You have to be starving for a few days to have more than two of the parathas. The Mutton Biriyani at the Dastarkhwan yesterday evening as better than that was served in the Tunday Kababi – each place has its specialties. The special Kheer was the ideal way to bring the fabulous lunch to a close.
La Martinere School, apart from being a prestigious boarding school, which boasts of Sir Cliff Richard as one of its Alumni, is also a tourist attraction. This was designed and built by Major General Claude Martin, a Frenchman, as his residence. This palatial building is an admixture of various styles, Roman and Gothic predominating. The movie going public would be familiar with this building and its premises for certain dramatic sequences of the Bollywood film ‘Gaddar’ were committed to screen here. The complex has a fairly large garden, where a dedicated gardener, proud of his work, has been tending to the blossoms over the past few decades.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah had a penchant for music, dance, chess and all that was beautiful. The 365 begums of his harem were housed in different types of accommodation, depending on their importance. The favorites were accommodated in elaborately constructed lodgings. At the centre of the circular harem housing complex is a large Baradari, which was used as a recreation hall. A portion of the Baradari now serves as a theatre, where artists like Anupam Kher proved their mettle.
Having completed all that I wanted to see and do in Lucknow I took leave of Badre Alam, whose company was enriching. I also firmed up the route for the trip to Jim Corbett Park tomorrow morning.