I first visited Lucknow in 1999 and have no fond memories of the place. Any vague flashbacks which do remain are of a dirty, broken city with one dank, dark hotel, scruffy monuments, litter; you get the picture. It was , as far as I remember a depressing city. In its entirety it should have been the black hole, not the one in Calcutta, a city which, incidentally, I adore. However, I was persuaded to return due to an invite to the Wasjid Ali Shah Festival, a celebration of the culture for which the city is famous. I had no expectations but have no objection to being proved wrong and so I dashed back from my favourite state of MP in order to attend.
My word ! The transformation was astounding. The drive from the airport to my very smart new hotel, hinting at the changes which have taken place. It is now the cleanest Indian city I have visited; the ban on plastic properly adhered to here, unlike in other destinations, has made a dramatic improvement. There has been a big focus on improving it’s infrastructure, the roads have been improved with complete surfacing work, no potholes, and pavements which one can walk on; imagine such a thing! There is also an entire river front regeneration project going on, this is a city planning it’s future, not careering towards it in a plethora of building, mismanagement and greed.
It’s collection of historical sites have been restored with cultural sensitivity, something so rarely witnessed in India. I, of course, visited La Martiniere and Dilkusha Palace and The Residency, scene of the Indian Mutiny or the First Battle of the Indian Uprising for Independence, depending on whose side you are on. I marvelled at the Bara Imambara and got lost in its labyrinth, the Chota Imambara was charming and I drove by the clock tower they proudly announce as being reminiscent of Big Ben; it’s a stretch, but I was so enamoured I could let them get away with it. When every Monument has a WOW factor, it’s easy to do.
Then, as I do, once the main sights have been ticked off the list, I headed out to discover why else one should visit this city. Where to start? Well, being a girl, though rarely girly, even I was impressed by the beautiful chikan kari work; he embroidery on fabric, usually cotton which is a trade mark of the city. Each year, I usually treat myself to a kurta by my favourite UK designer who uses this work extensively in her creations…..I daren’t tell you how many pieces I purchased for less than half the cost of one “designer” garment and the colours were plentiful and vibrant. I later discovered the dhobi ghat, I have a thing about them and try to find one in each city, where the brilliantly coloured fabrics, once dyed, are washed and hung out in rainbowed reams to dry.
I met families who have been making oil-based, naturally scented perfume for generations, from rose to jasmine to the smell of an impending rain storm and even biryani, I kid you not! I visited the old Victorian market and was charmed by the stories it’s streets contain and it’s book store dating back to the 1940’s. What’s not to love?
I had my ears cleaned by an ear cleaning wala then, and then I was let loose on the street food, no connection with earwax I promise!
Oh my god, Lucknow street food is to die for! Pasanda kebabs, Tunday kebabs, nihari and gilafi kulcha and kheer to name barely any; bad journalism I know but I was too busy stuffing my face, and taking the odd photograph to write down the names of every delicacy which passed my lips. I think I may have tried to initially, but with fingers festooned with spices, oil and crumbs, I gave into savouring rather than scribing; visit yourselves and you will understand.
I, of course, also attended the Wasjid Ali Shah festival, culturally rich, readings of Rumi in the chapel at La Martiniere, a “ballet” performance telling the story of Radha Kanhaiyya ka Qissa, was choreographed by Muzaffar Ali himself. My Hindi isn’t up to the finer points of either, but I could appreciate the sentiment of both, and felt like a heathen for not making more effort with the language.
The city claims to be one of the 3 C’s, culture, craft and cuisine and they are not wrong. It is has to be one of the most under-estimated destinations in India and I am on a one woman mission to put it firmly on the tourist map. Oh, and I also saw the house where Cliff Richard spent his childhood, but don’t let that put you off! 🙂
To get to Lucknow one can fly or take a train from Delhi.
The best hotels to stay in are:
The Rennaisance by Marriott – new, modern, great service, a roof top pool and sky bar and the best view in town.
The Vivanta by Taj, Gomti Nagar – built as a heritage property, very impressive entrance lobby, best pool in town, exteriors are very Imperialesque…..
Lebua, Lucknow – newly converted heritage home, 42 rooms, lovely art deco style, nice gardens, pool. More of a boutique feel.
For the rest, visit yourselves and find out…..