On Foot In Lucknow
By: Ali Khan Mahmudabad
[ Credits to National Geographic Traveller for initial publication of this article. This magazine is the Indian edition of National Geographic
Traveler (U.S.), the travel magazine of the National Geographic Society.]
Mention Lucknow to an outsider and their mind conjures up visions of nawabs, ornate palaces, equally rich food and perhaps an even more lavish culture. Sadly, the city’s new nawabs have an incorrigible taste for glass and concrete, but parts of the old city retain their charm. Driving to Chowk past Shah Meena Sahib, a Sufi shrine hidden behind pharmacies offering more worldly cures, you reach a roundabout. Turn left on Victoria Street, towards Nakhaas, and ask to be dropped off at Akbari Gate. Just outside Akbari Gate, on the main road, are a number of tea shops. In winter a cup of pink Kashmiri chai accompanied by baalai (thick cream) and a samosa or light puff pastry provide good fortification for a day of exploring. If you are lucky you might spot a man with a large brass vat selling nimish also called malai makhan. The sweet, creamy foam sprinkled with flecks of emerald green pistachios melts in the mouth and is only made in winter by frothing milk, mixing it with saffron and sugar and then leaving it out to set in theoows, or pre-dawn dew. After filling up, walk into the main arterial market of Akbari Gate. This kilometre-long stretch is only accessible on foot though it is important to watch out for wayward two-wheelers.
Akbari Gate is a shell of its former self, but the intricate exposed lakhori brickwork—a compact style of brick no longer used—leads on to a street bustling with shops, mosques, temples and old houses. Dotted along the entire street are little paan shops, often no bigger than a cupboard, where the betel leaf is laced with various condiments and eaten as a post-prandial digestive by locals. Shops are quite compact and often shopkeepers sit in the street. One of the first shops you pass is where silver is beaten into fine sheets and then used to decorate food items. Lucknow’s famous Chikan embroidery hangs on rods jutting out onto the street, while neighbouring shops sell shoes, colourful brocade cloth, hookahs and itar (oil-based perfumes) as well as modern appliances. After a short walk, on the left you see the Tehsin Ki Masjid, a mosque built by one of the ministers of the Nawabs of Awadh. Legend has it that it was built of rubble that was left over from the building of the Asafi Mosque or Bara Imambara. Just before the main gate of the mosque is the original branch of Tunday Kebabi named after its founder who made kebabs with the stumps of his arms. Try the small, succulent kebabs with a paratha, then carry on past Mohammad Ali’s itar shop, where the owner sits surrounded by hundreds of bottles of perfume, towards Purani Sabzi Mandi. Just before this alley you can try nahari and kulcha, which is available all-day at Raheem’s shop, though Lucknavis prefer to eat it in the morning.
Lucknow’s Chowk area is packed with little shops and vendors peddling a variety of wares from spices to bangles, clothes and paints.
Remember to look up while walking, something that is often forgotten in constricted spaces as it is hard to do. Apart from the chaotic canopy of wires and the colourful advertising banners, it is possible to see the fading stucco work, intricate woodwork, and ornate windows of dignified but dilapidated looking houses. At the Sabzi Vaali Gali take a left and then another left down Koocha-e-Mir-Anees. Although the criss-crossed small alleys can be confusing ask where the Maqbaraof Mir Anees is. On the way you will pass the huge mansion of Digamber Jain with its ornate facade, theAinak vali Masjid with its whitewashed exteriors, and also a number of crumbling old buildings with their lakhori bricks, beautiful even in their decay, and eventually reach Chobdaari Mohalla. On the left, under an exquisite archway, steps lead up to the shrine. Mir Anees was a prolific poet of the 19th century. He mostly composed elegies in memory of the battle of Karbala and these are still recited today in many imambaras. If the entrance is locked ask the neighbours and they will tell you to how get the keys from Anees’ descendants who live in a haveli close by.
After seeing the shrine, retrace your steps to the main street pausing at Naushad’s Haveli. Look out for the pair of fish, the Mahi Maratib, that adorn the entrances to various houses and whose use was an honour bestowed by the king. Take a right on the main street and you reach the Phoolowan vali galli on the left, dedicated to the purveyance of flowers. Walk past the stacks of bright orange marigolds, red roses, and white jasmine garlands and take a left at the end of the alley towardsNepali Kothi. This large red building houses a shop run by Tara Bahadur “Munna” who provides hakims, the ingredients for Yunani Medicine and prides himself on selling high quality saffron. Continue past the Nepali Kothi and loop back past the Krishna Temple, the Nepali Temple, the old havelis of Katari Tola, through Chudiya vali gali, past the old Sambhavnathji Jain Temple and back to the main road.
The Rumi Darwaza was built in 1784 as an ornate entry gate to the city of Lucknow. However, its significance as a gateway waned as the city expanded around it.
Take a right, and continue past the rows of jewellery shops. Just before arriving at the Gol Darwaza, turn right into the dimly-lit passage called Lala Bhola Nath Dharamsala. At the back, parallel to the main street, are the “back-offices” of the jewellery shops with small, brightly-lit spaces where jewellers expertly craft their products under the watchful eyes of little statues of the goddess Laxmi. Head back onto the Main Street and exit the market through the Gol Darwaza, now hidden under thick swathes of banners and posters. Pause to absorb the bustling atmosphere of the area in Radhey Lal’s famous sweetshop, on the left as you exit, and have warm gulab jamuns, somerabri or barfi. Then, if you feel like discovering a little bit more of Lucknow, take a rickshaw and head towards the Chota and Bara Imambaras.
Credits to National Geographic Traveller for initial publication of this article. This magazine is the Indian edition of National Geographic
Traveler (U.S.), the travel magazine of the National Geographic Society.