Lucknow : The city of Nawabs and Kebabs


Rarely have I seen a city where philanthropy, culture, history, art and gastronomy coexist in utmost harmony.

By the bank of river Gomti, lies the City of Lucknow, formerly known as Awadh. My first brush with it’s rich culture was through my mother, who introduced me to the Lucknow Gharana of Hindustani Classical music. As I grew up, I started getting familiar with the “Pehle Aap”, the “Tehzeeb”, the art forms and the incredible history. But what bowled me over completely about Lucknow was the Awadhi Cuisine. A few years ago, I happened to be a part of a Metiabruz Walk, the Awadhi culture in Calcutta, introduced by the last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. The Galawti kebabs struck an instant chord from my taste buds to my heart and I made it a point to visit the beautiful city at the soonest.

As I write this, my mind wanders off to the Streets of Lucknow where I spent two beautiful days taking in the charm of the city.

History and the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb

“Lucknow is just a dot on the world map, but its sophisticated and refined culture, evolved over the years, has contributed considerably to the composite Indian culture. In fact, though this culture originated with the Mughal dynasty, which ruled from Delhi, it was promoted, patronised and taken to its zenith by the rulers of Awadh, better known as the Nawabs of Lucknow. These Nawabs were initially administrative cogs in the Mughul Empire, but in the year 1819, the seventh Nawab, Ghazi-ud-din Haidar, snapped ties with Delhi and declared himself an independent king. In practice though, even after their rebellion, they continued to be referred to as Nawabs, rather than kings.

It is interesting to note that the rulers of Lucknow, probably one of their kind, are remembered not so much for their war victories, but for the unique culture they espoused. This culture, without a trace of imperiousness, advanced a secular tradition that nurtured communal harmony and respect for others’ feelings and faith. It was due to the strong influence of this culture that Lucknow never witnessed any communal riots, not even during Partition. This clearly proves that Lucknow’s culture succeeded where the best of sermons failed.”

– Ravi Bhatt, “The Life and Time of the Nawabs of Lucknow”

Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, which literally translates to the Ganga Yamuna culture, is an Awadhi term referring to the fusion of Hindu and Islamic culture, especially in the Northern Plains of the country. I had a glimpse of this beautiful culture through “Kabir ke Dohe”, lines of poetry by the Muslim poet Kabir, soaked in the “ras” of the Hindu God, Ram. This culture was even more evident as I walked through the streets of Lucknow. I was fascinated to see Hindu temples leading to Muslim lanes peacefully coexisting with each other.

Art and Architecture

The city is strewn with beautiful architecture which dates back to centuries. It is not surprising to find an age old dilapidated building with stunning architectural intricacies amidst a busy street. However, the following stands out in terms of grandeur and historical significance.

Rumi Darwaza and Bada Imambada

Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula’s reign saw a devastating famine resulting in an economic crisis. The Nawab then started the work for the Asafi Imambada or the Bada Imambada in 1784 as a part of the food-for-work programme. There have been stories where the Nawab would ask the skilled artisans to build it in the day and the non-skilled citizens to break it during the night. This delayed the conpletion till the famine was over. The Nawab’s generosity and philanthropy earned him the quote
“”Jisko na de Moula, usko de Asaf-ud-Doula”

The Rumi Darwaza is the main gateway to the Bada Imambada. The name “Rumi” has been derived from Roman and has been named so because the gateway’s design has resemblance to Roman architecture. As narrated by a local guide, the intricacies bore resemblance to motifs on the Nawab’s Royal clothing. Huge torches were added to the top of the gate which resembled giant cloves, depicting the Nawab’s love for the spice.

The Bada Imambada consists of prayer halls, the Bhul Bhulaiyya or the Labryinth and the Bowli, a step well with running water. At 50 by 16 meters and over 15 meters tall, it has no beams supporting the ceiling and is one of the largest such arched constructions in the world. There are eight surrounding chambers built to different roof heights, permitting the space above these to be reconstructed as a three-dimensional labyrinth with passages interconnecting with each other through 489 identical doorways. 

Chhota Imambada

Also known as the Palace of Lights was built by Muhammad Ali Shah, the Nawab of Awadh in 1838. It was to serve as his own mausoleum and his mother, who is buried beside him.

Husainabad Clock Tower

Built in the year 1881, this clock tower was constructed by Hussainabad Trust to mark the arrival of Sir George Couper, 1st Lieutenant Governor of United Province of Awadh. Reflecting Victorian and Gothic architecture, this clock tower is adjudged as the tallest among all the clock towers in India, built as a replica to the Big Ben of London.

The Residency

Also known as the British Residency was constructed during the rule of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan II, who was the fifth Nawab of the province of Awadh. The Residency was subject to the Siege of Lucknow, part of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. It has been maintained as it was at the time of the final relief, and the shattered walls are still scarred by cannon shot. Ever since Indian Independence, little has changed.

Food

Gastronomy rules the city of Lucknow. From Chaats, Kachauris to Kebabs and Biriyani, this city has the best of everything. Here’s listing the places one must not miss when in the City of Nawabs and Kebabs!

Chaat and Kachauri

We tried Bajpai Kachauri Bhandar and Netram Ajay Kumar for Kachauris. Amongs the two, I would rate Netram higher, especially for their wide variety of Sabzi served with the Kachauri. Special points for the fresh Jalebis at Netram.

Nothing beats Royal Cafe when it comes to Chaat. Do try the special Basket Chat where you eat the chaat followed by the edible basket.

Nihaari and Kulcha

Rahim’s undoubtedly tops the list when it comes to Nihaari and Paaya. Special mention of their Kulcha which was absolutely heavenly. However, the Sheermal at Mubeen’s stole my heart.

Kebabs, Biriyani

Goes without saying, a visit to Lucknow is incomplete without hogging onto the Galawti Kebabs at Tundey.
But a few other places that I loved apart from Tundey.
Open Air Restaurant for Galawti Kebabs and Chicken Masala
Dastarkhwan for Biriyani, Shammi Kebab
Idrees’ Biriyani

Kulfi , Makkhan Malai, Sweets

Prakash ki Mashoor Kulfi for insane Kulfi
Street Vendors at Chowk for Makkhan Malai
Radhey Lal Sweets for Doda Barfi and Halwa Tikki

Shopping

Chikankari, their local embroidery has been incorporated in dresses, kurtas, sarees and the like. One can buy them from any of the stores in Chowk for a fair price.
Lucknow is also famous for their perfumeries where they sell bottles perfumes known as “Ittar”.

And as I write, my mind wanders off to the evenings in Lucknow, the faint music of the Azan through the evening breeze floating it. As the lyrics go,

“Jab chhod chale Lucknow nagari, kahe haal ke hum par kya guzari”.

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