Time Travel Through the Lanes of Husainabad

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The rhythmic tip-tap of a tonga. The hearty smell of freshly baked tandoori roti. The aroma of Irani and Kashmiri tea wafting through the evening zephyr that gently caresses the skin. The unforgettable taste of kebabs. The enchanting sight of the iconic Husainabad Clock Tower against a blushing pink sky. Lucknow is a city that welcomes — arms open wide — for travellers to experience life in the olden days, with the Rumi Darwaza serving as a reminder to leave the haste of city life at the door, quite literally. The placid pace and bonhomie that hangs around in Old Lucknow is not just comforting, but refreshing too.

Rumi Darwaza at night
Rumi Darwaza at night. Image Credit: Wikimedia/Mrityunjaipathak

A roughly 2-km stretch of wide cobbled road connects the Bara Imambara, Rumi Darwaza, Clock Tower, Satkhanda and Chota Imambara. Elegant lamps illuminating this road form an alluring silhouette against the evening sky, drowning the beholder into a page from Arabian Nights. A tonga or camel ride transports one back to the era of Nawabs.

Lucknow is dotted by several Imambaras, which are essentially Shia Muslim places of congregation and mourning during the Islamic month of Muharram. Bara Imambara, however, is much more. For one, it holds one of the rare labyrinths in India that consists of more than 1,000 passageways. Inside the premises you can also visit an old step well, as well as the Mecca facing Asafi Masjid, which is a magnificent masterpiece of its own kind. Opposite the Bara Imambada is the Naubatkhana — replete with ornamented mehraabs that are the signature characteristic of Mughal architecture. Naubatkhanas were used historically to make royal announcements, and a good look at this building will conjure up the sounds and sight of shehnais and drums rolling in front of your eyes.

Bara Imambara
Bara Imambara. Image credit: Wikimedia/Nvsamit

Farther ahead of the Bara Imambara is the Rumi Darwaza which was built in 1748 by Nawab Asaf-ud- Daula as a food-for-work programme to help a population devastated by famine. The imposing gate is a classical example of Awadhi architecture and marks the entrance to Old Lucknow. Built as a replica of the Big Ben in London, the Victorian and Gothic styled Husainabad Clock Tower stands a few metres away from the Rumi Darwaza. It is the perfect place to spend an idyllic evening while sipping on hot, pink Kashmiri tea. As you absorb the tremendous history of this area, the Satkhanda (meaning, 7-storeys) presents itself like an unfinished story, leaving its reader longing for more. This incomplete, beautiful, four-storied building bears an uncanny resemblance to the famous Tower of Pisa. It was built by Nawab Mohammad Ali Shah for moon sighting and to have a bird’s eye view of his city.

However, construction was stopped mid-way when the king died from climbing the stairs of his own observatory during inspection.

The Chota Imambara houses exquisite gold edged mirrors, ornamental glass chandeliers and intricate Arabic calligraphy inside a palatial dome. The area around Chota Imambara is a trove of workmanship producing some of the most opulent handicrafts of India such as chikan embroidery, mukesh, zari, zardozi and dabka works. One can head to the nearby Gol Darwaza and Aminabad markets for a blissful day of retail therapy. Popular all over India, the Aminabad market is a paradise for all brides aspiring to don a gharara — pleated wide legged pants which originated in Awadh and became the de facto attire for Muslim women in the northern region.

A visit to Old Lucknow would be incomplete without treating oneself to the soul-stirring Tunday and Galawati Kebabs or the delectable Nihari-Kulchay — their recipes invented in the royal kitchens, secretly guarded through generations and perfected over time.

Husainabad Clock Tower
Husainabad Clock Tower. Image Credit: Wikimedia/Mayank221088

In Husainabad, life lingers gracefully; it ebbs and flows around its heritage monuments much like a river flows through a village — both becoming an inseparable part of one another. These historical buildings are not put behind ticketing counters and forgotten by the locals; they are as much a part of the present day life as of the past. Legacy isn’t just an inheritance, it is joie de vivre!

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