Ten Highlights

  1. Dahi Jalebi
  2. Tunday Kabab in Aminabad Market
  3. Chat at Shuklas
  4. Aminabad Market
  5. Kabab and Rumali Roti
  6. Nahari Kulcha at Rahims
  7. More Kabab and Naan
  8. Thandai
  9. Bada Imambara, Rumi Darwaza and Residency
  10. 6 flavor Pani Puri

Lucknow needs no introduction. Say nawabs, tehzeeb or lazeez pakwaan and it would immediately be synonomous with Lucknow, and vice versa. Our trip to Lucknow was a two day gastronomy tour, sprinkled with a bit of history and fantasy.

Surdy, Adi and I started out of Delhi on Friday evening. We reached Kanpur in the morning. Now it so happens that our dear flatmate Panda went to school in Kanpur. And it was only apt that we pay a visit to his great alma-mater and bring him back soil from the football field. So after a few hours of halt in IIT Kanpur and dahi jalebi for breakfast, we were back on our journey to Lucknow - the fabled land of Nawabs.

On reaching Lucknow, we checked into an inexpensive hotel near the railway station. The hotel room was really basic - 2 cots, sheets, buckets of hot water on request, mosquito coils (don't remember if we bought them or if they were given) and a broken ventilator above the door. Someone told me the ventilator was broken for obvious reasons. After a hot water bath, we immediately rushed off to Aminabad market for Tunday Kabab. Delicious! After the kababs, we hit the chat stall on the road. Ummm, delightful.

Wandering through the market lanes, we reached a Chikan workshop cum showroom. It surprised me how expensive the dresses were, considering that Lucknow was the home to Chikan handicraft industry. We'd get cheaper and better quality Chikan stuff in Hyderabad. Clearly, it was a way to exploit and fleece the visitor charmed by Lucknowi chikan work. We moved on to enjoy Lucknow by night. After some obscure corners and dark tomb parks, we decided it was time for the second (or rather third) culinary halt - kabab and rumaali roti. More walks and interactions with rickshaw-walas confirmed our thoughts that Kothas in Lucknow were a thing of the past and mere Bollywood fantasy now. Don't think there was a trace of it left - not atleast easily accessible or visible.

On Sunday morning, we began with our pilgrimage to Karims for the nahari and kulcha. For the uninitiated, nahari is like stew of lamb leg, cooked overnight with a key ingredient - potli ka masala. Access to Karims was through the most oriental and exotic (but also very dirty) lane a westerner can imagine. We could smell the food from a good 20 yards. Inside, the seating was in a kind of basement. Actually, it must have been the ground floor. But centuries of road building sank the original level of the shop by a few feet. Inside ate everyone - rich shop owner, poor alm seeker, a madarsa student, and travelers like us. One of the better nahari kulchas I have eaten in cities! But it didn't go well with our not-so-carnivorous friend Adi, which called for another food halt - this time the more conservative kabab and naan. The eating joint we stopped at was an interesting place. The chefs made kababs in a large wok right at the entrance, filling up the place with smoke and heat from the flames. The actual entrance was a 2 feet passage for the customers to squeeze by. Inside, a smoke filled dimly lit room was occupied by lazy lurkers from the city, burqa clad girls, busy business people - all who came to grab a bite. When we tipped 20 rupees to the young boy who served us, he leaped in the air and actually kissed the guy who stood beside him. I have rarely seen a guy so happy! And happiness is so relative; a 20 rupee note can make some jump with joy, a 20 thousand rupee bonus doesn't liven me up.

In the same lane, we met a very curious character. We ran into an elderly gentleman in one of the tea places. He introduced himself, Ahmed kehte hain humein. I don't really remember the stories he told us. They were surely interesting momentarily but overall forgettable. We walked past that lane; lots of shops - antiques, sweets, butcher - you name it. The next city quarter we entered was heart of old Lucknow - a mix of hindu and muslim homes - all atleast a century or three old - highly admirable and very fascinating.

Next stop - thandai ki dukaan. After all the walking, we deserved a little treat in the form of thandai. We then made our way to Bada Imambara (1784, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula) and found a decent guide - he wasn't very greedy with money and wasn't very stingy with time. The Bada Imambara is a very interesting complex. It's purpose is mutli-fold - religious, stately, and military. The bhool bhulayya on the top floor is a trick maze. Although the guide will tell you that only 10% of the doors remain and the rest of them have been sealed - it's not true. It's probably the other way round. If your guide is skillful, he will show you how you can hear a match strike at the other end of the balcony in the 100 feet hall.

Bada Imambara was followed by quick visits to Rumi Darwaza (1784, Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula), Chota Imambara (1837, Mohd Ali Shah), Satkhanda (a 'Leaning Tower on Pisa' in making abondoned half way and now badly neglected), Picture Gallery of the Lucknow nawabs in Taluqdar Hall and Hussainabad Clock tower. At around dusk, we walked into Residency complex - heavily mutilated and damaged (during 1857 mutiny?) and has been left as such to remind us of the past. We waited for the 'Sound and Light' show for about 30 minutes. And when it was about time, the keeper of the complex walked up to us and said the show wouldn't happen today because of voltage problem. Too bad. We had wasted 30 minutes being bitten by mosquitos. We still had an hour before our night train to Delhi. We bade farewell to the city with pani puri served with 6 flavors of spiced water.

In this trip we spent two nights in 2nd class sleeper train, one night in an inexpensive hotel, grubbed street food in roadside restaurants all the time and probably spent less money traveling for two days than we would spend staying back in Delhi for the weekend.

Pictures from the trip? Ah, my hard drive crashed and I lost all pictures from the Lucknow trip. Can you imagine?

The Nawabs

For history buffs, here's a quick list of Lucknow ke Nawab:

Nawab Sadat Khan (1722-39)
Nawab Mansur Ali Khan Safdarjung (1739-53)
Nawab Shuja-ud-Duala (1753-1775)
Nawab Asaf-ud-Duala (1775-1797)
Sadat Ali Khan (1797-1814)

Ghaziuddin Haidar (1814-1827)
Nasiruddin Haidar (1827-1837)
Mohamed Ali Shah (1837-1843)
Amjad Ali Shah (1843-1847)
Wajid Ali Shah (1847-1857)

While the first five nawabs reported to the Mughal emperor in Delhi, the last were more autonomous.

Tags: India

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