India

Lucknow: A Hidden Gem in Uttar Pradesh

Lucknow is the state capital of Uttar Pradesh and is a fascinating city to explore. It doesn’t attract the hordes of tourists that Agra and Varanasi do, which makes it all the more appealing. Lucknow has a large Muslim population and, thus, some amazing Islamic architecture.

The city is famed for its rich Mughlai cuisine, which is a rather meaty affair. Kebabs and biriyanis feature heavily in Lucknow’s kitchens. Amazing flaky rotis are also available all over the old part of the city, cooked fresh outside on huge round hot irons. Ollie and I found an amazing local restaurant whose speciality was these works of bread art; together with a vegetarian patty and some spicy chutney it made for a delicious lunch.

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A Delicious Local Lunch

Areas of Lucknow

Chowk

A fantastic place to start is Chowk, which is close to all the main sights. Chowk is the heart of old town Lucknow; it’s busy, gritty and exciting. Chowk is the oldest market area in the city and is THE place to get to grips with Mughlai cuisine. It is here that all the really cheap hole-in-the-wall joints and street food can be found and here where you can find just about anything in the twisting, turning back lanes.

Aminabad

Aminabad is another fantastic market area to explore; it is easily walkable from Chowk, though you’ll need to ask locals for directions. Aminabad is another very old market that specialises in cheap clothes, bags, shoes and jewellery. It makes for an exciting wander.

Hazratganj

The other area worth visiting is Hazratganj, which is where you’ll find modern Lucknow with many well-known Western brands and up-market restaurants.

Sights in Lucknow

In terms of sights, Lucknow holds some architectural gems.

Bara Imambara

First up is Bara Imambara, a colossal Islamic tomb that truly is a sight to behold. As well as the tomb, the complex also houses a beautiful mosque and a large baori (step-well) that is worth exploring. The ‘labyrinth’, a network of narrow passageways, winds its way inside the upper floors of the tomb and eventually leads out to rooftop balconies.

Outside Bara Imambara, don’t miss seeing the pretty white Tila Wali Masjid and the stunning Rumi Darwaza, the imposing gateway that leads to Lucknow’s other main sights. Rumi Darwaza is said to be a copy of an entrance gate in Istanbul; it certainly makes for a fantastic photo.

Chota Imambara

Chota Imambara is just a short walk on from Bara Imambara and is another fascinating, elaborate Islamic tomb. It was constructed by Mohammed Ali Shah in 1832; he and his mother are both buried here. In the well maintained garden lie a water tank and two replicas of the Taj Mahal that are the tombs of Mohammed Ali Shah’s daughter and her husband.

Outside the complex, don’t miss the decaying Satkhanda (watch tower) and the 67m red-brick clock tower that is the tallest in India. There is also the Hussainabad Picture Gallery, a striking red-brick pavillion that was once a royal summer house.

Chota Imambara
One of the Taj Mahal Replicas in the Chota Imambara Complex

The Residency

Not far from Hazratganj, the Residency is a large collection of ruins set in extensive gardens. In 1857 it became the stage for the most dramatic events of the First War of Independence, the Indian uprising against the British Raj. The siege lasted 147 days and claimed thousands of lives.

The complex was left as it was at the time of the final battle, so today many of the walls are pockmarked from bullets and cannon balls. It’s a very interesting place to wander around; it’s not difficult to imagine the bloody scenes that took place as the days of the British Raj began to dwindle.

At the Residency

Where to Stay in Lucknow

Ollie and I stayed at Lucknow Homestay, a fantastic homely place run by a lovely knowledgeable family. We enjoyed home cooked meals and a relaxing stay in a quiet part of the city, away from all the downtown hubbub. It’s not, in fact, far from Hazratganj but in the peaceful sanctuary of the homestay, in a residential suburb, it feels like you’re a long way from the craziness of the inner city.

While much of Lucknow is walkable, the best way to get from one area to another is by cycle rickshaw. This traditional form of transport allows you to enjoy the city at a slower pace than you can in an auto, taking photographs as you go.

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Local Street Food in Chowk

Lucknow really is very different from other Indian cities; for one thing Lucknow is largely Muslim and, as such, has some very different architecture and cuisine to sample. The city is easy to navigate and very friendly with some fantastic green parks. It certainly is a lesser-known gem of Uttar Pradesh.

If you’re in Uttar Pradesh you’re likely on route to Varanasi: India’s Holiest City. Find out how to get the most out of a visit!

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