"Glory lies in the attempt to reach one's goal and not in reaching it. " ~ Mahatma Gandhi


Lucknow: Colonial Past

Romola Butalia, Editor, India Travelogue, juxtaposes images of Lucknow as she remembers them.

My early memories of Lucknow date back to childhood when winter vacations were spent with my grandparents there. I remember the beautiful grand building of the railway station and the tongas or horse-drawn carriages that ferried us around town. Hazratganj was a wide empty road then. I recall the roaring lions at the zoo and the ubiquitous monkeys particularly visible on the old Monkey Bridge over the Gomti river.

The Bhulbhulaiya was an impossible maze of intrigue in childhood. We looked forward to watching films at Mayfair, and having tea at Kwalitys next door. The dominance of a traditional, mellifluous, Muslim culture had outlived Lucknow's colonial past. I know my grandmother thought it was the best place to live, and she had seen life in enough cities.

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Lucknow has changed considerably. The hand-emroidered chikan work is still as famous but the chowk is now teeming with sheer humanity. The kulfis and gajak at Aminabad still taste the same, as does the chaat at Hazratganj. But the years have taken their toll and the tongas have been replaced by cycle-rickshaws weaving between two and four wheelers in the chaotic traffic. The station still stands untouched by time, the Bhulbhulaiya still spells romance, but the lions have lost their voice and need to be set free, and the monkeys have long fled or been captured.


The station still stands untouched by time, the Bhulbhulaiya still spells romance, but the lions have lost their voice and need to be set free, and the monkeys have long fled or been captured.

I know Lucknow well. I lived there in two separate stints of about two years each. I have seen the city expand, the colonies grow, and I have seen and understood the socio-political ethos of the heartland of India. Nowhere is Hindi spoken more beautifully, nowhere are the strains of Urdu more musical to the ears, nowhere is the old-world charm of courtesy more honoured. The kakori kababs prepared by the best chefs in five star hotels don't quite melt in your mouth as in Awadh, where the nawabs may have long gone, their traditions diluted, but something of them still lives in the shadows of the history of Lucknow.

And here, history is not contained in the dusty pages of antediluvian libraries alone, nor merely in the ruins of historical buildings. It lives and breathes everywhere. The call of the muezzin resounds among the domes, turrets and minarets, and remains a prayer of the soul. The believer and the hopeful of every faith come to have their prayers heard, to have their dreams fulfilled at the several mazaars in the city. Among them is that of the unknown Kasim Baba at the Residency. The mazaar of the Sufi saint Hazrat Maulana Shah Pir Mohammad, who lived 350 years ago draws crowds to Laxman Tila. Hazrat Shahmina Wali Baba Chishti, born some 550 years ago, is still revered at his mazaar, adjoining the K.G. Medical College.

The beautiful and stately Nur Baksh Kothi is where successive district magistrates have worked and lived. In the office here, preceeding the name of the D.M.'s who have lived here, is a short history of the house, which ends : "There are two graves of unknown persons in a corner room in the east, and the place is reputed to be haunted."

And yet, time has not stood still on the banks of the river Gomti, where the township of Lucknow grew. Lucknow, the capital city of the state, is easily the most advanced and cosmopolitan of cities in Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps only in contrast with the rest of the state that is steeped in conservatism. Where little has changed with the ticking of the clock. Where a strange sense of ennui has held the state paralysed in a time capsule.

How To Get There

By Air: Indian Airlines connects Lucknow with Delhi, Patna, Calcutta and Mumbai.

By Rail: Lucknow is an important junction on the Northern and North Eastern Railways of India.

By Road: Lucknow is well connected with some major cities like Agra (363 km), Allahabad (225 km), Calcutta (985 km), Delhi (497 km), Kanpur (79 km) and Varanasi (305 km).

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.