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Lucknow: Nawabs and kebabs

Lucknow india For all its old world charm and etiquette, Lucknow is not on the tourist map of the country. But if you get a chance, do plan a visit to this charming and laid-back city that has emerged from its old worldliness to a rather nouveau centre of political might, where symbols of dalit supremacy and resurgence have all but obliterated a unique culture of Hindu Muslim synthesis.

In the 18th century, the once powerful Mughal empire was in a period of decline and regional “governors”, ruling on behalf of the Mughal kings gained supremacy in various provinces. Avadh, with Lucknow as its centre, was one of these. The Indo-Islamic culture that came into being as a result of the intermingling of the primarily Persian Muslim culture of the rulers with the Hindu way of life of the subjects gave birth to a unique culture of synthesis that can perhaps be seen in only India. Indian Classical music (the khayals, the tabla, a percussion instrument developed by Amir Khusrau), danceforms like Kathak, Urdu poetry and miniature painting styles find their roots in this Indo-Islamic culture. As does cuisine and architecture, some of the most stunning examples of which you can find in old Lucknow (as opposed to the New Lucknow of present day politicians and industrialists).

Getting to Lucknow is convenient enough. Just catch a Shatabdi train from New Delhi; a six-hour journey; or an overnight one in the popular Lucknow Mail. Or you can also fly down—— a mere 45 minute flight out of Delhi.

Once you are there, here are some of the things that you must do:

1. Gorge on galawat ke kebab at Tunda Kebabi: These are the most exquisite, melt-in-the-mouth kebabs made from lamb mince made tender by marination in raw papaya paste. Flat and griddle fried, the best place to get them is from the legendary Tunde Kebabi, with shops in Aminabad and Chowk.

2. Biryani, Kakori kebabs and Chaudhuri ki Kulfi: From near the “Stadium”. The KD Singh Babu sports stadium is an important landmark and there are shops serving some of the yummiest eats dotting its periphery. Pick up some delicacies from here. Chaudhuri ki kulfi, an old shop, is a must stop to savour some “Indian icecream”.

3. A round of Chowk:
The old quarters of the city are crowded but if you want to sample some of the old Muslim culture (and handicrafts and cuisine), a must visit is the Chowk market. Shop for exquisite chikan embroidered kurtas and salwar kamzeezes from here—at a fraction of the price that you’d get these from in Delhi and other cities. This, after all, is the centre of the craft. In the mornings, you can also sample some delicious and unique “Feni”—or daulat ki chaat, as it was possibly called—froth skimmed off milk and presented to you fresh.

4. Ganjing: In the old days, before the advent of the malls, a favourite pastime of Luckowiites used to be Ganjing—walking up and down the broad avenues of the (then) posh Hazrat Ganj Market. A number of old shops selling authentic hamburgers and cream rolls and other European style goodies were to be found here. You can still get the best butter biscuits at Burma Bakery. At one end of Hazrat Ganj is the Halwasia market, known, amongst other things, for its footwear. By the way, while in Hazrat Ganj, don’t forget to sample some spicy street eats by way of chaat at King of Chaat. Fried and crisp potato patties, pani ke batashe, puffs filled with tangy water, and matar or pea chaat are just some of the delicacies. The legend goes that the Income Tax department actually computed the formidable earnings of the establishment (and thus the tax due to the government) from the number of “pattals”, plates made of leaves on which chaat is typically served, on the ground in front of the chaat stall. (Obviously, Indians were, and are, not used to bins!)

5. Chinhat Pottery: Lucknow is famous for its pottery too. Plan a visit to Chinhat on its outskirts.

6. Get lost in the maze at the Imambara: There is a chota, or small, Imambara and a Bara, or a big one. The Imambara (a Shia place of worship) complex in Luckow was built in the late 18th century by Nawab Asafudaullah and is regarded as the epitome of nawabi architecture. Apart from the wonderful architectural details, the high point of the bara imambara is a maze or bhul bhullaya where you can indeed get lost.

7. The Residency: The resident governor generals of Lucknow lived here. But its ruins remind us of the First War of Independence in 1857, when rebellious soldiers killed many Britishers here. Gory… and you could be excused for imaging a ghost or two, at least we did just that while in school (in Lucknow).

8. Malhiabad: Love mangoes? If you are planning your visit in summer (by the way not the best season to come to north India), the orchards of Malhiabad famous for their Dussehri mangoes will make for a pleasant stop-over.

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