Lucknow what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down

Posted: January 11, 2011 in India
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Next stop was Lucknow, the birthplace of Muneeza’s nana abba (maternal grandfather). The train was once more late but we arrived mid afternoon and were picked up by a driver arranged by our latest host, Naheed. Naheed runs Lucknow Homestay and has 10 rooms in a relatively quiet suburb of Lucknow away from the hustle of MG Road (Mahatma Ghandi – every place has one, it’s all the rage).

The Lonely Planet described it as delightful. We wouldn’t strictly agree though Naheed is incredibly friendly and helpful and it’s a relaxing place to hang out for a few days. However, we hit Lucknow in the middle of a cold snap and the rooms are so basic that the cold penetrates every square inch like a silent assassin. The bathroom was awful, quite literally a sh&t hole (apologies parents!). At least there was hot water though it was from buckets, not a shower. Mother dearest this room would have brought you out in cold sweats of sheer panic.

Still, the warm welcome contrasted the freezing room and we both loved Naheed’s dog Pepper, a cute spaniel who loved attention. We wolfed down the home cooked meal and hit the sack early to get under the covers and find some warmth.

The Residency

If you want an interesting insight into the bloody colonial past of India, this is the place to be. Built in 1800, the Residency became the stage for the 1857 First War of Independence, conveniently referred to in British history as the Indian Mutiny. The war effectively marked the end of the British Raj. The Siege of Lucknow lasted 147 days and saw horrific shelling into and out from The Residency. Thousands  of people died and many of the building were razed to the ground.

We politely declined the offer of a guide and took a stroll around the 33 hectare grounds. It’s a sobering experience. You can still see the bullet holes and shell damage from the siege. Many of the buildings are in the same ruined state as they were left in 1857. If you let your imagination run wild, you can conjure up the sounds and sights of a bloody battle. Alas for us the highly rated museum was closed – we had picked the only day of the week it is!

Bara Imambara

We continued our walking tour of town by strolling up to the north west end of town where many old monuments can be found. The Bara Imambara is a huge tomb that contains a labyrinth of passages and stairs that wind their way to the roof top. The impressive courtyard is accessed via two huge gateways. Once inside, the spectacle is a feast for the eyes.

Directly in front is the colossal tomb complex. To the right the old mosque. To the left a deep baori (step well) inside brick arches. The architecture is amazing, evocative of the Mughal rulers. Huge sweeping arches with intricate detail domainte the eye line. Whilst the history was too much to take in, we simply walked around and took in the sights.

Outside the bara there are many other monuments and historical buildings, including the impressive Rumi Darwaza which is reported to be a copy of the entrance gate to Istanbul. Rumi is the name that Muslims applied to Istanbul when it was still Byzantium. We walked back to town with our culture vulture satisfied and engaged the heathen spirit by eating our own bodyweight in food at Pizza Hut.

Hotel California of towns

We had planned to leave the next day by train to Agra at 15.45. We filled the spare morning by walking to La Martiniere, a splendid boarding school built by General Claude Martin in the 1700s as a palatial home. The school was patronised by none other than Harry Webb, better known as Cliff Richard. It’s an awesome sight though rather worn at the edges and in need of serious love and attention.

However, our smoother than cashmere plans were wrecked when we found out that the train was delayed by 10hrs. That meant a new departure time of 01.45. Ouch. Muneeza suggested we head back to Lucknow Homestay and take advantage of the TV room to kill the hours. A wise decision. We kicked back and watched film after film and tucked into some more pizza. Naheed recommended we call the station before paying for another auto-rickshaw and her suggestion was sensible. It turned out that due to the heavy fog, trains were cancelled.

The next day we rebooked tickets and then found out the train was yet again delayed. To cut a long and tedious story short, we arrived in Agra at 04.00 on 9th January, 31 hours later than planned. Yet again we had arrived in a new town broken, tired, cold and grumpy. Traveling isn’t just glamour, there are frequent painful experiences that you can only laugh about when you have slept and recovered.

love james & muneeza x

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