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| Once the capital of the kingdom of Oudh, Lucknow is one of the few cities of India that retains a strong Mughal flavour. The tombs, gardens, and palaces -- commissioned by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula and whose treasury eventually went bankrupt financing this effort -- dot the town. Though these buildings were not built on as grand a stage as some of the other Mughal buildings of India, their elegance nevertheless awes. Of interest too are the buildings that played a prominent role during the Mutiny of 1857, especially the Residency.
Bara ImambaraThe Bara of Great Imambara -- an imambara is the tomb of a Shi'ite Muslim holy man -- was built in 1784 by Asaf-ud-Daula as a famine relief project. The central hall of the Imambara, 50 metres long and 15 metres high, is one of the largest vaulted galleries in the world and the roof has been put together with interlocking bricks without using a beam or a girder.
An external stairway leads to an upper floor laid out as an amazing labyrinth known as the bhulbhulaiya, where a guide may be useful in finding one's way around . From the top there's a fine view over the city and of the Aurangzeb Mosque. Entry is Rs 10 and includes a visit to the ancient well or baoli and to Rumi Darwaza.
There's a mosque with two tall minarets in the courtyard of the Imambara but non-Muslims are not allowed in. To the right of this, in a row of cloisters, is the baoli, the 'bottomless' well. The Imambara is open from 0600 hours to 1700 hours.
Rumi DarwazaBeside the Bara Imambara and also built by Asaf-ud-Daula, this huge and finely designed darwaza or gate is a replica of one in Istanbul. 'Rumi' , derived from the name Rome, is the term Muslims applied to Istanbul when it was still Byzantium, the capital of the eastern Roman Empire.
Lakshman TilaThis high ground on the right bank of the River Gomti was the original site of the town which became known as Lucknau in the 15th century. Aurangzeb's Mosque now stands on this site.
Hussainabad ImambaraAlso known as the Chota, or small Imambara it was built by Muhammad Ali Shah in 1837, to serve as his own mausoleum. Thousands of labourers worked on the project to gain famine relief and the end result was a fantastic-looking tomb. The large courtyard encloses a raised rectangular tank with small imitations of the Taj Mahal on each side. One of them is the tomb of Muhammad Ali Shah's daughter. The other that of her husband.
The main building of the Imambara is topped with numerous minarets and domes -- the main one is golden. Inside are the tombs of Ali Shah and his mother. The nawab's silver throne and other paraphernalia of state are here.
The watchtower opposite the Imambara is known as Satkhanda, or the Seven-Storey Tower, but it actually has four storeys because construction was abandoned at that level when Ali Shah died in 1840. The Imambara is open from 0600 hours to 1700 hours.
Clock TowerOpposite the Hussainabad Imambara is the 67 metre-high clock tower -- reputed to be the tallest in the country -- and the Hussainabad Tank. The clock tower was built between 1880 and 1887.
Picture GalleryAlso facing the Hussainabad Tank is a baradari or summer house, built by Ali Shah. Now restored, it houses portraits of the various Nawabs of Oudh. It's open from 0800 hours to 1700 hours.
Jami MasjidWest of the Hussainabad Imambara is the great Jama Masjid with its two minarets and three domes. Construction was started by Muhammad Ali Shah but completed after his death. This is one of the few mosques in India not open to non-Muslims.
ResidencyBuilt in 1800 for the British Resident, this group of buildings became the stage for the most dramatic events of the 1857 Mutiny or Uprising and the Siege of Lucknow.
The British inhabitants and Indian loyalists of the city all took refuge with Sir Henry Lawrence in the Residency upon the outbreak of the Mutiny, expecting relief to arrive in a matter of days. In fact it was 87 days before a small force under Sir Henry Havelock broke past the forces that were beseiging the building to the remaining half-starved defenders. But once Havelock and his troops were within the Residency the siege immediately recommenced and continued from September 25 to November 17, when final relief arrived with Sir Colin Campbell.
The Residency has been maintained exactly as it was at the time of the final relief, the shattered walls scarred by cannon shots. Even since Independence little has changed apart from the lowering of the Union Jack that flew night and day from one of the towers... and the unveiling of an Indian Martyrs Memorial directly opposite the Residency.
There's a model room in the main Residency building which is worth visiting to get your bearings from the rather tatty model. Downstairs you can see the cellars where many of the women and children of the British soldiers lived throughout the siege. However the officers and their families, according to the British caste system of those days, occupied the more comfortable but riskier quarters upstairs.
The cemetery at the nearby ruined church has the graves of 2000 men, women and children, including that of Sir Henry Lawrence, who tried to do his duty, according to the famous inscription on his weathered gravestone. It is advised not to visit the cemetery alone, as local troublemakers make it their business to harass tourists.
The whole place has the atmosphere that would lend itself to a film set and indeed during the winter months there is a son-et-lumiere show here. There are no set opening hours for the Residency but the model room is open only from 0900 to 1730 hours. Admission is Rs 10 to the Residency gardens, to the model room, except on Fridays when it's free.
Shah Najaf ImambaraLocated opposite the Carlton Hotel, this mausoleum takes its name from Najaf, the town 190 km southwest of Baghdad in Iraq where Hazrat Ali, the Shi'ite Muslim leader, is buried. The Imambara is the tomb of Ghazi-ud-din Haidar Khan, who died in 1827. His wives are also buried here. This was the scene of desperate fighting in November 1857 during the 'second relief' of Lucknow, when Sir Campbell finally arrived to rescue the thinning population of defenders of the Residency.
The domed exterior is comparatively plain, but inside are chandeliers and it's said that at one time the dome was covered with gold. The building is used to store tazia, elaborate creations of wood, bamboo and silver paper which are carried through the streets at Muharram, the festival which commemorates the martyrdom of Mohammed's grandson, Iman Hussain and which are models of the Kerbala in Iraq. Many precious items from the mausoleum were looted following the Mutiny. The imambara is open from 0800 hours to 1700 hours.
Martiniere SchoolOutside the town is this strange school built by the Frenchman Major-General Claude Martin. Taken prisoner at Pondicherry in 1761, he joined the East India Company's army. In 1776 however he entered service with the Nawab of Oudh, while at the same time maintaining his East India Company connections. He quickly made a substantial fortune from his dual occupations of soldier and businessman, and started to build a palatial home which he named Constantia.
Martin designed much of the building himself, and his architectural abilities were, to say the least, a little mixed up. Gothic gargoyles were piled merrily atop Corinthian columns to produce a finished product, which a British marquess sarcastically pronounced, was inspired by a wedding cake. Martin died in 1800 before his stately home could be completed, but left the money and directions that it should become a school.
Dilkusha PalaceTo the southeast of the La Martiniere school is the Dilkusha Palace laid down admidst extensive parks near the banks of the river Gomti. It was constructed by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan as a hunting retreat.
Kukrail Reserve ForestSituated nine kms away from Lucknow, it has been developed by the forest department authorities. Kukrail houses a deer park. And one of the only nurseries of the endangered species of crocodiles in India. A variety of birds and black bucks can also be seen in their natural habitat.
Banarsi BaghThis garden houses Lucknow's Zoological Park and the State Museum. The Prince of Wales Zoo which has been in existence since 1921, is quite as ordinary one as zoos go, but has a fairly large collection of snakes in the serpentarium. The State Museum on the other hand is one of the finest in the country and the oldest in the state. The numismatic, handicrafts, natural history and ethnographic sections of the museum are interesting.
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