The Rumi Darwaja

The Bara Imambara

“You have to come to my wedding”.. She told us six months ago with the familiarity and authority of one who has been your close friend despite the age difference and is very dear and you cannot help but indulge her! 
Braving all odds, she finally got the much-coveted consent from her family to marry the man of her dreams. We had to go! Her happiness was so infectious and endearing, we just had to go! Thus began the 6-month-long anticipation of good times in Lucknow. Because the icing on the cake was, that was where the wedding was going to be. So this city of gardens, the city of nawabs (royals), tehzeeb (etiquette) and nazaakat (finesse) was beckoning us and we just had to go!! Because it was Ron’s wedding, after all…
Thus began the 5-day frolic in Lucknow. Why five? Because the three of us, colleagues, who were only acquainted with each other so far, but were now on a common mission of attending Ron’s wedding, were visiting the city for the first time and wanted to enjoy the sights, the famed food and the shopping! Chikan and chicken- both needed equal justice! After all, we were there in the first place because it was Ron’s wedding and Lucknow was an exotic destination for us!
Day1 – was spent shopping and taking in the sights of the city. The famous Royal cafe in the tony shopping district of Hazratgunj got a huge thumbs up from us and after a very late lunch of “chat” there, we ended up at their doorstep for dinner as well! The manager had warmed up to us by then and narrated some tidbits about how the restaurant was set up in 1991 and how the decor is practically unchanged since then! Even the portion sizes speak of generosity of yore – almost twice as that of any portion size in any new restaurant today! The Paanipuri was among the best I’ve ever eaten! 

Tundey Kababiwala is another such place of pilgrimage for food lovers visiting this city. The most famous offering is “galouti kebab” – a heavenly concoction of finely ground meat and aromatic spices (in a zealously guarded secret formula), which are so delicate, they literally melt in your mouth!! My family is still enjoying the fruits of my labour of carrying this delicacy through the day-long journey back to Pune!! They freeze the ground meat and spices” mixture in portions for people to carry back home, which one can thaw and fry at home for people to enjoy!!

Tundey ke “galouti” kebab! 

The time in between the eating was spent – happily shopping, what else!! One can’t go to Lucknow and not shop for delicate “chikankari” material! This much-loved style of embroidery exclusive to India is the hallmark of this city. “Chikankari ” is said to have its origins in the Persian word “chikeen”, meaning cloth wrought with needlework. The motifs are inspired by Mughal architecture; in fact Noor Jehan, the wife of Emperor Shah Jehan is said to have introduced chikankari work in India. The delicate hand embroidery is a piece of art and we bought several such “pieces of art” over three days!! 😀😀
Exquisite chikankari work

Another happy shopping spree was at the Aminabad market in the city area. It’s the “Tulshibaug ” and “Appa Balwant Chowk” of Pune put together! A wholesale books’ and stationery market on the periphery and a thriving jewellery market on the inside. The famed “Meenakari” work of Lucknow, jewellery painted on in traditional colours to give it a more colourful look, and the pretty lac bangles made our trip totally enjoyable! Even the sultriness of the weather which is so typical of the pre-monsoon days in Northern India did not dampen our spirits! Because it was Ron’s wedding after all, and we were there to have a blast!!
Beautiful “Meenakari” work on earrings.

This is a city of historical monuments and gardens and greenery. I have never seen so many parks and gardens in any city anywhere! The older gardens are interspersed with relics, mostly Mughal, most of them in a reasonably well-preserved state! In fact, the old city still has a majority of houses which are from many hundred years ago and are yet lived-in. I hope they don’t meet the fate of the beautiful old “Wadas” of Pune, most of which have been demolished now to make way for ugly concrete monstrosities! These old structures of Lucknow, the havelis, which are a couple of storeys tall at best add so much character to the laid-back ambience of the city! The jaalis, the floral motifs, the arched balconies, the little domes and minarets and the whitewashed exteriors – all add up to make these structures beautiful hallmarks of the city that was! The Rumi Darwaza, the Bada Imambara, the Saadat Ali Dargah, the Begum Hazrat Park, the Bhatkhande Music School, the University Complex – all these heritage structures that we saw were architectural treats which took us right back in time to the Mughal era, when the Nawabs lived in all their grandeur! 

A portion of the Bada Imambara, the main building of the University complex, the Saadat Ali Dargah and a portion of a beautifully preserved relic.
This was, however, starkly juxtaposed against the new part of the city across the river Gomti with the typical hotch potch of concrete block houses. There is an attempt to plant greenery and we saw a commendable effort to properly plan the city – well laid out cycle tracks being one such attempt – but these were also at places taken over by hawkers. The bane of our country is that even the best intentions of the government and the facilities provided can be quickly turned into convenient “jugaads” for a few and a huge inconvenience for the rest!!

And by far the biggest monstrosity that we saw there is the “Samajik Pariwartan Prateek Sthal” with four grand entrances, a prayer hall/convention centre and those famed 80 stone elephants sculpted to apparently beautify the city! To top it all, monumental statues of a certain ex-CM, whose pet project this was, and her mentor! What a sheer waste of public money, time and energy – those hundreds of crores of rupees could’ve been used for so many other more-needed projects beneficial to the citizens!! 

The Samajik Pariwartan Prateek Sthal and the 80 stone elephants on the premises.

When we talk of a city, we invariably talk of people and stereotypes. Lucknow is a state capital and as such one encounters so many politicians, their cronies, their henchmen and the air of importance imparted to them by their ” Lal-batti wali” vehicles! Stay in any state or country capital and one is so used to these, one doesn’t even notice! What we encountered however, was the common people who are warm, friendly, respectful and always ready for a quick joke!! Not even once did we feel insecure or threatened as women tourists in a North Indian town; in fact people were extremely friendly and helpful! A salesman in a shop overheard our conversation one evening around 7.30 about how it was late and we should be heading back to our hotel and he very confidently assured us that it was perfectly safe to be out and enjoy the sights and food for several hours more, no issues at all! I don’t know if this is always the case; one shouldn’t take foolish risks and be out till late in a new place – at the same time, his very confident tone touched a chord somewhere! We took his word for it and were out till a good 10 pm – no second glances, no lewd comments, no harassing women on the roads! The “tehzeeb” is in strong play all the time indeed! 

When you travel with people whom you’ve known before very casually, it can be a total let-down at times! During travel you are together all the time and small individual habits, beliefs, remarks could lead to friction and tensions! I’ve seen so many casual friendships turn cold and eventually fizzle out after a trip together. But this was one trip where we bonded like never before! In fact decided to take a trip together at least once a year! The goal for all of us was a common one – to attend a wedding and to spend a few carefree days on a trip for ourselves – no strings attached! Because it was Ron’s wedding after all, and we wanted to make her happy by attending and have a good time too! And we did and we’re glad we did!!
And then came the best part – the wedding of dear Ron! After all, we were there because it was Ron’s wedding! Ron made such a beautiful bride, we had tears in our eyes just seeing her getting her heart’s wish fulfilled after a long wait! An inter-regional wedding can be stressful for the families, because of the different cultures, but if one is open to accepting the other, with their different beliefs, values, traditions and outlooks, then it can be an enriching experience! Am sure the camaraderie between the two families will continue beyond the rituals of the marriage vows!

All in all, what an experience it was! Thank you Ron, for inviting us and making us a part of your special day – these are memories which we will cherish forever! As we gave you all our love and blessings, we were also terribly sad to know that you were headed beyond the seven seas to start your new life; but your glowing, radiant, happy face put a smile on our faces too! We thoroughly enjoyed this trip and your hospitality and were so glad we came…we had to… It was our Ron’s wedding after all!!