Trotting along Heritage Lucknow through Rumi Darwaza

posted in: Asia, Heritage, India, Uttar Pradesh | 56

Whether you are a connoisseur of food or arts or heritage – there is no missing the epic city of the Nawabs – Lucknow. If you leave out the food bit, then the other two are what appeal to me. This was the city that popularized my chosen form of dance – Kathak and one that has a history that goes back to centuries. Naturally, a heritage tour in Lucknow was on top of my list. Given that this was just a pit stop along my epic Indo-Nepal road trip, the heritage walk had to become a trot on a horse carriage. But, the trot itself, was fascinating as it took me from the Bara Imambara to the Chota Imambara through the city’s epic gate – Rumi Darwaza.

Heritage Area of Lucknow
Heritage Area of Lucknow

The heritage section of Lucknow is quite a tour that would possibly take an entire day for one to explore. In the half day that I had, I only managed to do half of it, covering three of its significant monuments. I would have much rather walked through this tour but given that I had only those few hours, I stepped onto my waiting horse carriage, that trotted me up this heritage lane. Let’s get down to what I discovered – but after this quick history lesson. 😉

History of the Nawabs of Lucknow

The term Nawab interestingly, is often confused to mean a king. Interestingly, it comes from an Arabic term called “Naib” which means “Assistant”. The Nawabs were essentially, governors appointed by the Mughal emperors. The kingdom they were in charge of was actually called Awadh and its initial capital was a town called Faizabad. However, once Lucknow became their center of power, they were termed as Nawabs of Lucknow.

Nawab Asaf Ud-Daulah
Nawab Asaf Ud-Daulah

The Nawabs were quite extravagant with their lifestyle and were patrons of art and beauty. This is not just obvious in the heritage monuments that you see here. It is evident even from the legacy of the current day art and culture that India has. They are the reason why the popular term “Shaam-e-Awadh”  (evenings in Awadh) were romanticized. The courts of the Nawabs were graced by the forefathers of Kathak Guru Birju Maharaj, while the last Nawab Wajid Ali Shah, himself was renowned for his own music and dance.

The Heritage Trail in Lucknow

Heritage in Lucknow is not just limited to the regime of the Nawabs. It goes far beyond into the British rule for this city was a center for many of our freedom struggles. While there are several monuments like the Residency that you can still visit while here, the main heritage trail of Lucknow covers the reign of the Nawabs. There are two big trails but the one that I refer to actually starts at Lal Pool – a historic bridge and ends at the Jama Masjid. Along this trail lies the Bara Imambara with its famous crypt – my first post on Lucknow, and the Chota Imambara with its glittering lights.

The scenic jharokhas of Bara Imambara, Lucknow
The scenic jharokhas of Bara Imambara, Lucknow

I managed to do only half of the original trail that has been described on the official UP tourism site. Since I have covered my start point at Bara Imambara and the end point Chota Imambara in my previous posts, let me jump straight into what happened after I exited the first stop.

The Naubat Khana of the Nawabs

The Bara Imambara itself, cover five of the stops mentioned in that heritage trail of Lucknow.  Despite having spent a bulk of my time here, I could not cover the Shahi Bawli or the Stepwell. I had a choice between that and the Chota Imambara as we were close to the closing time. The latter won with the popular vote of the group and thus, we exited the beautiful gate of Bara Imambara. Standing right in front awaited our carriage, against the gorgeous Naubat Khana of the Nawabs.

Our Carriage awaits in front of the Naubat Khana, near the Rumi Darwaza, Lucknow
Our Carriage awaits in front of the Naubat Khana, near the Rumi Darwaza, Lucknow

Naubat Khana refers to the gate of the drummers who announce the time of the day. The drummers also, announced the arrival of important guests and it was almost, as if I could hear them standing at that Persian gate, to announce my departure as I was helped up onto the horse carriage. And off we trotted, but not before we got a glimpse of one of the other heritage monuments behind the Naubat Khana – The Teele Wali Mosque (the white structure at the left most end of the picture above)

Hussainabad Clock Tower in Lucknow

Hussainabad Clock Tower near Rumi Darwaza in Lucknow
Hussainabad Clock Tower near Rumi Darwaza in Lucknow

The tall clock tower was hard to miss for it is supposedly, the tallest clock tower or Ghanta Ghar of India. 221 feet high, the Hussainabad clock tower stood in a classic Gothic style architecture, different from its surrounding ornate Mughal styled buildings. This was built on the likes of the Big Ben of London by Nawab Naser Ud-din Haider to impress the British Lieutenant Governor – Sir George Couper in the 1880s. The clock tower is four-faced and has these flower-shaped dials along with bells on each face. It is rumored to have the largest clock wheel within as well as one of the largest pendulums. Now, that is something I would not mind climbing up to see 😉

While it does not work, it is worthwhile waiting until evening to see it all lit up. It definitely adds the sparkle to the heritage part of Lucknow.

The cursed Satkhanda

Just a little ahead of the Hussainabad clock tower lies an incomplete building that the people call Satkhanda. Since we were on a trot, I could not get a clear picture of the monument. Designed to be a watchtower, this was supposed to be a 7 storey tower on the lines of the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Qutub Minar. It was meant to see the whole of Lucknow and more importantly, the moon on the auspicious occasion of Eid but it was never completed as the Nawab Muhammed Ali Shah hurt his leg and thus, the construction deemed as cursed.

The Cursed Satkhanda
The Cursed Satkhanda                                                                                  Image Credits: Varun via Flickr under CC by 2.0

While this was the story as I found in the literature that I got here, it was not as interesting as what our Tonga (Horse Carriage) guy had to share. According to him, the Nawab was making this for his daughter Zeenat as a gift to see the “Eid ka Chand” (the crescent moon of Eid). However, while the construction was on, she died. The Nawab stopped the construction and people called the Satkhanda as cursed.

I definitely preferred the Tonga guy’s tale for it was more interesting. While I may never know the truth, I sure would like to explore this one for its story and its unique construction. Each level of the Satkhanda was built with diminishing height and that itself makes it unique.

Rumi Darwaza – highlight of the Heritage trot

I deliberately left the best for the last. Remember that I mentioned three key monuments on this Lucknow trail – the first two I have already covered while the third is what I share now. Rumi Darwaza – the old gateway to Lucknow.

Rumi Darwaza as seen from the roof of Bara Imambara, Lucknow
Rumi Darwaza as seen from the roof of Bara Imambara, Lucknow

Built at the same time as the Bara Imambara and by the same architect – Khifayatullah, this gorgeous gate was designed similar to the Gateway of Istanbul – referred to as East Rome. Thus, the name Rumi that means Rome. The Rumi Gate stands tall at 60 feet and has become a recognized landmark of Lucknow. Constructed in the 1780s, the Rumi Darwaza has been a witness to several freedom struggles too. With three doorways, it is still functional as people use it every day to cross between the Bara Imambara and the Chota Imambara.

Architecture of the Rumi Darwaza

The fascinating thing about Rumi Darwaza is that when we crossed it on our way to the Chota Imambara, it appeared as a flat, rectangular gate with three doorways. It seemed multi-storeyed with Chattris on the top but the same gate on our way back, appeared far more ornate and very different. The flat straight structure was suddenly enclosed in a semi-circular, dome-shaped gateway. The three doors still took you to the other side and the multi-stories were somehow, not that obvious.

The Eastern Facade of the Rumi Darwaza as seen on the way to Chota Imambara
The Eastern Facade of the Rumi Darwaza as seen on the way to Chota Imambara

Rumi Darwaza is a perfect example of how seamlessly the cultures of India blend into each other. While the intricate designs of Mughals or Persian India dominated the overall structure, the Rajputan Chhatris (umbrella-shaped pavilions) added its unique touch to this extremely ornate gateway.

The Western side of the Rumi Darwaza at night
The Western side of the Rumi Darwaza at night

They say that in its days of glory, a huge lantern lit its top while jets of water around its arched gateway gave it a feel of the bud of a flower. I definitely can imagine that for even today, without the sprays, it looked like a floral extravaganza. It is not wrong to state that this was truly one glamorous and befitting end to a gorgeous heritage trail of Lucknow. It definitely, is one unmissable place in Lucknow.

With that last view of the glowing Rumi Darwaza, we got off our Tonga and bid goodbye to this area. There are plenty of other historical relics along this trail like the Jama Masjid and the Shish Mahal that I missed out. I hope to return to Lucknow to discover those but I hope you can catch it before I do. Remember to check my other posts on Lucknow for the missing jewels of this heritage trail of Lucknow. I am pretty sure, you will find them all as interesting.

Rumi Darwaza

Getting here

  • Lucknow is one of the key cities of India and is well connected by road, air and rail to all the other parts of India.
  • Rumi Darwaza can be mapped onto your mobiles by clicking here. This is the center point for this heritage trail, though the actual trail starts from Lal Pul. Either of these places can be reached by public transport – local buses, auto rickshaws or local taxis.

Travel Tips

  • Click this link for an access to the heritage trail of Lucknow. This includes both ticketed and non-ticketed monuments.
  • The entire heritage trail is best done by walk for there is tons to be seen. If you are short of time like I was, a tonga ride or an auto rickshaw could be a good option.
  • A lot of these monuments have been clubbed under a bigger monument. For example, the Shahi Baoli is a part of the Bara Imambara complex while the Hussainabad Gate is a part of Chota Imambara. You can find details of those under the respective posts that I have already shared.
  • There are plenty of restaurants and restrooms along the trail.
  • Remember to drink a lot of water and wear comfortable clothes and shoes for this is a long trail.  If you are headed here in Winter, woolens are advised while cotton clothes are fine in Summer.
  • Winter is a better time to visit Lucknow
  • Don’t miss the Chota Imambara and the Rumi Darwaza in the evenings, when it is fully lit up.

 

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56 Responses

  1. Ryan Biddulph

    I love that clock tower Ami. Looks like something I’d have seen in the Middle East, when I visited Qatar earlier this year. I do see somewhat of a Muslim influence here from the buildings to all of the names of individuals mentioned in the post. This region has some real magic.

    Ryan

    • Ami

      Thanks Ryan for the lovely comment. This heritage part of Lucknow was done by the Nawabs who were Shia Muslims. Hence, you will find that in plenty here. It is quite fascinating.

  2. DomOnTheGo

    Our next trip to India is going to be this northern region – so really cool to see your post about Lucknow and things to see and do. Looking forwad to our trip!

  3. Lisa

    I got real goosebumps when reading this post! The architecture trail here is incredible and with so much visible influence too. I never knew Rumi meant Rome, very cool, as I’ve used one or two of the poet’s travel-related quotes before! Such a stunning area, and Lucknow definitely has found a way onto my bucket list!

    • Ami

      Glad to hear that Lisa. Rumi does also, refer to a Poet’s name but in this case, it refers to Rome. I do hope you get to Lucknow soon.

  4. Bhushavali

    You’re right. Food isn’t my piece of cake as well (pun intended!), esp as a veggie! Arts and Heritage is totally my area of interest as well! After seeing a lot of Gujarati stepwells, it would be interesting to see some Lucknawi stepwells.

  5. Suzanne

    I’ve never been to Lucknow but it looks so rich in culture and history. You’ve certainly outlined its attractions well. The cursed building looks spooky too!

  6. Marcie

    I absolutely LOVE your first photo! I wasn’t sure where it was, which was why I loved it so much! Lucklow looks like such a beautiful place with such a long history.

  7. Sandy N Vyjay

    I find a lot of similarities between Ahmedabad and Lucknow. Especially when I look at Rumi Darwaza. Having been brought up seeing Teen Darwaza, Lal Darwaza, Delhi Darwaza, Shahpur Darwaza, and so on. What always fascinated me and even does now is the traffic that weaves through these historic gates.

    • Ami

      I know what you mean, the Persian influence is what must be the reason. Though this one was a little more grand. I have to admit.

  8. Chesca

    What a fascinating post! Thank you! So interesting to see subtle European influences, yet the monuments still retain a rich Indian/Persian style that is breathtaking. I love the guide’s story behind the Satkhanda too, it gives it a deep sadness that’s much more poignant than someone hurting his leg. And also, love how that gateway looks so different on both sides – the West side with the circular dome is absolutely beautiful.

    • Ami

      Thank you Chesca. I am glad that you enjoyed the post and could also, appreciate the unique way the Gate was styled. I do hope you get to see it for yourself. Cheers

  9. Marlies

    Those old Indian buildings are so beautiful! The horse does not look too healthy though, is it a very poor area? Rumi Darwaza at night looks magical when it is lit up.

    • Ami

      It is a heritage area and not many live here any more. Rumi Darwaza is indeed quite grand and glad you liked it too. Cheers

  10. Sthint

    Your post topic is very unique and good for the readers so i am really impress so carry on for more unique post because people will follow more your site. Thanks

  11. Ella

    Hi Emi – your pictures came out amazing! What a wonderful place. I just returned from my trip to India a couple of weeks ago and your tips are on point. I wish I wouldve stumble upon your post prior to my travels haha Thank you for sharing! – Ella

  12. Aisha

    Lucknow looks amazing! Your photos and words truly bring this place to life. I do hope I get to visit some day!

  13. Suma

    Loved reading about your heritage trail experience at Lucknow city. The Rumi Darwaza is indeed spectacular, the two different designs to one structure is just amazing. Beautiful pictures Ami, hope to visit this historic city soon.

    • Ami

      Thank you Suma. I hope you girls manage to see this city. It is definitely something you will enjoy

  14. Lydia Smith

    There’s so much to do and see in India, when I thought I’ve had the best bucket list, here’s Lucknow singing ‘visit me.’ The legend behind the cursed Satkhanda though. I enjoyed reading your post about Rumi Darwaza

    • Ami

      Thank you Lydia for that lovely compliment. Lucknow goes beyond the Taj and is worth exploring . Definitely consider it.

  15. Marvi

    I love the architecture! It does speaks volume of the rich culture in Lucknow… Despite your limited time, it seemed like you had seen plenty of incredible structure and learned so much history! The Cursed Satkhanda sounds really intriguing… I’m it would’ve been amazing too if it was just completed.. 🙂 Great post Ami! 🙂

    • Ami

      Thank you Marvi. The whole heritage region here is gorgeous and has tons of amazing stories. Hope you visit

  16. Anita Hendrieka

    Wow, I had never heard of this place until now. It’s so incredibly stunning! It seems like you could spend a long time checking out every inch of this heritage site!

    • Ami

      Rumi Darwaza is like the emblem of Lucknow. And rightly so when you see it. It is good to see that it is still being used though I can hope that it does not get damaged.

  17. Meg Jerrard

    I would love to take a heritage tour in Lucknow – you packed a lot into your half day, and even though you would have preferred to walk, horse and carriage sounds like an amazing way to explore – and to get into the spirit of discovering an age long ago! I love that the trail focuses on an extended period of history. Bara Imambara is indeed a beautiful gate – good choice! But Rumi Darwaza trult is spectacular, and I love how it symbolizes multiculturalism.

    • Ami

      You got that right Meg. Rumi Darwaza is a masterpiece and yes, though I would have liked walking, the horse carriage was not too bad either. Thanks for the lovely comment.

  18. Jolina S..............................

    You had me at the first photo — so breathtaking! A little sad that the third photo has some graffiti though, hopefully the heritage authority is working to stop the vandalism. In any case, your photos look beautiful and you’re right, looks the highlight is Rumi Darwaza. Stunning both in the daytime and nighttime!

    • Ami

      I did encounter a lot of graffiti. Checks have been put in place and hopefully there will be no more but it is a sad thing. Rumi Darwaza indeed is a masterpiece . Thanks for stopping by Jolina

  19. Lauren

    It’s a truly fascinating place! I’d love to walk around and take it all in, although I would love to have an experienced guide take me around, too! There’s so much history to learn and thank you for explaining it. The architecture is so beautiful, I really love the intricately carved doorways.

    • Ami

      A guide is definitely a plus when you head here. It definitely needs some explanation. Thanks for stopping by with this lovely comment, Lauren.

  20. Medha

    This is a very interesting read! To think that I have lived in Delhi for so many years (and still travel 2-3 times a year to see my family) and have never actually considered exploring Lucknow! I’ve been to most of Rajasthan and Punjab and himachal and have even lived in the UP for a while, have been to Lucknow as a child to attend a wedding but that’s t. There’s so much Heritage and history to be explored in that city, I will consider going there again sometime!

    • Ami

      The Delhi to Lucknow via Agra highway is amazing. It will be a good road trip for you to take. And Lucknow is amazing as you can see. Hope you visit soon MEdha.

  21. Jitaditya Narzary

    Lucknow is one of those ancient and great cities that are yet to get their share of recognition. All those heritage walks in Delhi can always be replicated in Lucknow too and so I am glad to see this post. Love the motion blur in the Rumi Darwaza pic. The static monument of yore against the fast moving people of today sums it up!

  22. Alli Blair

    I love this post! So rich and full of history and beautiful photos! The architecture is so lovely, I would just love to spend a few days here!

  23. Mei & Kerstin (@_travelwithmk)

    We’ve never been to India, let alone Lucknow! But it looks like an interesting place to visit. We’re history buffs and love heritage sites, so this seems like a nice destination for us! The architecture of the Bara Imambara and the Rumi Darwaza is so beautiful and I can already see us exploring the city on a horse carriage! Thank you so much for sharing this awesome post!

    • Ami

      India is the place if you love heritage and Lucknow is just one of those places. You will definitely enjoy this city. Hope you plan a visit

  24. Jennifer (@matdifference)

    I hate to see the modern graffiti on historical ruins. It makes me sad to see places damaged by people who feel the need to write their names on things.

    I love the architecture in Asia. It has an air of sophistication that Euro architecture can only dream of.

    • Ami

      It is a pity Jennifer that one has this urge to make themselves immortal by scribbling names on monuments. I wish people would stop doing that. Glad you liked the architecture though,

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