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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.