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Lucknow

  
   - darkometer rating: 2 -
  
The capital city of the province Uttar Pradesh in the centre of northern India. Having a long history of multiculturalism and as a regional seat of power, it also played a prominent role in British colonial times. And it was here that some of the heaviest fighting in the “Rebellion of 1857” took place, especially at the British enclave called The Residency.      
More background info: Lucknow has a long history as a North Indian cultural capital, and also a political one, especially during the rule of the Nawabs of Awadh when it was the capital of the Awadh region – or Kingdom of Oudh, as it was known as one of the Princely States in the British Raj era.
  
Lucknow was one of the key hotspots during the “Mutiny” or “Rebellion” of 1857 (aka “First War of Independence” in modern Indian parlance). For more on this see the historical summary under the separate chapter for The Residency.
  
Lucknow also played a political role in the subsequent fight for Indian independence in the 20th century, for instance being the spot for the first meeting in 1916 of Mahatma Gandhi and later leader of the Indian National Congress and first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru. The Lucknow Pact was reached at that time, which saw to agreements that united the Congress and the Muslim League in the common course of fighting for independence.
  
Speaking of Muslims – Lucknow is one of the main centres of Shia Islam. Hence the grand Islamic architecture of Hussainabad in the north of the city. Even though Lucknow is predominantly Hindu, and Hindi the most widely spoken language, Muslims are, at almost a quarter of the population, by far the largest minority here (it's in fact the largest Shia Muslim population of any city in India) and Urdu is the second most widely spoken language.
  
Lucknow lies on the Gomti River, a tributary of the Ganges, and so it won't come as a surprise that this river, too, is regarded as holy. Yet, like with the Yamuna in Delhi, its “holy waters” are these days in actual fact highly polluted. In addition, Lucknow has long been prone to flooding from the river during the monsoon season. However, in recent years lots of construction work – some of it rather controversial – has been going on along the banks of the river, with dams, weirs, embankments and new riverside parks bringing the river closer to city life.
  
Despite the downsides of pollution etc., Lucknow is regarded as one of the cities with the highest quality of life overall in India, according to a survey conducted a couple of years ago in which it came out as “India's second happiest city”. I have no surveys to back up anything, but just going by gut feeling from my short visit there I can see this as a plausible outcome. I personally liked Lucknow more than any of the other cities I saw on my 2016/17 India trip.
  
  
What there is to see: The main reason for a dark tourist to come to Lucknow is one particular colonial historical site, which is therefore given its own separate chapter here:
  
  
  
Other than that there isn't much of particular dark interest, except perhaps some of the OTT modern memorial parks that glorify local political figures who you may not have heard of but who clearly had enough influence and clout in these parts to be commemorated by such constructions. Very weird.
  
Politics in general seems to be a bit crazy here. At least at the time of my visit when there was some bizarre chaos with a father-vs-son feud at its centre. Apparently the elected son was thrown out of the party by his disgruntled Dad … only to be allowed back in the next day. Yet a party split was on the cards, after which neither could have been allowed to continue using the party's chosen symbol, the bicycle. I got all that from reading the local paper and from what my guide told me. But I cannot pretend that I really understand any of what was going on … But the many party political posters put up all over the town were quite intriguing to look at … and some of them also had a rather dark-looking aura about them.
  
Being the largest city in Uttar Pradesh, Lucknow also has its share of modern Indian problems with regard to overpopulation and pollution. But compared to especially Delhi, Lucknow isn't quite so bad in this regard.
  
And in terms of looks, it was the place I liked most amongst the ten or so cities I visited on my three-week trip to India in 2016/17. What architectural marvels it has are more consistently clustered together, giving a much more pleasant cityscape impression. See below under non-dark combinations for more on that.
  
  
Location: in the heart of the state of Uttar Pradesh in the centre of northern India, some 260 miles (420 km) south-east of Delhi, 550 miles (880 km) north-west from Kolkata, but only less than a hundred miles (150 km) south of the border to Nepal.
  
Google maps locators:
 
Rumi Darwaza: [26.8713, 80.9122]
   
Bara Imambara: [26.8699, 80.9132]
  
Chota Imambara: [26.8735, 80.9042]
  
Husainabad clock tower: [26.874, 80.908]
  
La Martiniere College: [26.8396, 80.9631]
  
Ambedkar Memorial Park: [26.8493, 80.9735]
  
  
Access and costs: slightly off many tourists' routes but well connected by plane and rail; variable price-wise.
 
Details: Getting to Lucknow from other larger hubs within India is generally easiest by domestic flight or by train. In theory Lucknow's modern airport is also international, with a few connections to places such as Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore, but most people will probably arrive via Delhi or other Indian cities.
  
Getting around Lucknow will become much easier when the metro, currently under construction, is finished (the first stretch is scheduled to open in March 2017). Until then it's the usual road traffic chaos like you get in other Indian cities. Foreign visitors will most likely depend on taxis or auto rickshaws (tuk-tuks), unless you are on a private guided tour (like I was, which included transport by car).
  
Parts of Lucknow are much more walkable than other large cities in India – and the place also has a reputation for being unusually bicycle friendly.
  
Accommodation options in Lucknow cover the usual full range. If keeping to a tight budget isn't your main priority, then investing in the top-end place, the Vivanta by Taj Hotel, could well be worth it. I found my two-night stay there the best I had in all of India on my 2016/17 trip. The hotel is located just north of the grand marbled Ambedkar Memorial Park by the river, on the right bank.
  
With regard to food & drink, Lucknow is best known for its kebabs, but that doesn't mean vegetarians lose out, as here too you are never far away from plenty of non-meat alternatives. And the Awadhi cuisine has some very interesting dishes to offer, as I found (ever had a gooseberry purée curry with garlic and chilli?).
  
  
Time required: A day or two are sufficient to see The Residency and the key architectural sights that are mentioned here (if done on an organized tour with transport – otherwise you might need longer). But I had the feeling that I could have used much more time to explore Lucknow beyond just these sights. So at least a couple more days should be added for a more in-depth visit.
  
  
Combinations with other dark destinations: The closest other place of those listed on these pages is Kanpur, some 50 miles (80 km) south-west of Lucknow. Delhi, though much further away, is also within reach e.g. by train or internal flight.
  
In general see under India.
  
  
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The city has actually more to offer in terms of non-dark attractions than it has for the strictly dark tourist.
  
Lucknow's top architectural marvels are Islamic buildings, not just mosques, but also, for instance the great Rumi Darwaza gate (aka “Turkish Gate”), and especially the grand imambaras (that's Shia Muslim congregation halls – not prayer halls, like mosques, but more for a social function).
  
The bigger one in Lucknow, the Bara Imambara, located next to the Asfi Mosque, features a grand hall which is said to be amongst the largest arched halls of its kind, without beams or pillars to support the ceiling. Pretty impressive.
  
The Chota Imambara is smaller, but its grounds are spectacularly beautiful. The interior is crammed full with chandeliers and little architectural models (some in gold, others rather basic paper affairs) and other heavy-handed kitsch, but worth a look too.
  
Unusually for Islamic architecture, whose ornamentation is normally totally abstract or calligraphic but never representational, you can find several real-world depictions here, in particular of fish. (But I do not know why that is.)
  
An outstanding (also literally) example of British colonial-era architecture is the Hussainabad Clock Tower (aka Ghanta Ghar), at 67m the tallest such structure in India. It is vaguely reminiscent of London's “Big Ben”, but is built from red bricks and incorporates some Indian stylistic elements too.
  
The very grandest piece of European architecture in Lucknow, however, is not English but French: La Martiniere College. Founded in 1845 by Lyon-born French adventurer Major General Claude Martin, the building incorporates some Indian elements but overall looks much like a grand chateau somewhere in France. It still functions as a prestigious college, but despite its French roots, the language of instruction here is English.
  
Claude Martin himself is buried in the vaults of the main building in a large stone sarcophagus in a crypt which he had built inside the former wine cellar (and that's so French, isn't it?). The rest of the interior, which I visited as part of my general guided tour of Lucknow, is almost as grand as that of the big Islamic showpieces of the city and well worth a look!
  
Architecture apart, a main feature characterizing Lucknow is the Gomti River, especially since several stretches of the embankment have been turned into landscaped parks. Along the banks that have not seen such construction work, you can witness massive open-air laundry activities.
  
Here you can marvel at rows and rows of garments hung up to dry – which is quite a sight to behold, especially given the colourful designs of many of these. The laundry as such is done in the river waters … and you have to wonder how clean you can get any clothes washed in the river's polluted waters … they looked OK to me, but appearances can be deceptive ...
  
Amongst the garments you'll see is a typically Lucknow product, a light-weight half-length embroidered type of gown called a chikan kurti (also chikankari – not to be confused with 'chicken curry'). There are hundreds of manufacturers of these garments in the city and it's apparently Lucknow's main export in terms of textiles. Bought directly from the producers in this city they cost a fraction of the rip-off tourist prices charged at international airports, for example.
  
See also India in general.
  
 
  
 
  • Lucknow 01 - grand Islamic architectureLucknow 01 - grand Islamic architecture
  • Lucknow 02 - competing for the skyLucknow 02 - competing for the sky
  • Lucknow 03 - clock towerLucknow 03 - clock tower
  • Lucknow 04 - Rumi DarwazaLucknow 04 - Rumi Darwaza
  • Lucknow 05 - Rumi Darwaza from the sideLucknow 05 - Rumi Darwaza from the side
  • Lucknow 06 - minaretsLucknow 06 - minarets
  • Lucknow 07 - grand ImambaraLucknow 07 - grand Imambara
  • Lucknow 08 - great hall of the ImambaraLucknow 08 - great hall of the Imambara
  • Lucknow 09 - unusually non-abstract ornamentationLucknow 09 - unusually non-abstract ornamentation
  • Lucknow 10 - golden flying fishLucknow 10 - golden flying fish
  • Lucknow 11 - Chota ImambaraLucknow 11 - Chota Imambara
  • Lucknow 12 - chandelier overload insideLucknow 12 - chandelier overload inside
  • Lucknow 13 - golden modelLucknow 13 - golden model
  • Lucknow 14 - old gateLucknow 14 - old gate
  • Lucknow 15 - La Martiniere CollegeLucknow 15 - La Martiniere College
  • Lucknow 16 - sarcophagusLucknow 16 - sarcophagus
  • Lucknow 17 - modern-era memorial parkLucknow 17 - modern-era memorial park
  • Lucknow 18 - river laundryLucknow 18 - river laundry
  • Lucknow 19 - rows of drying garmentsLucknow 19 - rows of drying garments
  • Lucknow 20 - chikan kari storeLucknow 20 - chikan kari store
  
  
  
  
  
 
  

 

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