Entrance to the Shah Najaf Imambara flanked by royal palms (Roystonea regia) and stands of potted plants
After leaving Chandigarh, my next stop was the Lucknow, the capital of the North Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and once the center of a glittering dynasty of Muslim Nawabs before being annexed by the expanding British colonial empire in 1856. Once known as the "City of Gardens", Lucknow has long been famous for the sophistication of its culture and the refinement of its cuisine and the manners of its inhabitants. Unfortunately not much survives of the gardens that once appear to have dominated the cityscape and Lucknow today is a chaotic and crowded city in which modern every-day life has settled somewhat uneasily into the crumbling shells of the past. However, some of the city's famous charm still survives; the food is still delicious and people continue to be notably polite. Scattered around the city many fragments of that older Lucknow of playful elegance remain, as do some stunning monuments that are well worth a visit.
The huge Bara Imambara as seen across its courtyard
The entrance courtyard of the Bara Imambara
Rows of potted flowers, including moss roses (Portulaca grandiflora) and what appears to be some species of Crinum, on the steps at the entrance of the Bara Imambara
Since the dynasty that made Lucknow a political and cultural center as the capital of the princely state of Awadh followed Shi'a Islam, monuments peculiar to that branch of Islam are a conspicuous feature of the city. Chief among Lucknow's attractions are the imambaras, congregational halls used by Shi'as for the communal mourning of the Imam Hussain during the month of Muharram and also often serve as the mausoleums of some of the notable people associated with their construction or upkeep. The most well-known is the Bara Imambara or "Big Imambara", an enormous hall set in a complex that also includes a large mosque, an elaborate step well, several monumental gateways, and a multi-story labyrinth of passageways, galleries, and turrets which sits above the main hall. Not far from the Bara Imambara lies the Hussainabad Imambara, also known as the Chhota or "Small" Imambara. It is a much more intimate and ornate complex, which in addition to the Imambara itself also contain the tombs of some of the Awadhi royalty and a small mosque, as well fountains, pools, and an almost dizzying array of other decorative details.
The pale blue entrance gate to the Hussainabad Imambara Complex
The Hussainabad Imambara as seen from the entrance of the complex - Notice the small arched bridge spanning the central canal and the plantings of juniper (Juniperus sp.) and Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) along its edge
Arabic calligraphy in the shape of a cypress
The tank and fountain on the terrace immediately in front of the Imambara
Small ornamental water chutes or chadars leading from the level of the terrace to the main courtyard below.
A third imambara worth seeing is the Shah Najaf Imambara, which sits among a lot of greenery just up the street from the city's main modern shopping mall and was recently renovated. Other monuments of interest include the remnants of the palaces of the Nawabs as well as some large royal tombs and the unusual gate known as Rumi Darwaza or "Roman Gate".
A large royal tomb
More royal tombs, as seen from an adjacent park
The Rumi Darwaza
Apart from these main architectural attractions there were also many smaller things that I liked in Lucknow, details that are perhaps not that special but that made me smile nevertheless. Among these was the life that took place on the rooftops of the rather humble neighborhood which my hotel room overlooked. Right below my window, one house had a veritable rooftop garden which impressed me due to the care and effort that obviously went into keeping it lush and blooming.
Rooftop garden below my hotel room window
I hope you enjoyed these snap shots from Lucknow and I will be back with more soon!