Friday, September 02, 2005

Lucknow : The Beginning

The first question beckons. Why Lucknow as a tourist destination? No Rajputs, no Mughals, so where is the architecture? Well, to fill the gap of above two - there were Nawabs, British, and there have been a little bit of French too. All of them came later than Mughals and Rajputs, hence the architecture is fairly modern.

Nawabs were Shia Muslim, hence the architectural style largely resembles that of Iran, rather more so of Constantinople. For that reason, the city is also known as 'Constantinople Of India'. Historians have gone far enough to say that pre-1900, Lucknow was culturally and architecturally most advanced city of India.

But since, during the first war of independence in 1857, Lucknow played a major part (there was a massive massacre of British soldiers under the guidance of Begum Hazrat Mahal), 75% percent of Nawabi architecture was demolished, and an important British cantonment was set up through out the city to curb ghettoism. That brought the British architecture in picture, but at the cost of some glorious Nawabi one.

In fact, now dilapidated remains are not because of Archeological Survey of India's ignorance but due to mass pulling down of the edifices. Only important religious place were spared, while other palaces and official edifices were pulled down.

To get the more feel politico-cultural situation of that time in Lucknow, I would recommend three masterpieces of Hindustani cinema - Satyajit Ray's Shatranz Ke Khiladi, based on Munshi PremChand's story by the same name; Shyam Benegal's Junoon based on the war of independence; and Muazzafar Ali's Umrao Jaan - a story about the tragic life a fictitious courtesan. All three are must see.

A French architect named Jean Claude Martin, visited Lucknow during the Nawabs and loved the city culture so much that he settled over there. He designed and got constructed various beautiful structures with French designs. Hence the French connection.

City is also known for it's parks. Many old ones, a few new ones. Then, food is the major major USP. Every corner of the city has something or other for a food lover. Nawabs were good at it, so are the current inhabitants.

So looking forward to this new journey. Hope to keep you hooked.