LUCKNOW AND UTTAR PRADESH

UTTAR PRADESH

Uttar Pradesh is India's most populous and politically powerful state (with 80 of the 543 seats in parliament). With 200 million people it has more people than all but seven nations in the world. It also one is one of the poorest, most backward states in India. In the mid 1990s only one of every five women was literate, the mean age for women at marriage was 16.7 years, the average woman had 5.4 children, and 13 of every 100 infants died before their first birthday. These figures are better now but the average per capita income is $860 , about on third India's national average. Website: www.up-tourism.com

Uttar Pradesh state covers 243,290 square kilometers (93,930square miles) and has a population density of 820 people per square kilometer, which is roughly equivalent to cramming two thirds of all U.S. residents into Colorado. About 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas. The mud huts and grass roof villages scattered across the state are reminiscent of what you see in Africa. Most villages are centered around a stone temples. Lucknow is the capital and largest city, with about 2.8 million people.

Uttar Pradesh was originally formed as the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh during British rule. Today it is the anchor of the Hindi-speaking cow belt. Caste beliefs, purdah and traditional Hindu beliefs are very strong here. Many people live in the great plain that surround the Ganges. Aga, the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, Allahabad and Lucknow are all within Uttar Pradesh.

Uttar Pradesh is one of the states that aesthetically defines India and its rich history that’s as ancient as the time known. This is the land wherein great sages have emerged, religions evolved and two great epic of India: Ramayana and Mahabharata have been inspired from. With each progressing century, the state has vouched for the secularity of India by giving home to various religions: Hindu, Jainism, Islam and Buddhism

Varanasi (the spiritual capital of India), Allahabad, situated at holy confluence of Ganga and Yamuna rivers, and Agra with the Taj Mahal and other great Mughal monuments are not only places worth visiting in Uttar Pradesh. There are many more interesting destinations, many of which come alive during special events, festivals and pilgrimages.

Lucknow

Lucknow (580 kilometers east of New Delhi and 870 kilometers northwest of Kolkata) is the capital Uttar Pradesh. Located on the Gomti River, a tributary of the Ganges, it was the home of the Nawabs of Avadh and princes of Oudh, whose regal pastimes and pleasure were source of many legends. The Nawabs refined formal speech, extolled unattainable virtues, developed song and dance, nurtured Urdu poetry, experimented with food, and built elaborate buildings with splendid arches, pavilions and domes. Many of the royal residences are now in ruins, but examples of the nawab architectural style can still be seen in the white marble Great Imambara, and the mazelike Bhulbhulaiyan built in the late 1700s.Lucknow was also an important site during the infamous Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and has a large Shiite population and a history of violence between rival Muslim sects, .

Situated on the Gomti River, Lucknow is the commercial and cultural center of the middle Ganges Valley and is a major wholesaling and food production The city is known for its zoological gardens, parks, and National Botanical Gardens and is the site of Lucknow University, several government research centers, and a variety of colleges. Not many foreigners visit.

As soon as you arrive at the historically-eminent and gorgeous Charbagh Railway Station, the city of Lucknow starts unfolding, revealing its charm at every turn. In the bylanes of old Lucknow, history whispers lost tales, while in the broad avenues of the newer suburbs, the cosmopolitan heart of the city throbs. From the grand gateways of the popular Bara Imambara to the ornate structure of Rumi Darwaza, inspired by a Constantinople gate, the city's heritage monuments unravel their mystery. While these monuments inspire awe, it's the bustling bazaars and craft galis of the city where its true soul can be found. Complementing this energetic liveliness, lie serene temples, mosques and churches.

Getting There: By Air: The Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport in Lucknow has daily flights to and from major towns and cities of India. By Road: Lucknow is well-connected to all major town and cities of India by road. Many major highways pass through the city. By Train: Charbagh Railway Station connects Lucknow to all major cities in India.

History of Lucknow and the Sepoy Mutiny

According to a legend, Lucknow was named after Lord Rama's younger brother Lakshmana, who had a palace in the area. Historically, the city was the seat of the replendant nawabs, who ruled the region for centuries. Most of the credit, however, goes to Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, who moved the capital of Awadh from Faizabad to the banks of the Gomti river in 1775, sowed the seed for Lucknow’s growth. Rising in prominence, the nawabs made Lucknow the epicenter of art, culture and music. They also commissioned some of the most aesthetic buildings in India and artisans flourished. Everyone, from architects who designed the lovely structures of the city, to the chefs who created the kebabs we love so much today, prospered under the rule of the nawabs.

During the colonial era, the city of Lucknow was a strategic location. It witnessed many events of Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, such as the Siege of Lucknow and the Kakori train incident involving revolutionaries Ashfaqullah Khan and Ram Prasad Bismil. The Sepoy Mutiny, Indians say, was the first serious Indian rebellion — some say war of independence — against the British. It began when sepoys were issued new Enfield rifles that used cartridges that had to be bit open to use. The sepoys took up arms against their British when a rumor was spread that sacred cow fat was being used in the cartridges of the Hindu soldiers. A similar rumor was spread among the Muslims, except it was pig fat, not beef fat. The cartridge were in fact greased with wax and vegetable oil. The rumor was reportedly started by an "untouchable" arsenal worker who was angry about being refused a drink by a higher-caste sepoy soldier. In any case, many sepoys refused to use the new rifles and this was viewed as insubordination by the British commanders.

Britain was caught by surprise by the mutiny. Forces were brought in from Persia, China and Burma to fight the mutineeers. A counterattack was mounted and after fierce street-to-street fighting Delhi was recaptured. Later Lucknow was rescued and Kanpur was retaken. During the a famous siege at Lucknow, some 4,000 British and local Indian troops withstood a siege by 10,000 mutineers. One British commander, Sir Henry Lawrence, dropped dead from exhaustion and captured British soldiers were fired out of cannons. Even so the British managed to hold on for four months.

Describing a typical day during the siege, one survivor wrote, "A good deal of shelling has been going on this morning, but it is mostly our own...It rained in the evening a good deal. A poor child next door to us died of cholera; it was only taken ill about one o'clock and it was dead before seven. The poor mother was in a dreadful state just before it died, and afterwards perfectly calm. While we were undressing she came and asked if we had an empty box we could give her to bury the poor little thing in. We had one not long enough." [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey, 1987, Avon Books]

A few days later, he wrote, "Colonel Inglish had a most merciful escape last night. He...saw the round host coming, and went down to avoid it, but hit Mr. Webb, and a native who was with him, killing them both instantaneously. It makes one shudder to how death is hovering about and around us all." Towards the end for the siege he wrote, "Today we have begun to restrict ourselves to two cuppatties each a day; and soon I fear, we shall have to eat horseflesh; but as yet we have beef and rice."

Shopping in Lucknow

Lucknow is famous for perfumes. You can find some shops that sell almost nothing but jars of attar, scented with oils from flowers and fruits and even, they say, monsoon rains. The Chowk bazaar is a good place to shop for perfumes as well as Ali Baba slippers, elaborate water pies and lovely embroidery. The scarcity of foreign tourist means that prices here are generally low.

The bustling markets of Lucknow are a delight for any shopper as the city is home to many unique and beautiful handicrafts and handloom. Street shopping in Lucknow includes buying chikankari, jewelry and a host of other handicrafts. Head to the century-old Hazratganj to get a fine selection of chikan embroidered items, branded clothes, khadi, ornaments and footwear. Rubbing shoulders with its traditional market are high-end showrooms, cinema halls and factory outlets, all in one place.

If you love handicrafts and artificial jewelry, head to Aminabad, one of the oldest markets in Lucknow, which has been around since the time of the nawabs. A major attraction in Aminabad is Gadbadjhala, that has several bangle stores and is one of the biggest make-up market in the city. From home utilities, utensils and chikan saris, to men’s wear, food items, books, artificial jewelry and local handicrafts, Aminabad has everything you need. If all this shopping leaves you famished, you can head to any one of the fast food and street food eateries in the market. Only 3 kilometers away from Bara Imambara is Chowk, where you can find crafted items like lampshades, wall paintings, toys and knives. You can also shop for attars and zardozi embroidered garments, as well as flowers and footwear.

Another famous market here is Nakhas, 200 years old and still wowing shoppers, Indian and foreign, with its vast range of electronics, utensils and other consumer goods. You can also buy pet food and groceries here. While busy every day of the week, Nakhas really comes alive on Sunday, when a flea market selling second-hand goods, wooden items, jewelry, garments etc., takes over the shopping area. You can also sample some of Lucknow’s famous paan, kebabs and biryani from one of the numerous stalls that pop up around this time. Other than these, Lucknow also has several other shopping complexes that delight visitors: Bhootnath Market for spices and household good; Latouche Road for electronics; Yahiyaganj for metal utensils; and Kapoorthala for designer saris. Shopping in Lucknow, while allowing you to get fantastic bargains on clothes and other items, also gives you a sense of the cultural spirit of the city.

Lucknow Food And Cuisine

The land of the decadent Awadhi cuisine, Lucknow is a foodie's paradise. From a host of delectable kebabs to the biryanis and kheer, there's a lot on offer. Hard-boiled eggs wrapped in ground lamb meat, or keema, and cooked in rich gravy, make for the perfect kofta, a delicacy of Awadhi cuisine. Nargisi kofta is a dish native to Persia and chefs prefer eggs to give kofta balls the perfect shape. The gravy is made using tomato puree, dry fruit paste and onions. The ground meat is flavored with a blend of spices, so when the gravy and koftas come together, they create a medley of unforgettable flavors. It is especially favored during the festival of Ramazan, but is prepared for other special occasions throughout the year. It is essentially a snack, but can also be eaten with plain rice, pulao or biryani. Nargisi koftas resemble a flower named Narcissus, which is a winter flower grown in India. The flower has a yellow center as does the cooked yolk of the dish. While Nargisi kofta is typically a meat dish, these days, a vegetarian variant is also making rounds in the restaurants of Lucknow. This calls for a stuffing of boiled eggs wrapped in ground vegetables.

Lucknow is dotted with large and small biryani (a layered rice dish) joints, especially in the lanes of Chowk and Aminabad. The Lakhnavi version is one of the richest and the most extensively prepared of all recipes of biryani. It was said to be a favorite of the nawabs of Lucknow. The word 'biryani' means fried and in this, rice is lightly fried and then cooked in mutton stock. Saffron and rose water accentuate the aroma, while the dum style of cooking lends a unique taste to the meat. Cashew nut paste, saffron, curd, star anise and mace powder are used to add flavor. The rice grains are allowed to soak in water for a longer time, ensuring they are soft and tender when mixed with the meat. The soul-satisfying Lakhnavi biryani is must-try when you’re in the land of the nawabs.

Lucknow's basket chaat includes potato tikki or patty, cooked black chana, sweet and spicy chutney and curd stuffed into a crunchy basket made of sev or fried potato. It should be tried with the five-flavored pani batasha (fried and puffed balls filled with water), another speciality of Lucknow. The ultimate snack, basket or 'tokri' chaat is available across the city of Lucknow, sold by street stall vendors as well as restaurants. It is a spicy, filling street food that has now become popular across the country, and is even served at weddings and other special occasions. Savour a plateful of tokri chaat with a cup of hot tea as you soak in the spirit of Lucknow.

One of the best Nawabi dishes, zafrani kheer is the perfect finish to any meal. A dessert made with milk, boiled rice, cardamom and delicate strands of saffron, it is garnished with almond and chopped cashew nuts fried in ghee (clarified butter). The garnish imparts a distinct flavor to the kheer, which is filling and tastes heavenly. This dish is a variant of the simple kheer, which is one of the most popular desserts in Indian cooking, with several versions across the country. The zafrani version is mostly prepared during special occasions like weddings as well as religious celebrations.

Lucknow Kebabs

Pasanda Kebabs derive their name from the Urdu word 'pasande', meaning favorite, as they include the prime cuts of meat in their preparation. A dish served to Mughal emperors, it is usually prepared as curry, with large pieces of marinated lamb cooked in a spicy gravy. Today, several restaurants and joints also serve it as a kebab concoction. Two-inch square boneless kebabs are made from thin layers of mutton that are marinated in raw papaya, white pepper power and a generous dollop of ginger garlic paste. These kebabs are barbecued on a coal fire grill, and are best savoured with chaat masala, which gives the dish a heavenly flavor. There are two main methods of preparation– the mutton pieces can either be skewered or cooked. The majority of the chefs in Lucknow prefer the latter.

A delicacy curated during the rule of the nawabs, shami kebabs are one of the most popular snacks in the city. They are known for their fine textured meat, softness and aromatic flavor. Round patties full of spices, raw mango and Bengal gram are pan-fried to create a crispy exterior that is increasingly soft on the inside. Kairi or raw mango is the main ingredient of the dish. To prepare these kebabs, lamb meat is boiled or sautéed, and then ground with chickpeas. A blend of spices (garam masala, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and bay leaves) is added to the mixture, along with whole ginger, garlic, onions, green chillies, turmeric, red chilli powder and chopped mint leaves. Some recipes call for an egg to be added as well, in order to hold the kebab together. Most restaurants in the city also serve vegetarian versions of the kebabs.

Paneer Gulnar kebab is the vegetarian version of meat kebab, with cottage cheese as the main ingredient. In the dish, paneer cakes are filled with khus, and marinated in a thick, flavorful beetroot paste. With a lovely pink hue, these kebabs are rich and creamy, and a particular favorite during weddings and other special occasions. Garnished with pomegranate pearls, green chilli and fenugreek leaves, Gulnar kebabs are a filling snack, which are sometimes served with chapathi (Indian flatbread) or rice. Gulnar kebabs are said to have originated in Persia, and then spread to Asian and Middle Eastern countries. It is said that to prepare the meat variant of the dish, soldiers would even use their swords to skewer small pieces of meat and grill them on an open fire.

Patili Kebabs are spicy and cooked on slow fire. The dum style of cooking adds to the taste. Unlike other kebabs, patili kebabs are neither barbecued nor fried. They are cooled in a round-shaped brass or copper utensil called 'patili' from which the dish draws its name. These kebabs are served as a whole portion and not in pieces. When cooked in a patili, they become super soft and retain the flavor of all spices and other ingredients. They are generally eaten as a snack or appetiser, but when paired with rumali roti, turn into a filling meal.

Galawati Kebabs, or Galouti Kebabs are prepared with finely ground meat and unripe papaya, which is seasoned with a rich blend of spices. Egg is used to bind the meat and other ingredients like crushed ginger and garlic, and fried onion, together. This blend is then shaped into thin, round patties and lightly fried in ghee (clarified butter) on a pan. Once a golden sizzle is seen on the exterior of the patties, they are taken off the heat and served with a generous helping of raw onions and lemon.

This special dish was curated exclusively for the toothless Nawab of Lucknow, Asaf-ud-Daula; since he couldn’t chew. This special version of the regular kebab was created for him in the 16th century, and comprised meat so finely ground and cooked, it would explode in a flavor of meaty deliciousness and spices in the first bite. In fact, this particular Nawab was so fond of kebabs, he would have them served to his labourers too! It is said that every day, he would be served a plateful of kebabs with one secret ingredient, which he would then try to guess. It is widely believed that it was Haji Mohammad Fakr-e-Alam Saheb, the inventor of the Moti pulao, who made the first galawati kebab using as many as 150 exotic spices.

Sights in Lucknow

Sights in Lucknow include Shahnajaf, a stronghold used by Indian freedom fighters in 1857; the magnificent Bara Imambara, one the greatest of examples of Muslim architecture in India; the Jama masjid, a palace named after Muhammad Ali Shah; the Husainabad Imambara, a tomb built by Muhammed Ali Shah; the Picture Gallery, a huge renovated tank which now holds portraits of the Avadh; and the Residency, where the British residents sough refuge during the 1857 uprising.

Shahnajaf Imambara is a white-domed mausoleum constructed by Nawaz Ghazi-ud-din Haider at Paltan Ghat. He was the last wazir (minister) and the first king of Awadh in 1816-1817, and has been buried at Shahnajaf, which is why this Imambara is also known as Karbala. His wives, Mubarak Mahal, Sarfaraz Mahal and Mumtaz Mahal, are also buried here. The Imambara was a tribute and symbol of his devotion to Caliph Hazrat Ali, the husband of Fatima, who is said to be the favorite daughter of Prophet Mohammed. This structure is a replica of Hazrat Ali's burial edifice at Najaf in Iraq, and is situated on the banks of the River Gomti, near Sikanderbagh. It is flanked by the tomb of Mubarak Mahal on one side, which is an imposing silver and gold structure. Shahnajaf is exceptionally pretty on the 13th of Rajab, and between 7th and 9th Muharrum, according to the lunar calendar, when the birthday of Hazrat Ali is celebrated.

Shaheed Smarak is a white marble structure standing amidst a beautiful park. It was built in 1970 by the Lucknow Development Authority on the banks of River Gomti opposite the Residency, in order to commemorate hundreds of soldiers who lost their lives during the 1857 freedom movement of India. The monument was designed and conceptualised by celebrated architect Prasanna Kothari, and emulates the style of Amar Jawan Jyoti, located at the India Gate in New Delhi, which also pays tribute to the thousands of jawaans who gave up their lives for the security of the nation. You can pay your respect to those who sacrificed their lives for the country, and spend some time exploring the vast grounds while stealing a moment of peace and serenity. Shaheed Smarak means “Martyrs' Memorial.”

Nawab-Era Sights in Lucknow

Bara Imambara is perhaps the most recognisable and popular symbol of Lucknow. Built as a relief project to provide work to the people of Awadh during a famine, the Bara Imambara was constructed by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula during the 18th century, and its name essentially translates to a big place of worship. Its architecture, with delicate arches and jharokhas (windows), boasts Rajput, Mughal and Gothic influences. Surrounding the main edifice are lush, well-maintained gardens that are perfect for a leisurely stroll, or for just relaxing and soaking in the splendour of the Bara Imambara.

There are two main entrances to the Imambara, both guarded by enormous gateways. The ceiling of its central hall is said to have used interlocking bricks without any beams or pillars for support. The structure has an amazing maze of corridors called 'bhul bhulaiya'. It has a network of more than 1,000 labyrinthine passages with some leading to entrance or exit points and others heading to deadends. There are also 489 doorways standing at the mouths of confusing, twisting paths. The grave of the nawab is located under a canopy. At one time, there was a mile-long tunnel underground running to River Gomti that added mysticism to the location.

Hussainabad Imambara (west of the Bara Imambara,) is one of the best examples of Nawabi architecture in Lucknow. Built by Nawab Muhammad Ali Shah in 1838 and also known as Chhota Imambara, it serves as the mausoleum for the nawab and his mother. The exterior of the building boasts a golden dome with fine calligraphy. It is at its finest during festivals and other special occasions, when the whole structure is lit up and glimmers like a jewel.

The complex comprises of the tomb of Princess Zinat Algiya, the daughter of the king of Awadh, a watchtower known as Satkhanda, a ceremonial gateway called Naubat Khana, and the Husainabad mosque. The Chhota Imambara boasts a gilded dome, several turrets and beautiful chandeliers. It comprises five doorways and Islamic verses have been carved into its exterior walls. There are two main halls, namely Shenasheen and Azakhana. The latter is embellished with gilt-edged mirrors and colorful stuccos, as well as exquisite chandeliers that are said to have been brought from Belgium. It is because of these lamps and crystal chandeliers that this iconic building is also known as the palace of lights.

Rumi Darwaza is Identical in design to an ancient gate in Constantinople in Turkey. Built in the 1780s by Nawaz Asaf-ud-Daula, an Awadhi nawab and also referred to as Turkish Gate, the ornate structure is marked by an eight-faceted umbrella-like structure in its uppermost part. Now a symbol of Lucknow, Rumi Darwaza was earlier used as an entrance gate to the Old City, and soars to a height of 60 feet. It was built to generate employment during the famine of 1784. The architectural style of the gate is distinctly nawabi, differentiated from the Mughal style by the material used – where the latter preferred red sandstone, the formed used bricks coated in lime, allowing for more detailed sculpting, which would be near impossible on stone. The darwaza boasts intricate carvings of flowers. In its prime, the gateway had a huge lantern at the top, which would be lit at night, with jets of water flowing from the arch. For first-time visitors to the city, Rumi Darwaza is a must-see. Almost all the guided tours and heritage walks feature this icon on their itineraries.

British Colonial-Era Sights in Lucknow

Charbagh Railway Station, one of the two main railway stations in Lucknow, is an architectural marvel that features the best of Rajasthani and Mughal styles, mixed with British influences. The station appears like a chessboard from the sky, with turrets and domes resembling chess pieces. From the front however, it resembles a Rajput palace. Such is the ingenuity of the construction that large water reservoirs are beautifully hidden inside the building. Charbagh was designed by JH Horniman, an Englishman, in 1914. The station holds immense historical importance and it is said that it was the place where Mahatma Gandhi first met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The opening session of the legislature of Congress in 1916 was also held at Charbagh Railway Station. There is a Hanuman temple outside the station that is also worth a visit. The shrine of Khamman Peer Baba, the final resting place of saint Shah Syed Qayamuddin, also sits close to Charbagh. It is over 900 years old, and has a stunning mosque in the premises.

The Residency (overlooking the River Gomti) is one of the oldest buildings in the city. Surrounded by terraced lawns and gardens, it was originally a large complex of residential quarters, armoury, stables, dispensaries, worship places, for the British General, a representative of the British East India Company, during the rule of Nawab Saadat Ali Khan between 1780 and 1800. Today, the ruins of the building reflect its former glory and allow one to soak in its colonial charm while visiting. The Baillie guard gate, named after Residency’s first resident, Col John Baillie, gives you a glimpse of the architecture and design you will see inside. The treasury, which was completely destroyed during the sepoy mutiny of 1857, and a marble plaque honouring the brave soldiers of that time, are the two structures you will see as you walk towards the main buildings. The banquet hall, still bearing intricate carvings and featuring high ceilings, with a pretty fountain in the center, will transport you back to the time of grand ballroom dances and opulent parties. Opposite the hall stands Dr Fayrer’s (resident surgeon) house, used as a shelter for the British during the mutiny, as well as a makeshift hospital.

The Residency Museum, within the campus, has collections of photographs, paintings and documents showcasing visual details of the 1857 sepoy mutiny. There is also a memorial for one of the major generals of the British and his wife, in addition to the Brigade Mess, and Begum Kothi, which was occupied by Begum Makhdarah Aliya, a foreigner married to a Nawab. Tourists can also visit the ruins of a church near the Residency.

Parks and Zoos in Lucknow

Dr Ambedkar Memorial Park sprawls across an area of 43 hectars (107 acres) in Gomti Nagar It was built to commemorate the dedication of reformers like Dr BR Ambedkar, Jyotiba Phule, Sree Narayana Guru, Kanshi Ram, Birsa Munda, Shahuji Maharaj and many others, towards equality, humanity and justice.

The park is built in red sandstone, all of which was brought from Rajasthan. As you enter the park, a 112-ft-high stupa welcomes you. The stupa is surrounded by pillars, elephant structures and statues of Dr Ambedkar, depicting his life in stone. Resembling a flower with flower petals, the sanctum sanctorum has a statue of him seated, facing the dome. As you move deeper inside, you will come across the Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Sangrahalay, which houses the statues of notaries like Jyotiba Phule, Sree Narayana Guru, and Kanshi Ram. About 18-ft tall marble statues of Gautam Buddha, Kabir Das, and Sant Ravidas etc., can be found in another structure.

Lucknow Zoo Spread over a vast area of 29 hectares (72 acres). Officially called Nawab Wajid Ali Shah Zoological Garden, it contains more than 1000 animals from more than 100 species. There are carnivores like tiger, white tiger, fishing cat, Indian wolf and leopard, as well as a hybrid lion, sloth bear, Indian black bear, jackal, common fox and jungle cat. Herbivores like giraffe, hippopotamus and various kinds of deer are also housed here. Many endangered species of primates, like Hoolock gibbon and rhesus monkey are also protected by the zoo. Other than these, a multitude of bird species, like white peacock, hill myna, Indian parakeet etc, as well as various kinds of reptiles like Indian python, cobra, viper, crocodile and many more, can also be found here. Visitors can also explore the well-equipped aquarium and the cool nocturnal house, where different types of owls and other nocturnal animals, including porcupines, are cared for. The zoo is also known for its “Bal Rail”, a toy train that takes kids around the park. You can also go paddle boating in the man-made lake here. Since this place is quite vast and there is a lot to see, there are a number of pollution-free battery-operated vehicles for moving about the zoo.

Animal Reserves Near Lucknow

Kukrail Reserve Forest (10 kilometers from Lucknow) is famous for housing a nursery of endangered species of crocodiles, along with a deer park. The forest area is covered with a lush canopy of trees that shade the various pathways, which provide walking avenues for visitors. The forest also shelters a variety of birds and a small population of blackbuck. Tourists can also picnic at the forest that houses a children's park, a cafeteria and a rest house. The Kukrail Reserve Forest was set up in 1978 for the breeding of endangered species of crocodile after it was determined that there were only 300 crocodiles left in Uttar Pradesh, all of them found in River Chambal and other smaller rivers that run through the state.

Shahid Chandra Shekhar Azad Bird Sanctuary (30 kilometers southwest of Lucknow) was known until 2015 as Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary. host hundreds of species of birds. Siberian cranes are among the category of migratory bird species that rest here. The other species that call Nawabganj home include shoveller, painted stork, woodpecker, common teal, peacock, white ibis, open-billed stork, vulture, tern vulture, Indian roller, lapwing, pheasant, parakeet, coot, purple moorhen, jacana and whistling teal.

The sanctuary also has a huge lake where several species of fish, such as the kavai, saul, sindhi, katla, and mangur are found. The lake is surrounded by an expanse of green and houses a lovely, lush deer park, which is the habitat of a rare type of deer, locally known as hangul. Reptiles like Indian cobra, rat snake, water snake, and viper have been documented at Nawabganj as well.

Watchtowers from where you can observe the winged residents of Nawabganj without disturbing their natural environment too much have been set up around the park. This small yet beautiful bird sanctuary is a great place to unwind amidst leafy, shady trees, while listening to the call of hundreds of birds that seem to welcome you to their home.

Naimisharanya

Naimisharanya (60 kilometers northwest of Lucknow on the banks of River Gomti) is a sacred place linked to Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Sati and Lord Shiva. The word 'nemi' refers to the outer surface of the Sudarshana chakra (Lord Vishnu's weapon), and it is said that the place where it fell came to be known as Naimisharanya, the boundary of which includes the surrounding forest area. The spot where the chakra struck the earth, a water spring came out. Major attractions in Naimisharanya include Chakratirth, which marks the spot where Brahma’s chakra fell; Dashashwamedha Ghat, where Lord Rama performed the tenth Ashwamedha Yagna; Hanuman Garhi, where Lord Hanuman is said to have emerged after his victory over Ahiravana in Patal Lok; Lalita Devi Temple, dedicated to the presiding deity of Naimisharanya; Nardanand Saraswati Ashram, a center for spiritual education; Pandal Kila, the fort of king Virat from the epic Mahabharata; Sita Kund, where Goddess Sita is said to have bathed before going into exile, and many other significant spots.

It is believed to be the first and the most sacred of all the pilgrim centers for Hindus, and devotees visit this place to take a dip in the holy water. It has been said that Rama Charitha Manas was written here by poet Tulsidas. Another belief associated with Naimisharanya says that if you perform penance here for 12 years, you will be granted entrance to Brahmaloka (heaven).

Between Phalgun Amavasya (new moon) and Phalgun Poornima (full moon), Naimisharanya receives hundreds of devotees who come here to perform parikrama (circumambulation). Even for those with little or no religious interest, Naimisharanya is worth a visit. It is steeped in centuries-old history, and you can learn about ancient legends and take pictures of some of the most stunning structures in the country. It is located about 95 kilometers from Lucknow.

Dudhwa National Park

Dudwa National Park (265 kilometers from Lucknow is located on a 518-square-kilometer (200-square-mile) tract of land covered with grassy meadows, marshlands and groves of towering sal trees. It was declared a sanctuary in 1968 in order to protect one of India's last remaining herds of swamp deer (barasingha) and the tigers that feed on them. Among the other animals seen here leopard, sloth bear, ratel, civet, jackal, jungle cat, fishing cat, leopard cat, sambar, chital, hog deer, barking deer, wild pig, blue bull, mugger, otter, python, monitor lizard, great Indian horned owl, forest eagle owl, tawny fish owl, arus crane, black-necked stork, Bengal florica, painted stork and white stork. The dozen or so rhinos found here are descendants of animals brought here from Nepal and Assam in the mid-1980s.

Dudhwa Tiger Reserve is one of the most protected sanctuaries in India, comprising two distinct zones – Bhabar, characterised by hills and rocky terrain, and Terai, distinguished by thick grasslands and clay-rich swamps. The latter is home to a large population of mammals and birds, and is thus listed among globally important eco-regions. This large ecosystem stretches from River Yamuna in the west to Valmiki Tiger Reserve (Bihar) in the east. The park spreads across five states along the Shivalik range of hills, and the Gangetic plains.

At present, certain endangered species like the Bengal florican and Hispid hare are protected at Dudhwa. Other than the tiger, 13 species of mammals, nine species of birds, and 11 species of reptiles and amphibians that are considered endangered are also found here. Other animals you are likely to spot at Dudhwa include birds like the painted stork, black and white necked stork, crane, heron, drongo, owl, egret, duck, goose, hornbill, woodpecker, barbet, kingfisher, minivet, bee-eater etc.; and reptiles like python, monitor lizard and gharial. If you take a safari into the jungle, be sure to spend some time by Banke Tal, a large lake where a huge chunk of the reserve’s flora and fauna can be found. Given the presence of large forest lands and tree cover, as well as a massive population of animals, Dudhwa plays a vital role in the maintenance of water and climate of the region. It lies at a distance of 221 kilometers from Lucknow city.

Jhansi

Jhansi (250 kilometers southwest of Lucknow, 200 kilometers south of Agra) is a historic city nestled between the Betwa and Pahunj rivers. The city was the home of the courageous queen, Rani Lakshmibai, who valiantly fought against the British forces during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857. The lore and stories of the heroic queen, who was just 22 years old then, echo through the Jhansi Fort and the Rani Mahal, which are the most popular attractions. A fascinating sound and light show at the fort encaptures the gist of the life of the queen in an eloquent rendition and is a must-watch if you're stopping by.

The city is strewn with various spiritual sites and lakes that were commissioned under the patronage of the mighty dynasties that held the throne of Jhansi at different points in time. Jhansi was known as Balwant Nagar when it was the stronghold of the Chandela kings, who ruled from the 9th to the 13rd century. Around the 11th century, the city lost importance but in the 17th century, it rose back to prominence during the rule of Raja Bir Singh Deo of Orchha, who constructed the Jhansi Fort on top of a rocky hill. The city became the capital of Maratha province in the 18th century and later the princely state of Jhansi between 1804 and 1853.

Jhansi is a major road and railway center. The North-South and East- West Corridors cross in the city. There are direct trains to Delhi, Bhopal, Jammu, Ahmedabad, Trivandrum, Chennai, Kolkata and Mumbai. Located on a rocky plateau in Uttar Pradesh, its is home to about 500,000 people and is a hub for medical care in Bundelkhand region. Affected by Southwest but not by Northeast Monsoons. It has a rainy season that begins in late June and ends in late September.

Government Museum Of Jhansi was established in 1878 and houses artefacts and relics dating back to 4th century B.C. The museum comprises four galleries that boast manuscripts, sculptures and statues, dating back to Gupta and Chandela dynasties, along with rare paintings, weapons, terracotta items and manuscripts. The Chandela dynasty ruled Jhansi from the 10th to the 11th centuries and the museum has preserved treasured remnants of the reign. Besides, there is a fine collection of dresses, photographs, coins of gold, silver and copper, representing the Chandela dynasty. A picture gallery in the museum highlights the nuances of the Gupta period. The museum remains closed on Mondays and the second Saturday of every month.

Getting There: By Air: The nearest domestic airport is in Gwalior, around 100 kilometers away while Delhi is the nearest international airport, around 320 kilometers away. By Road: Good roads connect Jhansi with other towns and cities in India. By Train: Jhansi is vey well-connected with all major cities in the country.

Jhansi Fort

Jhansi Fort is the main landmark of Jhansi. It was constructed atop a hill by Raja Bir Singh Deo in the 17th century. It served as a stronghold for the army of Orchha. During the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, the fort witnessed a fierce battle between Rani Lakshmibai and the British forces. After the Rani was defeated, the British seized the fort and later handed it to the Maharaja of Scindia. Within the fort complex are temples dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Lord Shiva, along with the cannons of Jhansi Ki Rani, Karak Bijli and Bhawani Shankar.

Visitors have the opportunity of getting an insight into the Bundelkhand region’s history by visiting the museum. The fort also hosts a sound and light, which is an eloquent rendition of the great escape of the brave Rani Lakshmibai, who is said to have tied her son to her back, jumped on a horse and galloped to safety, when the sprawling Jhansi Fort fell into the hands of the British. Picking scenes and drawing inspirations from various acts of valour of the queen, the show gives an emotive account of the First War of Independence. It is truly spine-chilling to watch the story unfold and slowly move into an action-packed battle.

Sound and Light Show at Jhansi Fort is an eloquent rendition of the great escape of the brave Rani Lakshmibai, who is said to have tied her son to her back, jumped on a horse and galloped to safety, when the sprawling Jhansi Fort fell into the hands of the British. Picking scenes and drawing inspirations from various acts of valour of the queen, the show gives an emotive account of the First War of Independence. To make the experience more comprehensive, the show is organised at the Jhansi Fort, which was a site of the battle. It is truly spine-chilling to watch the story unfold and slowly move into an action-packed battle. The Jhansi Fort was built in the 17th century by king Bir Singh Deo of Orchha as an army stronghold.

Rani Mahal

Rani Mahal (200 meters west of Jhansi Fort) or the Queen’s Palace was the home of Rani Lakshmibai, the heroic 19th century queen of Jhansi. Constructed by Raghunath II Newalkar in the 18th century, It has now been converted into a museum, which houses a vast collection of archaeological remains from the period between the 9th and 12th centuries. The palace reflects a typical Bundelkhand style of architecture with its open courtyards and arched chambers.

It is said that it was in this palace that Rani Lakshmibai plotted with Tantya Tope and Nana Sahib on how to overcome the colonial rule. According to legend after the Rani's defeat, the British ravaged the palace and killed 50 of the queen's bodyguards. The Durbar Hall of the palace is a must-visit and still contains vestiges of its royal grandeur.Newalkar in the 18th century, Rani Mahal or the Queens Palace was the erstwhile residence of Rani Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi. It has now been converted into a museum, which houses a vast collection of archaeological remains from the period between the 9th and 12th centuries.

The palace reflects a typical Bundelkhand style of architecture with its open courtyards and arched chambers. It is said that it was in this palace that Rani Lakshmibai plotted with Tantya Tope and Nana Sahib on how to overcome the colonial rule. According to legend after the Rani's defeat, the British ravaged the palace and killed 50 of the queen's bodyguards. The Durbar hall of the palace is a must-visit and still contains vestiges of its royal grandeur.

Near Jhansi

Mahoba (90 kilometers east of Jhansi) is an ancient town that was once the capital of the Chandelas, who left a remarkable legacy in the form of architectural heritage. Some of the more prominent ones are the Mahoba hilltop fort and the lakes they set up. There are three lakes that are particularly known and were built by Chandela rulers: Rahila Sagar built by Rahila (885-905), Madan Sagar built by Madan Verma (1128 - 1165) and Kirat Sagar built by Kirtivarman (1060 - 1100). While visiting the Madan Sagar, one can also pay a visit to Kakramath, which is a popular granite Shiva temple. It has been built in the Khajuraho style of architecture. Two famous tanks from the Chandela period, Ram Kund and Suraj Kund, are highlights of Mahoba. These are lined with granite slabs in a pyramid shape. Another interesting aspect of the town is its excellent varieties of paan (betel leaf) that are a must-try while visiting here.

Deogarh (133 kilometers south of Jhansi) is known for its history, architecture and temples. It was a significant town during the rule of Gupta dynasty, the Gurjara-Pratiharas, the Gondas, the Marathas and the Muslims rulers of Delhi. The remains of the Dashavatar Temple dating to 5th century Gupta period are magnificent and a major tourist attraction. Several Jain temples also stand here and exhibit a high level of craftsmanship. Deogarh is unique in the way that there are about 2,000 sculptures at one place, which is probably the only collection of its kind in the world. Other attractions include the rock-cut caves at Siddha-ki-Gufa that date back to 6th century.

Chanderi Sari Weaving Town

Chanderi (103 kilometers away from Jhansi) is the tourist town of Chanderi. Surrounded by hills, forests and lakes, it is famous for its ancient Jain Temples and world-renowned Chanderi saris. These are produced from pure silk, silk cotton and Chanderi cotton and different patterns like peacock design, flora art, traditional coins and geometrics are woven into them. Most of these saris feature opulent embroidery and gold and silver brocade or zari work. Chanderi is dotted with several monuments that have been built by the Bundela Rajputs and Malwa sultans. However, one of the best things to do here is shopping for Chanderi silk saris, brocades, salwar kurtis and muslin cloths. For those who want to delve a little deeper into the local culture, a visit to the Pranpur village is recommended.

Chanderi, Ashok nagar District, Madhya Pradesh (24. 4312° N, 78. 748° E) is one of the Saree Weaving Clusters of India that was nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014. According to a report submitted to UNESCO: “Known to have been a major urban center since the 11th century, the town of Chanderi has a rich history that was shared between Pratihara kings, Delhi sultans, Mandu sultans, Bundela kings and Scindias of Gwalior. Located on the borders of the cultural regions of Malwa and Bundelkhand, Chanderi was on an important arterial route to the ancient ports of Gujarat as well as to Malwa, Mewar, Central India and Deccan. Chanderi’s setting made it into a natural bastion. The living tradition of weaving has been prevalent since the past six hundred years and continues to sustain almost half of the population of Chanderi. [Source: Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO]

“The town of Chanderi is divided into mohallas or residential neighborhoods. The mohallas of the different communities of the weavers are important part of the urban morphology. The 13th century Moroccan visitor Ibn Batuta remarked: “it is a big city with thronged market places” like sadar bazaar. The sadar bazaar of the city is today stocked with shops of gossamer saris. The three storied shops, projecting one over other, originally planned to be on the level with riders on elephants, on horses and on foot, give a unique profile to the street.

“The spatial design of the weaver house was integral to the production of the cloth and its quality. The house form of weavers’ houses in Chanderi is determined by the sari weaving techniques and requirements. Platforms built outside the houses provide additional work areas and for stretching yarns. Architecture also serves as an inspiration to the craftsmen. The motifs on saris are largely inspired by ornamentation on buildings.

“Craftsmanship means more than technical virtuosity. It is not only a profound understanding of materials, and of the tools with which materials are fashioned, but most importantly it involves a genuine pride which drives an individual to craft and weave as well as can be done, beyond what is required, beyond economic considerations of reward. An excellent example of such craftsmanship is sari weaving in India. The sari is undoubtedly distinguishable as the Indian woman’s traditional attire and is essentially a valuable Indian contribution to the world’s cultural heritage and diversity. Rooted in history and maintaining continuity as a contemporary garment, the sari survives as a living traditional clothing. Traced to the Vedic civilization, evolving with cross-cultural influences of trade, confluences of techniques and patterns, the sari still has innovations in its production processes. As an unstitched garment for women, it has no parallels in terms of versatility, richness of color, texture, and variety of weaving techniques using different kinds of yarn, including cotton, silk, gold and silver thread.

“However, the craftsmanship is not only limited to the final product i.e. the sari but also in the space in which they are produced. The houses of craftsmen are example of vernacular architecture, where the architecture has evolved over a large span of time. The Plan of a weaver’s house developed from the livelihood needs of the inhabitants. Built from local materials and available technology, they aptly cater to the needs of the craftsmen. This pan-India serial comprises of sites from five Indian states: Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Assam. It focuses on the tangible elements of sari weaving clusters irrespective of the popularity of the sari.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: India tourism website ( incredibleindia.org), India’s Ministry of Tourism and other government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in August 2020

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