A creative city with an artistic heritage

Multi-layered, multi-cultural Lucknow is a history buff’s dream and capital of India’s most populous and politically important state, Uttar Pradesh.

Originally, the capital of the historical region Awadh, the city was ruled by the Mughals until the 18th-century when the empire began to disintegrate and the Nawabs of Awadh took over. Under their leadership, Lucknow became a place of color and culture, with traditional dancing, literature, poetry, Sufi music – and fantastic Awadhi cuisine. Lucknow fell to the British during the imperialistic era and magnificent colonial buildings, accompanied by verdant parks, cropped up along wide boulevards. However, the city’s position as an artistic hub remained and still thrives today.

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Mughal architecture, hand-embroidery and spicy kebabs

The magnificent Bara Imambara should be first on every visitor’s list. Built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula, this Islamic tomb is said to have started as a charitable initiative to save his people from famine by offering them food for labor. Centuries on, the landmark is deemed an architectural wonder with intricate carvings, arched doorways, manicured lawns and grand tombs which play home to the largest vaulted chamber in the world.

Do not miss its labyrinthine maze of about a thousand passageways (take a guide – it is easy to get lost). Another pride of Mughal architecture in Lucknow is the 60-foot tall Rumi Darwaza, said to have been modeled on the grand doorways of Istanbul.

Juxtaposing the Indo-Islamic architecture are the colonial buildings. These include the crumbling ruins that make up the Residency, a haunting reminder of the most dramatic events of the 1857 First War of Independence: The Siege of Lucknow, a 147-day operation that claimed thousands of lives. However, the gardens are an enchanting place to spend some time, and the museum is a trove of historical information. The whitewashed Christ Church, created as a memorial to the British who died in the Indian Uprising, is also well worth a look as is the boarding school La Martiniere College, founded by eccentric Frenchman Major General Claude Martin and replete with a long line of Corinthian columns.

Famous throughout India, Lucknow would not be the colorful city it is today without its extremely rich Awadhi and Mughlai food, featuring ingredients such as cream, raisins, saffron, almonds and cashews. For something lighter (and equally delicious), enjoy the legendary kebabs, traditionally made out of minced buffalo meat and incorporating 160 spices. There is no better place to go than restaurant Tunday Kababi, Chowk, where chefs put a new spin on the snack by using lamb mince instead. Shahi tukra, a royal bread-and-butter pudding, is the perfect way to top off the meal.

Another local delight is chikankari, delicate and artfully done hand-embroidery, introduced by the Mughals in the 17th-century. The craft incorporates an extraordinary 36 stitching techniques, on fine cloth, often pastel-colored – and can be spotted on kurtas, saris, and scarves. It is also worth snapping up attar, the traditional perfume oil which comes in tiny scent bottles in all sorts of aromas (jasmine, rose, sandalwood). Both can be found in Aminabad bazaar, which dates back to the era of the Nawabs and is one of the oldest markets in India.

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