The year is 1857. The natives in the British East India Company’s army have taken up arms, and have revolted against the sahibs that lord over them. A few thousand Britons have retreated to the safety of the gated enclave created for them by Nawab Saadat Ali Khan II. As the days turn into months, and the cannonballs keep coming, the water starts running out and the living conditions become appalling. Respite finally comes, but it’s a bit too late for many people, including children, holed up inside The Residency. The besieged colonialists take refuge in the damp, dark cellars, with no access to basic sanitation, and of the 3,000-odd people, around 2,000 die.
As you wander through this expanse of green gardens and crumbling ruins, it’s difficult to imagine the horror faced by the people once trapped here. It’s a serene place, this, and invites you to settle down under a tree with a gripping read – Dalrympie’s White Mughals, perhaps?
Do also make a quick walkthrough of the 1857 Memorial Museum, and spend some time wandering through the Begum’s Kothi, the residence of Begum of Nasir-ud-Din Haidar, as well as the atmospheric ruins of the lovely mosque and imambara (shrine) in which she worshipped.
The Residency isn’t the only place in the city where you’ll hear stories of the Siege of Lucknow, though. Head over to La Martiniere College, whose students famously assisted in the defence of The Residency. This beautiful complex is centred around the gorgeous Constantia, built to be the residence of Major-General Claude Martin, who died before it was completed. One of the clauses in the eccentric Major-General’s will was that his home be converted into a school for young men. Another – that he be buried beneath Constantia, in a vault in which he rests to this d ay.
Funny story about how the man died – it is believed that he fancied himself a bit of a doctor, and decided to operate on himself and pull out his kidney stones – a mission at which he sadly failed.
Stories aside, this college is of the sort that makes its way into movies, or reminds you of schools described in Enid Blyton books. Expansive green spaces, a stable full of horses (some with rather amusing names), and even some monuments and crypts thrown in for good measure. You’ll even come across the tomb and memorial to the good Major-General’s favorite lady friend Boulone Lise. This gracious green tomb, colloquially known as ‘Gori Bibi ka Maqbara’, photographs well from the outside, but it’s not much to look at from within. You can only visit the school with prior permission; tour agency Tornos offers a specialised tour.
Swing by the whitewashed Christ Church to find more Colonial remnants (Mahatma Gandhi Marg, Hairatganj).
This Gothic church holds within its cool walls memorials to people killed in the siege of 1857. Another little-known gem is the Church of the Epiphany, worth visiting Just for the redbrick Gothic façade.
With its wealth of Nawabi heritage, it’s very easy to forget the lasting influence and impact the British had on this city.
Closest metro: New Delhi (533km) is about eight hours away by road.
Closest city: Kanpur (72km)
Closest airport: Lucknow’s Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport (16km from the city’s centre). Air India, GoAir, Jet Airways, IndiGo and Vistara fly to Lucknow from New Delhi
Closest railhead: Lucknow NR, also known as Charbagh Railway Station, (LKO; 4km) is well connected to all metros and other major cities. Take the 12230 Lucknow Mail (leaves New Delhi Railway Station [NDLS] 10.05pm, arrives LKO 6.45am; Third AC) and return by the 12229 Lucknow Mail (leaves LKO 10.15 pm, arrives NDLS 7.10am; Third AC)
Remember that auto rickshaws here are not metered, and you will need to haggle before alighting. You could also use app-based taxis like Ola and Uber.
WHERE TO STAY
La Place Sarovar Portico: Centrally located next to Hazratganj, this hotel makes a great base from which to explore the city; you’ll find clean and comfy rooms here (00-91-522-4004040; www.sarovarhotels.com)
Golden Tulip Lucknow: This rather sterile business hotel has spacious rooms with excellent service (00-91-52267220 00; www. tulipinnlucknow.com)
Renaissance Lucknow Hotel: A stay at this plush hotel promises to be very comfortable, and the staff is warm and courteous. The divine buffet breakfast and dinner spreads are a definite plus! (00-91-522-4055555; www.marriott.com)
WHERE TO EAT
Lucknow’s reputation for good eats is well known. Sample khasta kachori, a traditional dish of the Rastogi community, at Rattilal’s, best washed down with a glass of creamy lassi, and try the kebabs at the famed Tunday Kababi, Tunday mutton kebab.If you’re staying at the Renaissance Lucknow Hotel, do indulge in the giant dinner buffet spread at L-14. Apart from a range of Awadhi, Chinese and continental treats, and a spread of desserts, it even has a sandy bar!
Keep local sentiments, which veer towards the conservative, in mind while dressing for the day. You will need to cover your arms and legs if you plan to enter places of worship like the imambaras.
WHAT TO PACK
Warm clothes to combat the winter chill, books, antacids and hand sanitizer if you plan to attack the street food…
CLEAN LOO GLIDE
The airport is a half-hour drive from the city centre. Within the city, you’re better off sticking to your hotel loo.
Divine Heart & Multispeciality Hospital can handle most medical emergencies.
Chikankari embroidery is probably Lucknow’s most famous export, and you will find stores across the city selling clothes adorned with it. TrySewa Lucknow outlets; this organisation aims to empower local women by providing them with skills and a livelihood. You can buy ittaressential oil scents – in the Chowk area where you might even find bottled petrichor!