TIME AFTER TIME
WORDS: RADHIKA LALLA
PHOTOGRAPHS: T KRISHNA PRABAKAR
GREAT FROM Kolkata, New Delhi, Kanpur
GREAT FOR A walk into the past
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 – Dalrymple’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 Martinière 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 day. 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 favourite 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. 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.