WORDS: AMRITA LALL
PHOTOGRAPHS: SAMEER MANGTANI
GREAT FROM: New Delhi, Kanpur
GREAT FOR: History enthusiasts and art lovers
It was one of the fiercest battles of 1857 – the sky was thick with smoke, the air stank of flesh and blood, the guns kept firing on and, in the end, Sikander Bagh bore the weight of thousands of lifeless, bullet-ridden. Months later, Felice Beato, the British photographer commissioned to document the after-effects of the Uprising, dug up the bodies and had them arranged in the bagh to create what is widely believed to be the world’s first photograph of corpses. Now, when you stroll through the small, green surrounds, you’ll feel overwhelmed bythe human cost of war, be baffled at how little the world knows about Sikander Bagh, and wonder what other grand tales the city of Lucknow has to tell.
Equally damning incidents played out in The Residency, a cluster of buildings from where the British fought in 1857. As you explore the expansive gardens and crumbling ruins, you’ll find it hard to believe that these quiet grounds were the site of something so horrifying. Another iconic player in the historic siege of the city is the La Martiniere College, whose students famously assisted in the defence of the Residency. The vast grounds are built around Constantia, meant to be the residence of the architect and founder, French Major-General Claude Martin. A stunning example of Indo-European architecture, Constantia serves as the focal point of the college, and right beneath, in a vault, is where Claude Martin rests to this day.
The Bara Imambara and Chhota Imambara might be Lucknow’s most popular examples of Awadhi architecture, but there are plenty of other gems scattered across the city. Constructed in 1847 by Wajid Ali Shah, the fifth nawab of Awadh, Sibtainabad Imambara is one such structure. Built in the Indo-Islamic style, the imambara houses the remains of the fourth nawab, Amjad Ali Shah. The archways and walls in the main hall are adorned with intricate floral motifs in a beautiful shade of green that perfectly complements the multicoloured glass panels of the doors that open out onto the lawns. The even lesser-known Shah Najaf Imambara, with its cloistered verandah and fascinating collection of chandeliers, mirrors and portraits, channels a quiet, serene vibe.
Most of the city’s spectacular architectural specimens owe their existence to the patronage of Wajid Ali Shah. Case in point: Qaiserbagh, an area that was once home to his sprawling palace complex. From the official insignia of Awadh on the archways (two symmetrical fish) to the elegant Safed Baradari, the complex offers a strong reminder of its grand, glorious past. The nawabs were connoisseurs of all things beautiful and an outstanding reminder of that truth is the Tomb of Saadat Ali Khan. Built by Ghazi-ud-din Haider as a mausoleum for his father, the imposing structure is built of lakhauri bricks, laid in lime mortar. The octagonal main hall has a beautiful checquered marble floor, a colossal central dome, and several minarets and domes – a fitting tribute to Saadat Ali Khan and his brothers who lie here.
The War of 1857 and the passage of time may have worn down some of the city’s architectural grandeur, but, as keeper of the legacy of the nawabs and the haunting memories of the Great Uprising, Lucknow does the job how she knows best, with tehzeeb, nazakat and the promise of some glorious kebabs.