Thursday, March 10, 2011

From Aminabad to Hazratganj: Wandering And Eating in The Lanes of Lucknow

Worth its name or too much hype!

The cities of Uttar Pradesh--Allahabad, Lucknow, Varanasi and Kanpur have a charm of their own. Visitors often complain that there is crowd, traffic and filth but the fact is that soul of these cities is found in their narrow lanes.

A friend recently said how his relatives wanted to see malls and swanky showrooms when they came to a North Indian city.

I find it rather strange, as a real traveller would never go to another City just to see malls, which are more or less same everywhere.

A 'deg' full of biryani
It is the structures, shops, narrow lanes, temples, mosques, unique food, delicacies on street kiosks, architecture, handicrafts, monuments and people who make a City. Lucknow has it in abundance.

Of course, if you enjoy travelling in SUVs and find it tiresome to get down from the air-conditioned vehicle to rub shoulders with the commoners--pass through the maze of rickshaw pullers, buffalo carts, ekkas, handcarts and Vikram tempos--you can't enjoy these beautiful cities on the banks of Ganges, Jamuna and Gomti.

Biryani: Exquisite or just okay!
It is in these lanes that one meets unique craftsmen like Master Mustafa who mends lanterns, personalities like Ram Asray 'Laal kitab wale', classical poets and 'attaar', conversationalists and humorists, mendicants and mavericks.

What I utterly dislike in Lucknow, is of course, the sight of a cop. The UP policemen who have a more faded khaki uniform are perhaps the most foul-mouthed, ill-mannered and uncivilised in the country though Delhi cops don't have a great reputation either.

You come out of Char Bagh railway station, and the first sight is always of the cop using his baton on rickshaw-wallas, tempo wallas, abusing pedesterians or picking eatables from a thela, of course without paying a single penny. The worst is that it seems there is no authority to keep a check on them. Forgetting them, I move ahead.

Spend time in style at Hazratganj
It has been a sort of ritual for me. Walking from Gol Darwaza towards Akbari Gate, stopping for 'Kashmiri Chai', picking up papers and magazines, passing by the haveli of Asghar Ali Muhammad Ali, the bylane once frequented by the legendary Mir Anees and then reaching Nadan Mahal Road.

Here lies the original Tunday [or Tunde] shop. Sorry, I am not a big fan. The Tunday shop in Aminabad is more frequented and I am not impressed.

The kababs are okay but not to extraordinary. I fail to understand the reasons why Mr Tunday is so over-hyped.

Perhaps the reason is lack of adequate eateries and restaurants of different standards that serve kebabs in Lucknow as per the needs of a visitor to this City. Of course, kebab is a specialty for outsiders, not the local Lakhnavi populace.

Kababs are a regular dish in every non-vegetarian household in this City of Nawabs and so they perhaps don't need to eat out as often.
So I read in local papers that Rahul Gandhi had come and straight he went to Tunday's shop and then left the City.

In the lanes of Aminabad and Nazirabad, I try biryani. There are two shops in this lane, and they always had a difference of Re 1 in their rates.

Once upon a time even the difference of a rupee mattered and one wished to save it. Now the difference is Rs 5 for half plate [Rs 30 at one shop and Rs 35 at the other] and Rs 10 for full plate.

Unless you try food at different places, without caring much about your stomach, you can't get the taste and feel of the town.. The real joy is in experimenting and stepping into any hotel or shop which appears new.
For lovebirds: An oasis in the midst of thickly populated Lucknow

Of course, there is a risk. Some eateries are plain bad. Like I once realised in Allahabad and also the non-vegetarian hotels near railway station in Lucknow. So never order  full plate unless you are too sure about the place.

In the 'chai khanas' here and at Golaganj, I have whiled away hours in the past, often, discussing matters of heart in teenage years with friends.

It was somewhere here that existed Hotel Alamgir. The famous Prakash's Qulfi shop is located here but I prefer a shop at Chowk.

I have heard a lot about a biryani shop at Nakhas but couldn't go there. No regrets, that's marked for my next visit. At Aminabad, I have many destinations. One can't enjoy as much in the scorching Uttar Pradesh summer.
Would you like Qorma?

I was aware that the Hazrat Ganj wears a new look, refurbished pavements and renovated exteriors.

'Ganj-ing' is a popular avocation for Lucknowites. Outsiders think of non-vegetarian delicacies when they think of Lucknow, but I feel Lucknowites, particularly, the women, have an unusual interest in 'chaat'.

It is understandable as one can't restrict himself to Nahari-Kulchas, Kakori ke Kababs and Kalejis. Of course, puri-kachoris and balushahis have a special place in the heart of Lucknowites.

Mayfair closed long back and so did the British Library. People sit idly on the benches, a youth appears tired, probably after job-hunting. Women, they might be pretty or not, but most of them well-dressed, walk past.

Shining postbox, a rarity!
It was here that Ali Sardar Jafri and his group of progressive writers and poets had picked up fight with a Britisher. That had ended in a knock out. That happened in 1940s, too distant it seems now.

The 'firangi' fell on the pavement and Majaz recited the famous verse heralding the arrival of independence 'Bol Ari O Dharti Bol, Raj Singhasan Daanva Dol'. It all happened here.

Every lane and every square has a history. And nearby was the shop of a 'gentleman' who used to secretly sell adult material to teenagers.

He would keep the books in a shelf hidden by general books and gave it to 'trusted' customers only. I enjoy roaming aimlessly, in between eating at small shops. Picking up books from second hand shops is another old hobby.

I reach Sa'adat Ali Khan's tomb. He passed away 197 years ago and is buried here. Nearby is the tomb of Khursheed-zadi. Both the maqbaras have fine architecture and it seems work is on to conserve these structures.
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The tombs were built by their son, Ghaziuddin Haider, who had declared him the first King of Awadh.

Many youths are lying idly, some sleeping on the lawn enjoying the breeze, group of government employees gambling in a corner who are not too secretive about their activity. One of them, a guy chewing pan, even gives a friendly nod.

At a stone's throw is the Balrampur hospital where families are coming out with their newborns. And not too far is the Hanuman Setu. Gomti that has narrowed down to a stream sparkles, enchants as ever and flows ahead with the same serenity.

This is part of the series about my visit to Lucknow. Read earlier posts on this blog at following links:

1. First part is about 'The romance of Lucknow: Rumi Gate, Imambadas and Bhulbhulaiya'.
2. The second part was 'Clock towers of Awadh: Father built clock tower in son's memory'