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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.
Add caption
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'


Akash Raheja said...

Fine article. I like your travelogue to Lucknow. I would like to read to your stories of such visits to other cities. Can I have your contact number.

Danesh said...

Nice article. Gave a good feel of Lucknow.

JaLpArI - tHe MeRmAiD said...

wow!!!! u had my mouth watering !!
and yes the real essence of any city lies in the streets and lanes...
i have never been to North India... but i hope i get to see all those beautiful places and monuments....
inshaAllah some day...

indscribe said...

Akash ji: Thank you. Please mail me, my email is mentioned on the home page.

Danesh bhai: Nice to see your comment, after quite sometime :)

Jalpari: Sure. Lot of places to see and you will need a long holiday for that.

Obsessivemom said...

It's nostalgia time reading your Lucknow posts. Our school bus used to go thorugh all these areas.. Golagunj, Balrampur Hospital.. I haven't heard of them or gone to in ages. All that talk of food almost made me regret turning vegetarian. BTW how can you talk of Aminabad and only talk of food? What about the awesome shopping? Refugee market and the all those shops crammed together.. an absolute delight .. of course if you can handle the crowd.

indscribe said...

OM Ji: Yes, not just refugee market but also the nearby Gadbadjhala market.

In my childhood, often with mom and aunts who would spend hours in the shops. And yes, eating Prakash's qulfi [kulfi].

Some other things, I guess, I should leave for posts in future. Do you plan to go Lucknow this summer vacation?

humanist said...

Wow, so nice it was to read it, it was almost as if aapne mere munh ki baat cheen li, I have believed for sometime now (and have shared it with some friends too), that lko is as good as Hyderabad in terms of heritage buildings, culture, and food... but somehow in popular perception, it isn't. I share ur frustration with street food in alld (if u ate on civil lines side), old city side though, it is as delicious as one expects it to be :).

Thinking of Ali Sardar saab, majaz saab etc, many a times I wonder if people like them have seized to exist and perhaps javed, shabana etc are last kadis ...

Police vallas beating rickshaw valas :(, one of the most depressing sites of my life, and which I had to almost witness everyday on my way back from school ... after attaining adulthood, I had learnt to pretend to ignore it ... but this was one of the things which made me want to believe more n more in akhirat, in afterlife... ki these ppl ll get insaf at least there / only there ...

Nice post bhaijan. Enjoyed every single word.

Lucknowite said...

So here you come again with your affection for Lucknow. Very nicely written, it took me as if I were strolling through those narrow lanes with friends enjoying the wafting aroma of myriad of foods. Or sometimes stalking our sweatheart while she made her way to college or market with a cautious eye that no one is watching. Or sometime with no specific purpose.you have made the memories alive.
Somehow you missed mentioning about Sheermal, Chat wali gali, the sound of silver leaf being pounded as it also serves to tell you that you are in chowk. And how can we forget that fluffy makkhan that you get at gol darwaza in winters and to be found only in lucknow. The iconical Asghar Ali Mohammad Ali's havely no more exists. It has been razed to raise the commercial ambitions of people and turned into a structure with many dukans like a honeycomb.

Obsessivemom said...

Plan toh hai and we have the reservation too ...but there's too much happening to be sure about our whereabouts over the next few months.
@Lucknowite .. that makkhan... what a yummy memory.