We boarded our train from Varanasi to Lucknow at 2 pm on the 12th. As is the way with Indian trains we proceeded to sit in the station for another 20 minutes before pulling out of the station only to pull back in 15 minutes later to allow another train to disembark on our platform. After that we were on our way to Lucknow. I was sat opposite a guy who caught the train from Lucknow to Varanasi every month to visit the golden temple. We got talking and ended up playing a game of chess on my travel set. I managed to fork his king and queen and eventually got a check mate!
Amazingly we actually got into Lucknow junction pretty much on time and got an uber to our hostel, the backpackers pad, one of only a handful of budget hostels in Lucknow. Apparently there isn’t much of a tourist scene in Lucknow although the hostel owner reckons it is picking up. The hostel was a bit out of the way from many restraunts so we sat down to a fruit salad made from fruit we bought in Varanasi before heading to bed.
The next morning we got up bright and early for a guided heritage walk. The Uttar Pradesh goverment is trying to promote Lucknow as a tourist destination so they run cheap guided tours of the old town. Our uber dropped us at the entrance of Teele Wali Masjid, a beautiful 17th century mosque built during the reign of the Mughal emperor Auranzeb (son of Shah Jahan of Taj Mahal fame). The name Teele means mound and from the top of the mound the skyline of old Lucknow is clearly visible, filled with minarets and domes.
Our guide met us at the mosque and took us inside explaining anything and everything about the mosque from the style of brick used in its construction to the British taking possession of it in 1857. It was all very interesting but honestly there was just too much information to take in.
We moved on and passed through the Rumi Darwaza, one of the entry gates to the city, and on to the Bara Imambara which was a welcome oasis of calm in the middle of the chaos of Lucknow. After exiting the Imambara we walked along the markets with vendors selling all sorts of fruits and vegetables and marijuana. He then took us to an ayurvedic pharmacy. It looked like something out of a museum. Dimly lit with barrels of sweet smelling herbs with supposedly medicinal properties. The government no longer subsidises ayurvedic medicine so they patients now need to pay for them themselves.
Our tour guide told us that he also did a food tour in the evenings which sounded pretty good. The morning was pretty exhausting so we spent the intervening time recuperating at our hostel watching friends on Netflix.
Normally neither of us eat much meat but Lucknow is the spiritual home of the Indian kebab and meat byrianis so we figured we should try a few. Our guide took us round several street food vendors and restraunts which we would never have tried on our own (most of them didn’t even have English menus!). We tired so much food! Chicken kebabs, buffalo patties, mutton (goat) biryani. Everything was so good and so cheap. I think we ended up spending about 300 rupees between us and we were absolutely stuffed!
The next morning we visited the British residency where 3000 British took shelter during the siege of Lucknow in 1857. The British East India company had annexed the state of Oudh and exiled the Nawab. On top of that the Hindu and Muslim soldiers employed by the East India Company were made to carry the new Enfeild rifle, the cartridges for which were greased with pig and cow fat. This led to the Indian rebellion and the siege at the residency in Lucknow. The siege was eventually relieved by the British and the rebellion quashed leading to the end of Mughal rule in India and the start of the British Raj.
The residency now is a large and peaceful park with interesting ruins where the damage from the mortar fire and explosives are obvious to see. Sadly the museum was closed so we sat in benches reading Wikipedia to work out what was going on.
For lunch we decided to go to the new town as we had only really experienced the old town in the places we had been. The difference was stark. Instead of the minarets and guys selling fruit in the side if the road there were European style cafes and high rise residential blocks with massive shops on the ground floors. The clothing was much more modern and the cars were much fancier. In the old towns they are all white Suzuki swifts and toyata aygos and the equivalent Tata model. Here there were Mercedes and Audis and enormous SUVs. The main thing that let us know we were still in India was the absolutely mental driving!
We caught the metro back to our hostel. It cost 18 rupees each and it was one of the most calm and clean places we have seen in India. We spent the evening waiting for our midnight train to Jaipur by listening to Treacherous Orchestra and Wolfstone on the rooftop of the hostel with the owner throwing more and more wood onto his fire. We arrived at the station as usual with far more time than is reasonable and waited for the train to roll in. When we booked the train we could only get sleeper class (No air conditioning and a bit busier). We managed to shove our way on and find our beds and were asleep pretty quickly ready to wake up in Jaipur.