Week 1, Feb 2017, Lucknow
Lucknow was the first stop on my latest month long sojourn to India. For this trip I was to concentrate on the heart of India and just two states: its most populous, Uttar Pradesh, and its second largest, Madhya Pradesh. I'd chosen Lucknow to start because it was a bit off the tourist trail so I wouldn't get any hassle but it had plenty to keep me interested and it would be a fairly gentle introduction to India after a long journey.
Lucknow is famous for a number of things: it rose to prominence as the home of the Nawabs of Oudh who were great patrons of the arts, especially culinary, and also gracious living. So they left quite a few grand buildings behind. It was also a major base for the raj and famous for the 147-day Siege of Lucknow which took place during the India Mutiny of 1857, or the First War of Independence as it is now known.
But I started my trip doing one of my favourite things, wandering around the old quarter, firstly near my hotel (the Arjun International) in Charbagh near the railway station and then the original old quarter, Chowk. There was certainly plenty to see. I mentioned that Lucknow was a centre for the arts, well Lucknow embroidered clothing is also famous. Probably the most famous is chikan. Often white thread is embroidered on cool, pastel shades of light muslin and cotton garments. You can see these chikan shirts for sale everywhere. But also in back streets I saw men embroidering saris on large frames with gold thread. This is known as zardozi and originated in Persia. As far as I was aware only men do zardozi and women do chikan. Of course food was high on my list of things to enjoy and I managed to find the most famous eating house in old Lucknow, namely the original Tunday Kebab, where I enjoyed their famous galouti kebab. The story goes that one of the nawabs had no teeth so he called for the cook to make the most mouth wateringly soft kebab for him. I can confirm that the Tunday kebabs did indeed melt in the mouth. But you may have trouble getting one of these delicious buffalo kebabs now as the new Hindu hardline government has recently (March 2017) closed down a number of butchers' shops and slaughter houses specialising in buffalo meat and has cut off the supply to the kebab vendors in town. Lucknow is also famous for its sweet things (isn't every Indian city?). One of them being nimish. There were plenty of sellers around, recognisable by a large metal bowl covered with a glass top. Removing the top revealed the foamy, creamy concoction with gold leaf which I found a little surprising but also very tasty. Vegetarian Sid the Wanderer describes more tasty morcels on his website.