Where to next?
I don’t know about you, but the first step of embarking on my travels is always the hardest: actually deciding where to go. Do I revisit Bangkok for the 27th time? Or do I want a beach holiday?
More often than not, I find myself wanting to explore someplace completely new.
Enter Lucknow, India.
Never heard of it? Now you have.
Whilst keeping up with present times and continually evolving into a modern city, Lucknow remains a city steeped in heritage and culture. This enchanting city tells the story of multiple facets of history through its places and people as much as through its food and fabric.
The capital city of Uttar Pradesh in India, Lucknow is well-connected to other Indian cities by both rail and road as well, making it a breeze to other regions of India.
Here are 10 reasons to visit Lucknow.
1. Visit the largest hall with no supporting pillars
The Bara Imambara, which literally means “big shrine”, is exactly what it claims to be. One of the most famous monuments in Lucknow, its historical and cultural significance can be traced back all the way to 1784, when it was built as a food-for-work relief project for a decade-long famine.
You cannot miss the main hall - a sprawling 50 metres long and 15 metres high, it’s one of the largest halls in the world. But what makes it an architectural genius is how there are no supporting pillars holding up the ceiling.
What supports the ceiling, instead, is a dense maze of narrow passages hidden in between its walls, forming a labyrinthine network of over 1000 routes - also known as the Bhool Bhulaiyaa. Originally built to confuse any enemy intruder, some pathways lead you to exit points, but most will bring you to dead ends or even abysmal drops.
It’s equal parts majestic and mysterious; you should explore the Bhool Bhulaiyaa with a guide if you want to find your way out… eventually.
2. Embark on a heritage walk around Lucknow’s major attractions
Every corner of Lucknow looks straight out of a travel magazine, and if this doesn’t inspire some wanderlust, I don’t know what will!
Take a leisurely stroll across the Chowk, the oldest district in Lucknow. A treasure trove of Lucknow’s heritage, the Chowk district is perhaps the most emblematic of Lucknow’s beauty, seamlessly blending its vibrant old world charm with the modern type of business and culture.
A street in the Chowk district Source
Stop to admire the many shrines and mosques, each boasting one-of-their-kind architectural splendor. For one, the Chhota Imambara, with its ornate gold-plated domes and the intricately calligraphed panels adorning its facade, is a sight to behold.
The British Residency is a chilling complex of ruins that was once the place of refuge for thousands of British officers during the 1857 Indian Mutiny, and is now home to the graves of about 2,000 of these troops as well as a memorial museum. Word has it that the complex is haunted by the ghosts of the British soldiers!
Lucknow’s Tourism Department organizes daily heritage walks, running from 7am to 9am in April to September and 8am to 10.30am from October to March, covering the popular attractions of the city. For only RS150 (S$3.20), you’ll have an experienced guide filling you in on all there is to know about the history and heritage of the alluring city.
And trust me, Lucknow’s history is quite something!
3. Spot a piece of Turkey or visit Lucknow’s very own Big Ben
If you haven’t figured by now, Lucknow is a city of architectural wonders. Not just for its own brilliance, but also styles that it borrows from all over the world, be it Turkey or Britain.
On one of the major roads is the wonderfully imposing Rumi Darwaza, practically a logo for the city of Lucknow. Modelled after a gate in Istanbul (then known as Constantinople) in the 1780s (yes, it’s that old!), it’s sometimes also known as the Turkish Gateway.
Further down from the Rumi Darwaza is the Big Ben.
Um, I mean the Husainabad Clock Tower.
But this could easily be Big Ben’s younger sister. This 67 meter tall (that’s 20 storeys) Victorian Gothic clock tower sits amidst a lush garden. Graffiti artists have since left their mark on certain parts of this monument, but this only adds to the soothing worn appeal of the place.
4. Go on a gastronomical tour in this culinary capital
The term “Indian food” encompasses an entire array of cuisines, and being a regular at The Roti Prata House doesn’t give you any bragging rights when it comes to the much celebrated food of this country.
North Indian cuisine in general involves a lot of yogurt - think thicker, decadent curries and dishes - and a preference for breads like naan and paratha as staples, as opposed to South Indian cuisine, which is keener on the use of coconut in cooking as well as more rice-based items.
Mughlai and Awadhi cuisines originated from Lucknow and are key subsets in the palette of North Indian food. Given how much the people of Lucknow pride themselves as great connoisseurs of food, that must be saying something!
Streetside kebabs Source
Tokri Chaats (Deep-fried, crispy baskets of shredded potatoes stuffed with mixed sprouts) Source
Lucknow even has an entire style of cooking credited to them - Dum Pukht cooking involves cooking over a very low flame in a covered pot. The process of slow cooking gently persuades the medley of spices to fully infuse the ingredients; by cooking slowly in its own juices, the food retains the richest of its flavours.
Dum Pukht biryani Source
Unquestionably a foodie’s heaven, you won’t want to leave Lucknow without savouring the local delights that Lucknow is so well known for, especially their kebabs and biryanis. You’ll be spoilt for choice of what to eat at Hazratgunj, Lucknow’s major shopping district, or the Chowk Market located in the old district of Lucknow.
5. Shop for India’s best Chikankari embroidery
Don’t leave the city without shopping for some souvenirs. Lucknow is famous for its exquisite Chikankari embroidery work, which is well-known all over India. This 400-year-old art was born in Lucknow and is still practiced today only here.
Find yourself a classic Chikan kurta (traditional men’s collarless shirt) or saree (traditional women’s draped garment) in Hazratganj, the city’s main shopping district. One of the favourite destinations for tourists and locals alike, there aren’t any glittering malls and multiplexes, but its almost Victorian vibes gives it a distinctive draw of its own.
Alternatively, hit up Chowk Market in the old town - with over 5000 shops in this market, you’d probably find yourself spending the better part of the day here!
6. Lose yourself in the allure of the city by night
When night falls, the city of Lucknow remains both beautiful and bustling.
The Ambedkar Memorial Park comes alive at night. The arresting pillars lining the walkway seem to be almost saluting you; the entire structure illuminated by lights makes for a spellbinding sight, making the park a must-visit for any tourist when the skies are dark.
Stroll along the bank of the Gomti River and take in the calm of the waters glimmering in the night light. Find the ice cream carts that make an occasional appearance along the riverside and treat yourself to a scoop or five, because ice cream somehow tastes better the deeper into the night it is. Fact.
You won’t be disappointed by Lucknow’s nightlife either - the city’s most popular premium nightclubs and bars put up a fair show. You’ll find most of them in the hotels. Some boast juggling barmen, and others boast inventive cocktails; either way, there’s something for everyone.
7. Stay in a palace for only $90 per person
You don’t have to be an actual prince or a princess to live in a palace - you’ll surely feel like one when you do, though.
Vivanta by Taj Gomti Nagar is a five-star hotel along the scenic banks of Gomti River, which charmingly meanders through Lucknow. Tell me how this doesn’t look like a palace!
You won’t be busting a hole in your pocket even with accommodation like this - rooms go for as low as S$184 a night, with awesome facilities to boot, such as a luxurious outdoor swimming pool and 25 acres of landscaped gardens.
8. It has its very own festival
How many cities can say that they have their very own festivals to celebrate, well, themselves? Lucknow is one of them.
The Lucknow Mahotsav (Lucknow Festival) is a yearly ten-day long cultural bonanza, usually celebrated from around the end of November. Celebrating the best of the city’s art, history, culinary delights and more. Expect colorful processions and dances as well as endless varieties of Indian cuisines; immerse yourself in the spirited atmosphere as citizens relive the bygone village days of cockfighting and traditional games.
9. It’s the gateway to the Taj Mahal
What’s a trip to India without visiting the awe-inspiring Taj Mahal? Lucknow is one of the closest major cities to Agra, where the Taj Mahal calls home; well-connected not only by air but also road and rail, it’s incredibly easy to get from Lucknow to the Taj Mahal.
By road, the drive is approximately 285km - a 5-hour drive or so - but new modern highways make it an easy, comfortable journey. There are also regularly scheduled luxury buses that will bring you from Lucknow to Agra.
Alternatively, hop onto the train to Agra and find yourself at your destination in as little as 6 hours. Have I also mentioned that the railway station is magnificent?
If the train to Hogwarts leaves from anywhere in India, or if Aladdin had to dock his magic carpet somewhere, it would be at the Lucknow Charbagh Railway Station, with all the mystical charm that its striking red brick facade exudes.
10. Fly to Lucknow for as little as S$179
A flight to Lucknow costs as little as $179, which is easily the price of a ticket to your usual travel destinations such as Hong Kong or Phuket. We’re all about steering off the beaten path nowadays, so why not experience a slice of someplace completely new?
Fly to Lucknow now
Feeling the travel bug yet?
A good holiday never hurt anyone, and Lucknow just got a whole lot more accessible by air, with flights via Scoot to the city every other day.
Want to experience all that Lucknow has to offer?
Scoot is giving away 3 pairs of S$200 vouchers for flights to Lucknow, India to 3 lucky winners!
To join our giveaway contest, all you have to do is:
Step 1: Like TheSmartLocal on Facebook
Step 2: Like and share THIS post
Step 3: Leave a comment on the same Facebook post with the attraction you're most excited to visit in Lucknow OR Scoot's birthday date (day and month) and how old Scoot is turning
The contest runs from 23 November 2015 to 30 November 2015. You’ll have to be 18 years of age or older to participate.
Contest winners will be notified by 3 December 2015 via a comment on their winning entry/ contest winners will be announced publicly on the The Smart Local Facebook page, and all you have to do is respond accordingly within one week of being notified to be halfway to flying over to Lucknow. Good luck!
Read the terms and conditions for the giveaway here.
This article was brought to you by Scoot (Scoot and Tigerair have merged as of 25 July 2017).