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Good luck now

India, Day 18 – Lucknow

Another tourist’s day has ended, only the train-ride hell tomorrow to face.

After finishing at Sahara Ganj, I headed straight to the Bara Imambara, north of the main Hazrat Ganj area in Lucknow. Having just now consulted my Lonely Planet I can now tell you that it’s a tomb built in the 1780s by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula as a ‘famine relief project’. It doesn’t explain what a tomb does to relieve famine.

The mosque, the hall building and the gates leading to them are typically grimy and decayed. What once might have been bright colour is now often caked with dirt or falling to pieces. It’s a shame that India doesn’t have the wherewithal to properly look after these and other monument – but at least it is making an effort. Everywhere I’ve been there have been various levels of restoration work – though it often seems quite desultory. International tourism must be a major source of income for the authorities – ticket prices are generally something like 10 rupees for Indians and a few hundred rupees for foreigners.

You can’t go into the mosque, and to enter the main hall you have to shed your shoes. The main hall comes in two parts – firstly the three halls: one long and two square ones at either end. The interiors are painted pastel green (or possibly yellow) and with not much in the way of windows are very murky. Impressively large rooms, though. The two small halls have little balconies dotted around the upper walls, while the main hall has a gallery several metres up with people walking along it. I wandered around a couple of time wondering how you get up there.

The secret is that you have to go outside and enter by a different point (still without your footwear). This is the ‘labyrinth’ (or Bhulbhulaiya, according to LP). It consists of a maze-like network of passages running through the walls and giving access to the gallery, inner balconies and two or three levels of roof. Its often dark enough to be unnerving, and overall quite a lot of fun. From up on the roof you get a moderately decent view of the nearby buildings and area.

There’s also another little part of the complex to one side – an octagonal building called the Shahi Bauli. Not so interesting really.

Once done at the Bara Imambara, I head north towards some other monuments. First under a gate called the Rumi Darwaza (‘Rumi’ meaning ‘Roman’ as it’s a copy of one in Istanbul (ie, Byzantium). I failed to drop by Aurangzeb’s mosque, which is very near here.

Walking up the road brought me to an imposing clock tower. 67 metres of imposingness, in fact. It was ‘built in the 1880s in memory of Sir George Couper, a reform-minded Governor of UP (United Provinces in those days).’ Next to that is a large pool overlooked by a red building (‘baradari’, it says here). And next to that are the remains of a stubby three storey brick tower. As it’s not in Lonely Planet I can’t tell you what it is.

Here I walked through another gate into a kind of plaza with gates on all four sides. At this point I was thinking of getting into an autorickshaw (if I could find one), but as I strolled up the square I realised that the the gate on the western side led into another complex. Looking through, it appeared quite pleasant so I went in.

And found what might, in hackneyed journalese, be described as a ‘veritable jewel’. A tank of water ran down the middle of the courtyard, on either side of which were small replicas of the Taj Mahal (containing the tombs of Mohammed Ali Shah’s daughter and son-in-law). In one corner was a mosque and at the far end was the Chota Imambara – a very well-maintain building, strikingly painted black and white. And inside this was a horde of treasure. Seriously. The walls were painted pastel blue and gold, and everywhere you looked there was gold and crystal and marble – chandeliers, mirrors, pictures, tinselly models of tombs, a silver throne (that looked a lot like a step ladder).

Then it was time to call it a day. I wandered north a little way through the gate, then back again looking for an autorickshaw. When I got back to the Chota there was one free. The driver didn’t seem to know where Mahatma Gandhi Road was so I had to show him the map in my LP. He also said, when I asked him How much?, that the money wasn’t important – I pressed on him a hundred rupee note and he gave me thirty change. He also pointed out that the road I thought was MG Road – the road the Lonely Planet says is MG Road – wasn’t.

So tomorrow, Varanasi. The plan is to get an unreserved ticket for the seven o’clock train. It takes six and a half hours according to – guess what – Lonely Planet. I’m learning not to take what it says as the truth, whole and nothing but. But I should be at the Ganges – or Ganga, as it’s apparently called these days – by early to mid-afternoon. And I should have a reservation. I might stay as much as a week there, but it has a bad reputation for touts and similar scum, so we’ll see how the first couple of days go.

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