Background: Since early 2020, International travel has been in limbo due to the !@#! COVID-19. With each country reacting differently to COVID-19, it has been difficult to do International trips. While waiting out COVID-19, I thought why not explore the regions of India I have not been to 🙂 As of Oct, 2021, I had already been to 16 major towns/cities (as an adult), which is nothing considering the size and diversity of the country.
State: Uttar Pradesh
Towns/Cities: Lucknow, Kanpur, Ayodhya and Faizabad.
Introduction to Uttar Pradesh
- Most populated state in India. (Apparently, most populous “subdivision of a country” in the World). 17% of India’s 1.4 Billion population live in Uttar Pradesh. Most populous entity in the World (!) after India, China, USA and Indonesia.
- Uttarakhand split from Uttar Pradesh in 2000.
- Home to World famous Taj Mahal (in Agra).
- Most Indian Prime Ministers have come from Uttar Pradesh.
- Lucknow: It is said that Lakshmana, who was the brother of Lord Rama, laid the foundation of the ancient city. This was near the Gomti River on an elevated piece of land. It was then called Lakshmanpur.
- Awadh / “Oudh” == North-Eastern UP.
- Humayun made Lucknow area a part of Mughal Empire.
- Lucknow is the 11th most populous city in India.
- Lucknow, along with Agra and Varanasi, is in the Uttar Pradesh Heritage Arc, a chain of survey triangulations created by the Government of Uttar Pradesh to boost tourism in the state.
In its peak, it spanned between Indus river (West), Kashmir and Afghanistan (North), Deccan plateau (South) and Assam (East).
Founded by Babur in 1526 (from present day Uzbekistan). Babur was a descendent of Timur and Genghis Khan.
Babur > Humayun (Weakened the empire and fled to Persia) > Akbar (Babur’s grandson) > Jahangir (Drug addict) > Shahjahan (Architectural splendor. “The golden age of Mughal architecture”)) > Aurengazeb (Islamization. Powerful. Had his brother executed and his father imprisoned).
Ended around 1720.
Among the Mughal UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Asia are: Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Lahore Fort and the Taj Mahal, which is described as the “Jewel of Muslim art in India” and is one of the universally admired masterpieces of World’s heritage.
It was a rainy day, among many rainy days, in Chennai when I started.
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.
Chaudhary Charan Singh International Airport in Lucknow.
The “CCS” (Chaudhary Charan Singh) Metro Station is right next door.
Lucknow Metro: They claim it is the metro system which took the least time to built in India. Very smooth to use. Helpful staff as well.
Lucknow Old Town. Coronavirus??? What the heck is that. I felt like that idiot in Kumbh Mela, a perfectly masked guy surrounded by mask-less humanity. Have lived and worked in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bengaluru & Chennai. But man, this is a new experience. Bikes in 360 mode, people spitting in 360 mode, dogs in 360 mode and if you spread your leg to take a step, some person will squeeze under it! “Ocean of humanity”.
All this effort I took to get to Tunday Kababi’s original location and also to experience Old Town. Noticed that if you have to sit-in and eat you have to accommodate people on your lap as well, it is that crowded. Ordered takeaway as I had no other choice, due to COVID-19. I feel confident that UP will prep me well for my upcoming Pakistan and Bangladesh trips 😉
The place is surely popular. Like me, there were many others taking photos of the joint.
Lucknow has many rickshaws like this. They are shared transport, basically to get around within a locality. Just hail, jump in and join the others, inform driver when you want to get off, pay the driver, and be on your way 🙂
Bara Imambara, Lucknow. Pretty big complex. The insides of the Imambara was a bit bare, when compared with Chota Imambara.
You can buy a “combination ticket” for only 50 rupees, which allows entry into several sights in Lucknow, including Bara Imambara.
The insides of Bara Imambara, though quite nice, is not as ornate as Chota Imambara.
One has to climb some steep stairs to get to the Labyrinth.
There is a walkway right along the front side of the Imambara. The carpet, as you can see, can do with some replacement.
The Labyrinth (“Bhool Bhulaiya”, named for obvious reasons) is interesting. Many ways to get in, but only 3 ways to get out. Ventured in, but not too deep. Would be an interesting set for a horror movie.
There is some exquisite architecture on the terrace of the Imambara.
Shahi Mauli (Step Well) does not have much water now, but in the olden days, water from Gomti river filled the lower levels. That is my guide 🙂 In all such tourist places, there will be a set of “guides”. Whether they are licensed guides or not, is debatable. This guide came with me for 35 rupees (on his own insistence!) and spoke rapid gibberish of which I understood only around 20%.
There are some specific viewpoints from where you can see the front entrance through reflection on water.
Overall, definitely worth a visit!
After Bara Imambara visit, I got accosted by some more “guides”, this time, guides with their own rickshaws. I negotiated a 50 rupees ride with this dude, who took me around the area.
An old building in Husaianabad area of Lucknow.
Rumi Darwaza, from 1780s, which used to mark the entrance to Old Town Lucknow.
During the ride in the rickshaw. It was a brand new rickshaw.
The colonial era Clock Tower in Husainabad area of Lucknow.
The Clock Tower pond which is nearby. Note the steps all around.
Chota Imambara was the next destination.
The ornate interiors of the Chota Imambara. You are supposed to leave your footwear outside, for a nominal charge (5 rupees).
Even the exterior looks very nice.
After a walk through the area, which included an outside look at Jama Masjid (Only Muslims are allowed inside), I took a rickshaw to Akbar Gate area for lunch.
Lunch was at Raheem’s Kulcha Nihari. The Raheem’s waiter took one look at me when I ordered “full” Nihari and said “Aapko half chalega” 🙂 He was right, Nihari is very heavy and the Kulcha had the texture of a thick Poori. It was yum.
After lunch I cut through the very crowded Chowk area. It was a very interesting walk through narrow lanes, with two-wheelers passing all around you.
Next stop was Prakash ka mashoor Kulfi. For 70 rupees you get awesome Kulfi with condiments. That sure hit the spot after the heavy Kulcha-Nihari lunch.
Though I was quite full after all this, I wanted to try Raja Thandai, which was just across the road.
It was really tasty and was priced at 50 rupees. From here, I took another auto rickshaw to Ambedkar Memorial Park.
Ambedkar Memorial Park
The entry costs 25 rupees. There are decent restrooms inside. The park is huge and quite well maintained. Reminded me of Chiang Kai-shek Memorial area in Taipei. The park was the brainchild of the former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati. Even in such a nice-looking park, it was a bit disappointing to see selfish tourists throw trash in some areas 🙁 The sad part is that there are waste baskets all around and yet selfish tourists go around trashing the place.
Brown marble all over! Be ready to walk a lot 🙂 An interesting plant I saw. Look at its trunk.
The famous 124 monumental elephants.
A close-up of one of the elephants.
Statues of Kanshi Ram (founder of Bahujan Samaj Party) and Mayawati.
Ambedkar in a Lincoln-esque pose. For some reason, this museum kind of hall was not lit inside. It was dark!
Gomti Riverfront Park
It is a 1.5km walk from Ambedkar Memorial Park. The Gomti river is quite polluted. I could see some industrial waste flowing into the river and to be frank, I could smell the river.
There are quite a few food joints inside the park.
I had some difficulty in getting an empty auto rickshaw after visiting Gomti Riverfront Park. I did not want to use shared auto rickshaw, due to COVID-19. After waiting for a while, watching some youngsters play impromptu Cricket, I decided to walk across Gomti river bridge and get closer to city center by foot.
Modi-Ji’s (India Prime Minister) visit to Lucknow was well advertised.
The residence of the British Resident General and also the Nawab. Nawab Asaf-ud-Daulah played an active role in getting it built. The Residency was under siege during 1857, during which many of the buildings were damaged. There is a small museum with some vintage pictures and a model of the whole 33-acre complex. The Residency was basically a mini township, with different buildings for different purposes. It was a bright and beautiful day. The walk through central Lucknow, to get to The Residency, was also eye opening.
The Bailey Gate, which is where the ticket counter is. Ticket costs 25 rupees only.
Initially, I was pretty much the only tourist, the other being an older gentleman and his local guide. But later on, quite a few youngsters (college kids) arrived as well.
Map of The Residency, with all the interesting spots marked.
There was heavy damage sustained by the complex during the 1857 Mutiny.
You can also see a small memorial for one of the residents who was killed during the 1857 Indian Rebellion.
A portrait of Asaf-Ud-Daula, who played a major role in the construction of the original Residency complex. This portrait hangs in the small museum within the complex. To enter this museum we have to leave our bags in a nearby cloak room.
The museum also has a nice model of The Residency complex. Spread over 33 acres, the complex had hospital, various squares, post office, battery, houses for natives (Indians) Etc.
The Residency complex has tree-lined walkways and it was a very sunny and pleasant day.
The Imambara within the complex.
Between The Residency and the KD Singh Stadium Metro Station (roughly 1.5km away), I noticed this nice-looking building (Begum Hazrat Mahal).
I was not wearing walking shoes in this trip and my feet had a terrible time 🙂 Because Uttar Pradesh is cooler, especially in the early mornings and late evenings, I started getting cracked heels. Ended up walking countless kilometers.
To pass time till my evening train to Kanpur, I rode Lucknow Metro till its last station (Munshi Pulia). It was interesting to watch the locals go about their lives.
Charbagh Railway Station
Lucknow Charbagh Railway Station has been operational since 1867. It was the most important station after Delhi at one point of time. Took the Shatabdi from Lucknow to Kanpur (The train goes till Delhi). Took the chair car. The train was on time (at least till Kanpur :-)). At some points it touched speeds which are one of the fastest I have travelled on Indian trains (My 1st Shatabdi experience). Fellow travelers were 65% mask compliant 🙂 Nothing gives a real feel of the countryside like a road or train trip. Wanted to take a bus, to really “immerse”, but after seeing UPSRTC buses and the crowds, I got scared! It was a rapid 1.5hr trip to Kanpur.
Another beautiful view of the Charbagh Railway Station from the Charbagh Metro Station.
The Executive Chair car which I took, mainly to avoid sitting in close proximity to others as much as I could (COVID-19).
The interiors were okay and comfortable.
Had a snack of cold coffee and coconut water.
We passed through many villages on the way to Kanpur.
There were quite a few water bodies as well.
In Kanpur, I had my 1st view of one of the mighty rivers of the World, Ganga! Ganga is 2525km long and joins up with Brahmaputra river in Bangladesh and flows into the Bay of Bengal. It is interesting to note the major towns on the banks of Ganga: Kanpur, Prayagraj, Mirzapur, Varanasi, Patna, Bhagalpur Etc.
Kanpur Central Railway Station is way smaller than the one at Lucknow. Modi-Ji (India’s Prime Minister) was in Kanpur the next day. But even his presence will do nothing to clean up the huge garbage dump that is the Kanpur railway station area. Kanpur makes Lucknow look like Bern!
Lucknow Zoo (Nawab Wajid Ali Shah Zoological Garden)
The Lucknow Zoo is very well maintained. The portfolio of animals is not that great, but whatever they have is quite well maintained. Only the snakes section seemed a bit tacky.
The beautiful walkways within the Zoo.
This hippopotamus was quite popular. There was a big group of school kids (out for an excursion, I guess) and they were very excited each time the hippo dipped in the water and came out with its mouth wide open 🙂
The various animals in Lucknow Zoo.
These two white tigers were very active, walking between the water body and their cage, over and over and over.
On my last day in Lucknow I had an excellent lunch at Dastarkhwan restaurant. The lunch consisted of Galawati Mutton Kebabs, Chicken Shami Kebabs and Rumali Roti. Actually, I could not finish it all.
Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh
The 1st thing that struck me, at least near the railway station, is how dirty and trashed the area was.
But later on, I found that there are areas of Kanpur which looks quite nice: Cantonment area, Tilak Nagar Etc.
Nana Rao Park
Th 1st place I visited was Nana Rao Park, named after Nana Saheb Peshwa II, who was an Indian Peshwa of the Maratha empire and a fighter, who led the rebellion in Kanpur (Cawnpore) during the Great Revolt of 1857.
It is a small, but peaceful park. There were many folks doing yoga, walking, playing volleyball. I could see many senior citizens (retirees?) having their morning chit-chats and light exercise. The park itself was undergoing a lot of renovations. Somewhere I could hear Modi-Ji giving his speech in Kanpur. For a minute I wondered if I should try for a live look at the Prime Minister. But then, that would have derailed my plan for the day.
Green Park Stadium
I roamed Kanpur on 11/22/2021 (Mon) and on 11/25/2021 (Wed), the 1st New Zealand – India Test Match was scheduled in this stadium. Predictably, the security was tight and I could see ground staff hard at work. Alas, I could not get a peek at the Cricketers themselves. No big deal. I have been to several live International and IPL matches.
Right next to the ground, there is a 10-storey building called Krishna Towers. I went to the top floor to take this picture. You can note the Ganga right behind the stadium. Can Chris Gayle hit a six into Ganga? 😉
It is a pity that Indian Cricket grounds do not allow “conducted tours” of stadiums which I have experienced in several other countries (Lords, Wimbledon, Estadio Alberto J. Armando stadium Etc.). It would be a good revenue generator for the Cricket board.
T-shirt sales were in full swing for the upcoming Test match 🙂
What is ISKON? “International Society for Krishna Consciousness”. The Kanpur ISKON is relatively new and one can note that it is still being set up. It is some way out of the city. I had negotiated an all-day rate of 700 rupees with Amit, the auto rickshaw guy. He was a simple person, quite well-dressed within his means and very helpful and supportive. It was obvious that he was very proud of Kanpur. He was forced to wear a mask in the Cantonment area by the Army guys. Rest of the time, he was mask-less.
We had to pass some cleaner areas of Kanpur, like Tilak Nagar.
The desolate road leading to ISKON area.
On the way we saw this colony for RBI (Reserve Bank of India) (like the Federal Reserve in USA) employees.
Of course, like most cities, there is the “I love Kanpur” sign 🙂
This is the main highway that comes in from Lucknow side of Uttar Pradesh.
It covers a massive area with many Indian Army installations. Because of all the military buildings in this area, there is heavy security. There are check posts all around. We were stopped and I had to show my ID and explain why I wanted to enter the area. The military guys were very reluctant. Even Amit argued on my behalf. Luckily it so happened that the main military person at this particular check post was also from Kerala and on seeing my Driving License from Kerala, after some queries as to why I wanted to enter the area, he allowed us through. The area has very clean, tree-lined streets.
The beautiful Memorial Church. Apparently it is open only on Sundays. I begged the caretaker to at least allow me to enter and take some pictures. On tipping him a few rupees, he allowed me in.
True to my word, I did not stay for more than 2 minutes.
The beautiful St. Patrick’s Church, which is also nearby.
By the time we came back to the original check post, there was another fellow-Mallu (Kerala) military guy there and they waved to us.
Massacre Ghat is on the banks of Ganga. History has it that “Sati” used to happen in this locality. Also, this locality saw many a killing during the 1857 Mutiny.
Had my lunch at Baba Biryani. I am not a huge fan of Lucknow Biryani. It is a bit too bland for my taste.
The Shami Kebabs were Yummmm!!!
Thaggu da Laddoo! What a bombastic name 🙂 But man, the laddoo was really awesome. They had two types: Cashew & Dried Fruits. Bought both.
After all this, I bade goodbye to Amit. He was a huge help and a very decent man to deal with. Wish you all the best friend.
Spent 3 hours walking around the lanes of Iftikharabad area. The narrow lanes were filled with pedestrians and two-wheelers, which were honking like crazy.
I am well aware that these photos are not “pretty” in the conventional sense: No pristine beaches. No fancy Hotels. No beautiful roads or parks. No fashionable people. But this is how many people live. Wanted to see it with my own eyes. Got lost a few times and went in circles (GPS signal was going on and off) 🙂
Kanpur Railway Station
Inside the main hall. COVID? What COVID? 😉
Walked around the platforms. Some folks are in “for the long haul” (I.e. Looks like their trains were only after several hours).
The station had a huge Indian flag, swaying in the strong wind.
Hey, that is my train! Gomti Express back to Lucknow.
This train’s Executive Chair car was quite empty. But as we got closer to Lucknow, more people came in. Mask-wearing, especially proper mask-wearing, was at around 50%, I would say. Around 10-15km from Lucknow, the train suddenly stopped on the tracks and the rest of the journey, for some reason, was start-and-stop. It took 1.5hr to complete those 10-15km. The entire Kanpur-Lucknow journey was supposed to take 1.5hr 🙁
Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh
Uttar Pradesh, as with many states in India, have pretty good tolled highways.
On the way, we took a tea break. Matka tea is what is served in these parts. “Matka” is a clay cup. I liked it a lot, though it was extremely sweet. I do not like sugar in tea/coffee.
Myself in my properly worn mask (which made it obvious that I was NOT a local) was attracting (fake) “guides” like a laddoo does flies 🙂 It was a chore to politely decline their offers. I was the absolutely ONLY guy in mask.
There were sweet and flower (for offering) shops were everywhere.
Kanak Bhavan (Lord Ram’s birthplace).
Sweets and flowers are the typical offerings one takes into the temple.
On the banks of Ghaghara river (more popularly called Saryu river). They use huge pumps to get the river water onto a manmade canal and people were bathing under the gushing waters.
A small temple on the way.
Walked around a lot. Ayodhya must have one of the highest concentration of temples in the World. Every other building was a temple. Not sure what this structure is, but liked it.
Entry to Hanuman temple. I joined the crowds and shouted “Jai Shri Ram” with them (Did not want to be the odd one out) and repeated all the procedures others were doing. I was the only one without the sweet/flower offerings with me. Suddenly one dude shouted “joothe nikalo” (I was supposed to have left my footwear somewhere back). Left the area in a hurry, to not cause any further controversy or hurt any religious sentiments.
Side Note: I personally do not understand the obsession people have with selfies 🙂 99.99% humanity seems to love having themselves in a photo of a famous place or beautiful site. Over the years, I have totally lost the appetite for having myself in photos. Well, to each their own, I guess.
I absolutely loved the colors of Ayodhya. Red, Orange and Yellow dominated the region.
Did a lot of walking around the less crowded bylanes of Ayodhya. I wanted to get a peek into how the locals live.
I absolutely love sour stuff, like raw Imli/Tamarind, Mango Etc. I have not been able to indulge in Tamarind for a long time. As we were driving through Ayodhya, I suddenly saw a pushcart vendor selling Tamarind! My loud shout to the driver to stop nearly gave him a heart attack 🙂 I love Tamarind with salt and chilly powder.
Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh
Faizabad is right next to Ayodhya. Two towns with a lot of contrasts. Every street is action packed, especially Old Town area.
To get anywhere within the town, one must pass through the Old Town area.
Did some walking around in Faizabad as well.
The really rundown Moti Mahal. For the former residence of Nawab’s begum, it is very poorly maintained. Absolutely no one was there and I had a very tough time even locating it.
The beautiful Bahu Begum ka Maqbara.
This Emu harassed me like anything! He just would not move away. Almost as tall as me and very aggressive. I tried chasing him with my bag. No luck. Finally a local had to help me out 🙂 Apparently, the caretakers of this place raise Emus.
Entry to Bahu Begum ka Maqbara. Bahu Begum refers to the wife of Nawab Shuja-ud-Dawla.
It was an exciting, adventurous and eye-opening 6 days in Uttar Pradesh. WHY?
- I was well outside my “comfort zone”
- I was nervous about COVID-19
- I was nervous about the “big and dangerous and wild” Uttar Pradesh (so, media and friends tell me)
- Got to see the core of India for the 1st time
- Got to pig out on some amazingly yummy food 🙂
Had an absolute blast!