In Lucknow and Bangalore, Loong Wai Ting visits the Hussainiya complex and the residence of the Wadiyars of the Mysore Kingdom
THE timing is perfect when I arrive at Bara Imambara, also known as Asafi Imambara. It’s still very early in the morning.
The surrounding area is fairly quiet, save for a few makeshift food stalls that line the side of the Machcchi Bhavan road, about 30 minutes from the hotel I’m staying in, Renaissance Lucknow Hotel.
Just opposite the Imambara, the Gomti River, which provides Lucknow its water supply, flows.
Locals en route to work stop for a quick breakfast at these stalls. As they sip their masala chai, sitting cross-legged on top of the stone steps of the Imambara, I steal a few quick shots of the men having breakfast.
One of them notice my camera and instead of shielding his face, smiles and beckons for me to show him my work. A toothless smile spreads across his face. He later tells me that I should save my battery for the beautiful scenery inside the Imambara.
I take his advice and walk towards the Rumi Darwaza. The three-arch gateway leads me into the Imambara’s compound.
Built in 1784 by Asaf-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh to commemorate the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, in the Battle of Karbala (680AD), the sheer size of the Imambara is enough to stop you in your track. It is an important place of worship for Muslims living in Lucknow.
Passing underneath the high archway,I bow slightly as a sign of respect. Taking off my shoes and putting itinside my backpack, I walk the rest of the way barefooted, just like how the locals do here.
Oh, don’t worry if you have no space to store your shoes. There’s a storage facility near the main entrance, where a keeper charges a small fee for looking after your shoes.
As I shield my eyes from the bright morning sunlight that streams in between the iron wrought gates, I take in the view before me. Expansive is probably the right word to describe the complex, complete with its own shrine, an equally big mosque, a bowli or step well with running water, a labyrinth as well as the tomb of the late Nawab, which is located inside the main hall.
Taking advantage of the good weather outside, I wander around the exterior of the complex and its well-tended garden. Roosting pigeons are everywhere and if you’re “lucky”, you may leave with bird poop on your hair.
Once inside, I can see Mughal-inspired architecture every where — from the ceiling that is made from rice husks to the striking design of the archways. One of the striking features of the design is the Persian-style carvings on the walls. There are motifs of fishes and flowers on the high walls of the arches as well.
Its central hall is said to be the largest arched hall in the world, measuring 50 metres long and goes up to 15m in height.
Inside the central hall, no single beam can be found to support the entire structure.
Instead, all the stone blocks are put together using the interlocking system.
I am told to stay close to my group lest I get lost in this massive complex. As we trudge deeper into the Imambara, I begin to understand why. There are many passages that interconnect with each other, on top of the 489 doorways that lead to somewhere.
It is believed that there is a long tunnel underneath the main hall that leads to the Gomti River outside. However, the tunnel has long been sealed to keep curious explorers out for fears of disappearance.
Following the guide, I walk up a series of stone steps which are huge and can be quite steep that take me up to the rooftop. But the panoramic view of the entire complex and the city make the climb well worth it.
From charming Lucknow, I set off to yet another Indian populous city which is also known as the Silicon Valley of India.
Bengaluru, the official name of Bangalore and capital of the Karnataka state in South India, is the nation’s leading information technology (IT) exporter, where many technological organisations such as Infosys and HAL are headquartered.
Beside being an IT hub, Bengaluru is also a green city. Compared to Lucknow, Bengaluru has trails of trees everywhere and the weather is amazing. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Bengaluru. Just take a walk down Brigade Road and you’ll be amazed by what you’ll find there.
Skipping the bad traffic and the pushy autowallas, I opt to explore the city on foot.
The first thing I notice as I walk around the streets of Bengaluru, is the beautiful wall paintings. The paintings, left there by aspiring artists, give a small insight into the city’s culture and heritage.
When in Bangalore, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit the Bangalore Palace, once an iconic residence of the Wadiyars of the Mysore Kingdom. It’s located on Palace Road in Vasanth Nagar, about 45 minutes drive from the airport.
The sprawling Tudor-inspired estate with its mix of Scottish Gothic was built in 1887 by King Chamaraja Wadiyar, and today it is opened to the public who are keen to learn about South India’s most enduring dynasties.
From the main gate, I walk about five minutes towards the open area of the palace, where private cars used to drop by with its important passenges.
After buying an entrance ticket from the makeshift counter at the entrance (INR460 (about RM27) per person), I register for an
audio guide, which will help me learn more about the palace, its former residents and the people who built it.
The area, where the palace stands today, originally belong to Reverend J Garrett, a school principal in the cantonment town.
Later in 1873, the guardians of Chamaraja Wadiyar purchased the land and construction of the palace begins a year later.
The Superintendent of Lalbagh, John Cameron took charge of landscaping the palace and its surrounding areas. Like his predecessor, Cameron had a background in botany and had trained at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, United Kingdom, then the centre of botanical research in the world.
The palace took four years to complete but more renovations and expansions have been carried out since.
The sound of footsteps echo throughout the empty palace and the wooden floor creaks under body weights. It is said that Chamaraja Wadiyar, while on an excursion to Windsor Castle, had fallen in love with its charming architecture and wanted a similar palace to be built at home.
Family photos, some in their pristine condition while others starting to peel and fade, hang on the walls, against the colourful motif-inspired wallpapers.
Walking from one hall to another, I begin to make sense ofthe once important landmark of Bangalore. This is where the king
used to address the assembly, such as the Durbar Hall with its massive elephant head mounted on the high wall.
The interior walls are mostly adorned with old paintings belonging to the royal family, including mid-19th century Greek and Dutch paintings. There are also paintings by India’s famous painter, Raja Ravi Varma.
Peeking through the window’s grill, I can see fortified towers and roman arches, quintessential elements of Tudor buildings. The facade of the buildings look as if it is lifted out of some French chateau.
My favourite area of the palace is the courtyard, with a fountain gifted by a former Spanish royal. I can spend a whole afternoon sitting on its coloured tile bench, while soaking in the atmosphere.
Before leaving, I take one last look at the palace, standing majestically after all these years. It’s hard to imagine that I’ve walked on the same path and sat on the same chair as the Maharaja once did.
Pictures by Loong Wai Ting