Lucknow – A Walk In The Chowk

Chowk, the heart of the city of Lucknow, isΒ a smaller and considerably less intense version of Chandni Chowk in Delhi. A quintessential Indian ‘old town’ with its maze of narrow alleys. Where once-glorious haveli’s rub shoulders with hastily nailed together hovels. Where the smells and sounds evoke romantic fantasies engendered by long forgotten travelogues of oriental markets, of medieval trades still being plied quite like they have been for centuries.

We are assaulted by the spice laden air. The fragrant smoke from the kabab stalls. The rhythmic clanging of the Varq beater. The thud, thud, thud of the printer’s block. But the impoverished visuals brush aside all illusions of romance. Progress has made these ancient trades unviable. Their days are numbered. Much as I detest the disneyfication of old towns in China, I find myself wishing someone would come forward to rescue ours from oblivion. From turning into characterless gallis lined with concrete blocks vending cheap electronic spare parts.

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Madhu is an Interior designer turned travel blogger on a long sabbatical to explore the world. When not crafting stories on The Urge To Wander, she's probably Tweeting @theurgetowander or sharing special moments on instagram.com/theurgetowander

86 thoughts on “Lucknow – A Walk In The Chowk

  1. The colours in that first haveli shot are amazing, Madhu, and the second, so elegant! What a shame the trades are dying out. Thank you so much for joining me πŸ™‚

        1. Nervous/excited- both! I have an artist’s garret to stay in so I’ll be donning a beret and selling the odd onion too, no doubt πŸ™‚

  2. Is there a way to make places like this some sort of a heritage town? New people and new business can come with the understanding that they will maintain the buildings and character of the town. What a loss if this place becomes a gleaming glass and brick town.

    1. I wish there was Imelda. Somehow democracy makes it all a lot harder, although technically it shouldn’t. Awareness is the only answer, but I worry that it will be too late by the time our people wake up.

  3. It’s amazing how ‘progress’ is so often ugly! How lucky you are that there are still (some) practitioners of these ancient crafts, and that some of the gracious old buildings remain … perhaps there will be something to “Disnify”. It’s ironic, I think, that India’s enduring – nae, increasing – popularity as a tourist destination makes this less and less likely – what you need is a sharp drop in tourist numbers, so that people begin to ask what can be done to draw them back.

    1. You might have a point there Meredith. I think our authorities need a jolt to wake them up from their stupor. I hope it won’t be too late for these old towns by then. I was glad to have been able to see some of those traders in action. Had never seen silver sheets being beaten into flimsy leaves before!

      1. You’d never seen the silver sheets being beaten before? Now, isn’t that something! Imagine how many other crafts might still be plied deep within chowks around the county. To loose that knowledge will be another tragedy. Have a lovely day πŸ™‚

      2. I love the way you create a soundscape with words to companion your images. I’m in favour of preserving the streets of the past – after all that’s what’s happened with Warsaw in a slightly different way. In Croatia and in Indonesia (to name a few places where I know this is happening) there are strong movements to preserve crafts that mass production have demolished. Watching a lacemaker in action is a wonderful multi-sense experience, and knowing it takes sixteen hours to make a small medallion puts a human value on a beautiful piece of work.

  4. That terracotta-colored haveli with blue doors is definitely something worth rescuing. Hopefully some serious preservation efforts will be done to prevent this unique chowk from crumbling down to pieces.

    1. Fingers crossed Bama. Not very hopeful though. There just never seems to be enough money here for these kind of things.

  5. Lovely post and photos, Madhu.
    What a sensory feast!
    My eyes almost smart from the acrid smoke of the charring kabab, my ears ring from the clang of the varq being beaten into submission, I can almost feel the texture of the zardosi thread under my fingertips, and my nose crinkle at the whiff of rose water and I salivate at the sight of that luscious biryani.
    I have never been but I hope Lucknow remains as charming.

    1. Thanks Mahesh. We didn’t have the Tundey kababs, but tried the Kulche Nihari, and Biriyani. There was only so much we could consume in a single day! πŸ™‚ Had a great meal at Dastarkhwan the first evening, and were surprised by how good the food at the Taj was as well.

  6. I spent 45 days in lucknow in 1990 – 91 .. with my NCC camp .. it was the bad days then all that ayodha issue etc , city was under curfew which opened now and then and We had such fun in those hours ..

    we were lucky as we could wear our uniform and get into a army truck and roam around to see a few places ..

    those are lovely photos ..

    1. That is encouraging then Sangeeta. But it is high time we paid more attention to not just large monuments but cultural heritage. They fail to realise that this is culture, not just mouthing religious slogans and imposing dress codes.

  7. Thank you for taking this walk with you. You always know how to give us the whole, from awesome architecture and color, to the realities of the day – hopefully these old trades will stand the test of time.

  8. Lovely pictures, Madhu! The haveli picture is somehow the most engaging of all…despite its state, yet it seems to be holding on to some measure of dignity. I do share your dilemma in a way – progress, on one hand, essentially does mean letting go of the old – trades, crafts, practices, beliefs. But it also could mean reinventing the old. I do want progress for India and I have an opinion on what it could look like, but how do you reinvent the heritage of a country without losing its very soul?

    1. Good question Paritosh. The Western world has managed to preserve much of its heritage concurrent with progress. I understand priorities are different in a developing country with so many problems to overcome. But I fear it is more apathy. Or how does one explain the availability of obscene amounts of money to fund the building of a sculpture park to glorify a political leader, while real heritage stagnates?

  9. Hi Madhu….you took the heritage walk run by tourism department or roamed around on your own with friends? True, so many trades of are dying slow death still the variety of art ,craft and trade is kaleidoscopic.Many chapters of history too were written in those narrow lanes.

    1. We took the heritage walk Namita. I linked to Mr. Zaved Zia who conducts the walk in my previous post. I should have done it here as well. Shall amend it right away. True, the history was palpable.

  10. I enjoyed seeing these snapshots into a part of life in India. I was interested to see that the des orations on the saris are still hand made.

    1. Oh no, that is a hammer Judy…he is beating the life out of pure silver sheets!! πŸ˜€ Those super fine sheets are used to top sweets and even rich curries.

  11. Love the pics. Thanks for showing us the beauty spots of India and its many varied cultures as well as your interesting journeys around the world.

  12. These wonderful places need somehow to be preserved. So brilliant and beautiful, timeless. I cannot imagine a world that loses all of this to the march of time. We are idiots sometimes. Another wonderful sharing, thank you.

  13. Amazing pictures, to go with a sad story. However, progress can be helpful too and maybe what replaces these crafts will one day become “antique” crafts in their own right!

    Might have to consider stopping off here when I’m travelling India next year πŸ™‚

  14. … and they should be rescued. These two mansions look impressive. I am particularly impressed with your shot of biriyani πŸ™‚

  15. That was a beautiful walk Madhu. I do wish someone would rescue these old towns as well. But given how heavily populated these areas are, and also the practicality of economics over emotion, I am afraid that it’s not going to happen 😦

  16. Fabulous atmospheric photos Madhu – I love those Haveli and hope that someone will step in to protect such lovely buildings

  17. Great post as usual Madhu. IΒ΄m beginning to think about changing my traveling plans for next year… πŸ™‚ Maybe go (back?) to India…
    Take care
    brian

  18. Madhu, your blog gives the feel of a favourite coffee-table book… or the annual issue of an in-flight magazine of an airline that has multiple global destinations. It’s informative as much as it is entertaining… Keep going!

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