India travel guide: Best things to do in Lucknow
Journey to North
You haven't felt quite small until you've travelled to India. Granted, it's one of the seventh largest country in the world. But figuratively, what you knew — or thought you knew about the populous country seems almost miniscule once you've had your first conversation with a local or broke bread at a local eatery known for exceptional dhal. Unfortunately, the dearth of sumptious vegetarian cuisine in Singapore hasn't been the most educational when it comes to its real potential — that can only be discovered in India.
Over the years, I've been intrigued by photographs and provoking tales of the pink pastels of Jaipur, the insurmountable Taj Mahal, the holy river of Ganges and many more. But yet I found my first experience in India to be in the cultural mecca of Lucknow, situated in Uttar Pradash.
Terracotta. That was the first thing I thought as we're driving through the hectic roads of Lucknow, which is located in Uttar Pradesh. Most of the buildings and architecture in Lucknow stick to a muted palette of nudes. In my humble opinion, a natural beauty, even accidentally gentrified in all the right shades; despite the smell of haze wafting through the cool crisp air. Everything gets instantly prettier once you take your mind off the poor air quality in this city.
The first thing that makes an impression at Renaissance Lucknow isn't actually the lobby but its hospitality that might or might have involved copious amounts of masala chai. After a greeting of warm smiles, I checked into my snazzy room, outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows (not to worry, there are automated blinds to fend off the morning sun) and a leather lounge chair decked out in that same terracotta shade I can't seem to get enough of. Apparently, this city feels the same way.
FLAVOURS OF LUCKNOW
While it's common to scour the best restaurants outside of the hotel for your meals, you'll find a few stellar options in Renaissance Lucknow — starting from the breakfast buffet. Several plates of dhal, thosai and delectable kebab benedicts after, I was spoilt silly with a myraid of spices deftly balanced while expounding my knowledge on Northern Indian cuisine. The all-day dining venue also does a mean continental spread in case you're wondering; but you're in Lucknow for a reason — dive deep into the piths of flavours here. While you're hooked, visit their in-house restaurant, Sepia that's known for authentic Lucknowi cuisine. Traditional local delicacies are served in a typical Awadhi style — which has a lot to do with cooking over a slow fire. Expect a heady mix of spices, chili and glorious curry. In my case, I needed a side of curd just to ease the burn; but lucky for me, Lucknow has brilliant curd.
Of course, flock where the trendsetters go. A brief gander along the prettiest, Instagrammable lane takes you to the entrance of Cappucino Blast. The restaurant serves up intercontinental cuisine — spanning from guilt-inducing chicken lollipops to brownies sizzling on a pan.
WALK, SHOP AND TASTE
The only way to experience the city is on foot. Especially if the traffic here might incite more stress than an ease of mind. Hazratganj stands as one of the most iconic and bustling market places in Lucknow; with something for everyone here. For a sensorial lesson on essential oils, head to Sugandhco — one of the most established attar shops in Lucknow. The charming father-son duo here will be sure to point you to your perfect scent. Also, this shop is never not hoarded with people.
A stone's throw away is where you'll find Ada Designer Chickan Studio. Marvel up close at chickankari, one of Lucknow's most well-known ancient art forms, that's intricately embedded in fabrics, pashminas, sarees, bags and many more. If all that shopping has worked up an appetite, there are a plethora of street snacks to fuel up on. One of them, being chaat — a messy hors d'oeurve of puffed rice, papdi, cilantro-mint chutney, diced onions, tomatoes, potatoes, spiced chickpeas and last but not least, chaat masala. The last ingredient is a pungent Indian spice blend, which you will either love or hate. And while you're there, save room for other sweet treats like falooda — essentially ice cream atop a pile of vermicelli, as well as malai makhan, aerated milk cream that was strangely addictive.
A HOLY PLACE
It might take a day or two in order to gravitate towards Lucknow's charm; but Bada Imambara is an attraction that will speed up the process. Enter a majestic edifice that comprises of a holy mosque, a jewelled entrance and various courtyards. Don't miss the walk through the labryinth where you'll be led through enchanting vantage points that your eager smartphone will thank you for. Also known as the Bhool Bhulayia, the maze comprises of almost 1000 passageways and 489 identical doorways, which can easily be misleading as it is captivating for any visitor.
Of course, while you're in India, don't stop just at Lucknow. Hop on a domestic flight from the North to the South. That's what I did, and I can safely say that no two cities in India are alike.
Stay tuned for the second feature in Bangalore, India.
To book a stay with Renaissance Lucknow, click here.