There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Thursday, 28 February 2013

Fatehpur Sikri: Part 10 of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh

In the morning we set off on the 40km journey to Fatehpur Sikri, picking Solanky up en route. Agra in the morning rush hour presented the usual cacophony of horns as cars and buses attempted to shove their way through a tangle of bicycles, motorcycles, tuk-tuks and bicycle rickshaws; scary, but unlike Varanasi everything kept moving.


Leaving the Uktarsh Villa Hotel, Agra

Fatehpur Sikri, the purpose built capital for the Mughal empire, was founded in 1569 by the emperor Akbar - sometimes tautologously known as Akbar the Great - the grandfather of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal.

Akbar’s palace sits on a ridge above present day Fatehpur Sikri. We skirted the small town and arrived at the old city car park, where a crowded shuttle bus took us on the last part of the journey.

Alighting, we ran the gauntlet of eager stall holders. Sending a winsome child to walk alongside you until you have, at the very least, promised to visit their parent’s stall on your return was a popular technique.

Akbar’s palace, like the older Topkapı Palace, consists of independent pavilions geometrically arranged on level ground, a pattern which derives from the nomadic encampments of central Asia in which both the Ottoman and the Mughal empires had their origins.

Akbar was personally concerned with the design of the buildings which, though based on the ideas of his Persian forebears, have many Indian embellishments and are constructed in the local red sandstone.
 
Fatehpur Sikri

Akbar occupied Fatehpur Sikri for only fourteen years. In 1585 problems in the north required him to move his capital to Lahore and when he returned to Uttar Pradesh in 1598 he re-established himself in Agra. Why Fatehpur Sikri became a well preserved ghost town is unknown. It has been suggested there was a problem with the water supply, but maybe it was simply the caprice of an autocratic ruler.

Passing through the gate we entered a grassed area surrounded by red sandstone buildings. Akbar's favourite method of execution was to have miscreants stamped to death by an irritated elephant and the iron ring set in concrete to which victims were chained can still be seen. Akbar had a fiery temper and he was aware of this character flaw, so issued a standing order that death penalties should never be carried out hastily. Given twenty four hours to calm down he was more likely to temper justice with mercy.


Women labourers, Fatehpur Sikri
Wandering into the next courtyard we passed two women carrying baskets of bricks on their heads. There have been many powerful women in modern India, Indira Ghandi to name the most obvious, but women more often play a subservient role. It comes as a shock to see women working in heavy manual labour, but there are women labourers at road works and on building sites, and here doing the heavy work of the restoration programme.
 

Diwan-I-Khas, the Hall of Private Audience, Fatehpur Sikri

 
The Diwan-i-Khas, the Hall of Private Audience, is a striking building from the outside, but is even more remarkable on the inside. Akbar’s advisors would sit in the hall discussing the issues of the day, while the emperor sat above them unseen in the nest on the central pillar. Enclosed walkways allowed him to come and go unnoticed, so if he was not joining in the discussion nobody knew if he was listening intently or had taken himself off to the Turkish bath.


Inside the Diwan-i-Khas, Fatehpur Sikri
 
The wall decorations are worth a look, too. Many are in excellent condition, but some have been defaced by stricter Muslims than Akbar who objected to the figurative carvings.


If the Diwan-i-Khas was for business, much of the area round it was designed for recreation. The Panch Mahal, a five storied  building resting on columns, gives views across the palace complex and surrounding country. It backs on to the harem, and was intended as Akbar's pleasure palace.
 
Panch Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri
Outside is a pool with walkways to a central area where musicians would sit. The pool both cooled the courtyard and improved the acoustics.


Anoop Talao, the bandstand in the pool, Fatehpur Sikri
Beside the pool is an outsized Pachisi board. Akbar played the game - essentially the same as ludo - with real people instead of counters.


Akbar's outsized parchisi board, Fatehpur Sikri
The tower of elephant tusks is a little off-site and could be seen by those approaching the palace. Ivory was an expensive product used for luxury goods, and to have a tower with whole tusks - rather hidden in the picture - protruding like this was Akbar's way of announcing his wealth to the visitor. The original ivory tusks were long ago replaced by stone tusks.


The Elephant Tusk Tower, Fatehpur Sikri
Leaving the complex we failed to dodge the stall holders, who were disappointed that we only bought a fridge magnet - until we visited an ATM it was all we could afford.

We walked round the outside to the Buland Darwaza, literally ‘Great Gate’. When Akbar returned from Lahore he may have settled in Agra, but he did at least drop by Fatehpur Sikri to build a gate to commemorate his victory over Gujarat. Inscriptions round the gate record not only this victory but also his conquest of Uttar Pradesh. A further inscription pays tribute to his religious broad mindedness. Respect for other people's faiths was a hallmark of all the early Mughal emperors and explains, to a certain extent, how Muslim emperors could reign over a largely Hindu populace without too much unrest. When Shah Jahan was usurped by his son Aurangzeb, this tolerance came to an end - and so did the Mughal golden age.


Buland Darwaza, 'The Great Gate', Fatehpur Sikri
We caught a tuk-tuk back to the car park, took our leave of Solanky and of Fatehpur Sikri and started the long journey back to Delhi.
 
Solanky pays off the tuk-tuk, Fatehpur Sikri
We had not gone far when we were halted at a level crossing. We joined the queue and sat there as the queue grew larger, though not necessarily longer – as is the Indian way. After a protracted wait without seeing any trains the driver and I went to see what was happening.

The level crossing gate, a red and white striped pole across the road, should have been raised by a power driven winch, but the cable had snapped leaving the gate in the down position. When we arrived the crossing keeper and his assistant were busy putting a joint between the two pieces of cable. That such a piece of equipment was really available suggested this was not an unknown occurrence. A few years ago near Hospet in the far south we had encountered a level crossing which consisted of two elderly men holding a piece of string across the road. It may have been basic, but at least it couldn't break down.

While the driver and I watched the repair Lynne was observing a small boy climbing onto the roof of the crossing keeper’s hut, intent on grabbing as much of the low hanging fruit as he could cram in his mouth and pockets.
 
Climbing onto the roof, level crossing near Fatehpur Sikri
Eventually the repair was complete and we moved on, joined the main road and made steady if hardly speedy progress towards Delhi.


Grabbing the fruit
Level crossing near Fatehpur Sikri
Our driver had little or no English, and we are equally ignorant of Hindi, but as time went on and he showed no sign of stopping for lunch we managed to indicate that we were ready for something to eat. He nodded, tapped his watch and carried on driving. We passed several suitable places, but clearly he had been given instructions and intended to carry them out to the letter.

We had been late setting out even before the level crossing delay, so it was three thirty by the time we stopped. It was a large restaurant, once posh but now looking tired and unloved. It was empty except for one other European couple, and was precisely the sort of place tour operators imagine we would want to stop at, and precisely the sort of place we would avoid, given the choice, but we had no choice, or at least none we could communicate to the driver. We ordered soup and a chapatti knowing it to be overpriced and expecting it to be woefully thin. We were not disappointed.

Places that attract - or at least are frequented by - Europeans, also attract anybody who thinks they can make a rupee or two. A man standing in the doorway of the toilet, handed out a piece of toilet paper, whether required or not, and then pointed out where the soap was (because, being a pampered idiot European, I could never have spotted it on my own). If he had put more effort into cleaning the place rather than pretending to offer a service, then he might have received a larger tip. As we got back in the car a 'musician' turned up with a child to entertain us. It was such a half-hearted performance I would have preferred an honest beggar. I know they are poor people and it is my duty as one blessed by fortune to put my hand in my pocket, but the whole place, the decor, the cooking, the service and the hangers-on seemed steeped in cynicism.

We moved on down the main road, passing continuous habitation. Much building was going on, including this ambitious mosque, and the roadside was lined with builders’ waste and litter. We saw so many people sitting outside their roadside homes surrounded by rubble and plastic bags as though that was a normal environment. Plastic bags have, at least, been banned in Delhi, and it would be a good idea if they disappeared from the rest of India – and, indeed, the world.


Building project
Approaching Delhi from Fatehpur Sikri
Although the Indian cuisine is rightly regarded as one of the world's finest, the food on this trip had rarely risen above ‘adequate’. We were looking forward to returning to Delhi as we had started our journey with an excellent garlic chicken at the Chowra Chick-Inn, a short walk from our hotel, and thought we might finish it the same way. Lynne was particularly keen; it was the first time for days she had felt like eating.  It was a good plan until we reached the door and found Thursday was their closing day. The hotel restaurant – something we generally try to avoid - seemed the only option.

Slightly to our surprise, the hotel's butter chicken turned out to be very good indeed, up there with the garlic chicken of the Chowra Chick-inn and the Mughal goat curry of the Royal Café in Lucknow. Those were the only three meals of the trip I would happily to eat again.

The next day we returned to Indira Ghandi airport and thence home. Our thanks to Travel Inn of Delhi who made all the ground arrangements, providing drivers, guides and train tickets. Almost all of their arrangements worked perfectly, and when they did not - at the Kumbh Mela - they responded quickly to our request for assistance.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Agra and the Taj Mahal: Part 9 of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh

Despite a latish night caused by the tardiness of our train from Lucknow, we rose early next morning. According to received wisdom the best time to see the Taj Mahal is at dawn, but it does not open until daybreak, so we settled for dawn’s closest approximation.

To protect the stonework from pollution, internal combustion engines are banned near the Taj so we travelled the last two hundred metres in an electric tuk-tuk. We would have been happy to walk, and given the air quality in India's major cities, I doubt that a two hundred metre cordon sanitaire makes a significant difference, but it provides much-needed jobs for drivers.


Electric tuk-tuk to the Taj
 
There was a short queue. I had feared worse, visiting one of the world's greatest tourist attractions is never going to be a solitary experience.

Beyond the inevitable ‘security’ we entered a courtyard where an impressive red sandstone gatehouse cunningly concealed the Taj from view.


The Taj Mahal gatehouse, Agra
Everybody knows what the Taj Mahal looks like. I remember seeing photographs as a child and thinking, 'I want to go there, I want to see that.' With such a long held ambition in imminent danger of being realised, I found myself fretting; it was only a building, how could it possibly justify the hype?

The Taj appears almost suddenly as you walk through the gatehouse. The first sight has the power to stop people in their tracks and most – including me – then raise their cameras. Some will experience the Taj almost entirely through the viewfinder of a camera.


First glimpse of the Taj Mahal through the gatehouse
 
At the far end of a serene, slightly misty and at this hour almost empty garden, was a building of gleaming white marble apparently floating in the air. It was taller than I expected, though perhaps not as wide, but the proportions are, in a way I do not really understand, absolutely perfect.
 
The Taj Mahal floating in the morning sky


We entered the garden, which is quartered by water in the Persian style, in imitation of the Garden of Paradise. We had seen Humayun’stomb, an earlier - and also magnificent – variant on this theme in Delhi, but the Taj, blending elements of Ottoman and Indian style with the Persian, is the pinnacle of Mughal architecture - and it is not just the building that dazzles the eye and takes away the breath, it is the setting, too.

Shah Jahan was the fifth Mughal emperor, great-great-grandson of Babur, the founder of the dynasty and great-grandson of Humayun. He came to the throne in 1628 during the Mughal golden age. Mumtaz Mahal was his favourite wife (he had nine to choose from) and the love of his life. She died in 1631, aged 38, giving birth to her fourteenth child and the Taj Mahal is the tomb her grief stricken husband built for her. Starting in 1632 it took 21 years to complete.
 
On Princess Diana's seat, Taj Mahal

We took our time walking through the garden. About half way down is the bench where Princess Diana once sat looking rather lonely. Every tourist on God's earth now needs to have themselves photographed sitting on that seat.  There are often queues, but we had to wait only for the people who were on it to move off and then Solanky did the honours with the camera. The picture is distinctly unoriginal but, hackneyed as it may be, I still like it.

Solanky left us to look round on our own saying he would wait by the entrance. How many times, I wondered, had he been here? How many times do you have to visit before it becomes just another day at work? Does it ever? We should have asked him.


A closer look at the Taj
After our slow, almost reverent, approach to the building, we climbed the stairs onto the plinth on which it stands. Close up it was no less magnificent, still seemingly ethereal and floating despite its vast bulk. We felt compelled to touch the wall as though placing a palm flat against the marble connected us to all the people who have done that before, to Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, to the unknown craftsmen who built it and to concepts of love and beauty. I sometimes see myself as an amateur Vulcan; logical, sceptical and calm, but not here, not on this day.


An even closer look
Taj Mahal, Agra
The decoration is as remarkable as the building. There is calligraphy,…..
 
Calligraphy round the doorway, Taj Mahal

….. there are plants carved in the marble….


Carvings, Taj Mahal
… and everywhere the walls are covered with Pietra Dura work, a technique in which a pattern of shallow indentations is carved in the marble, into which small carefully shaped pieces of tortoiseshell, mother of pearl and semi-precious stones – cornelian, jasper, lapis lazuli, onyx and topaz - are fitted. They looked as fresh and bright as on the day they were made. The attention to detail is meticulous, the calligraphy around the doorways becomes larger at it ascends, so from the readers' point of view it all looks exactly the same size, straight lines part slightly as they retreat into the distance so the onlooker perceives them as being parallel.

Pietra Dura, Taj Mahal

Everywhere there is symmetry. The building is symmetrical, the gardens are symmetrical and the mosque facing the Taj on its left is balanced by family quarters on the right. The tomb of Mumtaz Mahal stands in the very centre of the building – where else should she be? – but in 1658 when Shah Jahan died, Aurangzeb, his son, successor and for the final years of his life, his jailer, decided his father and mother should lie beside each other in death. Ironically, only the tomb of Shah Jahan breaks the symmetry he created.
 
The mosque beside the Taj Mahal

Having seen the tombs we walked over to the mosque, a red sandstone building of interest in its own right,….


Inside the mosque, Taj Mahal
… walked behind the Taj where the Yamuna River flows quietly past and….
 
The Yamuna River behind the Taj Mahal

....walked in the gardens and watched the egrets and pond herons.


The sign says 'No Perching'
Gardens, Taj Mahal
We were reluctant to leave, but eventually we had to move on. Not long ago a day ticket would allow you to return as often as you wished and see the Taj changing colour as the sun moved across the sky. Nowadays our 750 Rupee (£9) Ticket (reasonable by western standard, but Indian citizens pay 20 Rupees) allowed us in once only. It is a shame, but many thousands want to see the building every day; we have to share and it had been a privilege to be there.

We returned to our hotel for breakfast and then set off to see the 'Baby Taj'. Agra is full of monuments that would be major attractions elsewhere but once you have seen the Taj Mahal the others have an 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' feel.
 
The tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah
The 'Baby Taj', Agra
The so-called Baby Taj, though, was worth the trip. Officially it is the tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah(The Pillar of the State) whose real name was Mirza Ghiyas Beg. He was the father of Nur Jahan, the wife of Emperor Jahangir, and the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal. It was built under Nur Jahan's instructions between 1622 and 1628.


Inside the tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, Agra.
When you have a tomb this good you have to share

The tomb of Humayun in Delhi provided the template for the Taj Mahal, but like all earlier Mughal tombs it was built of red sandstone. The Baby Taj breaks with this tradition being constructed, like the Taj Mahal, of white Rajasthan marble. All the decorative techniques used in the Taj Mahal, notably Pietra Dura, are here, too.


Pietra Dura, Baby Taj, Agra

It has been described as a draft for the later building, but that is a judgement of hindsight; Mumtaz Mahal was still alive when it was completed.
 
Ceiling, 'Baby Taj', Agra

Despite its exquisite decorations, the proportions are not quite right, the building looks dumpy and the cap on the roof looks to have fallen over its eyes.


The tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, Agra
The 'Baby Taj'
We moved on to the Agra Fort. Sitting on a bend in the Yamuna River two and a half kilometres north of the Taj, it was captured by Babur, the first Mughal emperor, in 1526 as he established his empire. He captured the Koh-i-nor at the same time, but that ended up a jewel in somebody else’s crown.  First mention in 1080, the fort was originally brick but by the time Babur’s grandson Akbar moved his capital here, it was largely sandstone. His grandson Shah Jahan added the white marble buildings inside.


Into Agra fort over the dry moat

We entered what is more of a walled city than a fort by the Amar Singh gate, as all tourists must - the Indian military still occupies part of the fort and the Delhi gate is for their use only. Crossing the now empty moat, we walked up a long sunken passage. The acoustics, Solanky informed, us allowed the servants advance warning of the approaching emperor. It also provided a place where invaders would prefer not to be trapped.


Inside Agra Fort

 
Inside are the usual range of halls and apartments, royal chambers having ingenious water features to keep the rooms cool.


Cooling water feature, Agra Fort - though now without water
When the Emperor Jehangir came to the throne 1605 he began one of the earliest experiments in open government. The ‘Chain of Justice’ was slung over the castle wall so that any citizen with a grievance could give it a tug, ring the bell and receive a hearing. I have no idea how well the system worked, but it would be a brave man indeed who would tug on the emperor's bell rope.
 
Royal Apartments, Agra Fort

A Mughal emperor could usually expect to see his sons killing one another until only the most cunning and ruthless was in a position to succeed. This happened to Shah Jahan and he would hardly have been surprised when, in his dotage, power was rested from him by his son Aurangzeb, who kept him a prisoner in the fort. Legend says - and may, for once, be accurate - that he died on the white marble balcony from which his father hung the Chain of Justice.


The Shah Burj, from which the Chain of Justice was hung and where Shah Jahan
may have died, Agra Fort
 
It has a view down the river to the Taj Mahal. If mud flats occupied the bend in the river as they do today, it was probably a good idea for him not to look down, but to keep his failing eyes fixed on the distant building, which from this range looks every bit as enchanting and enchanted as it does from close up.


The Taj Mahal from the Shah Burj, Agra Fort

As Mughal power waned and British power waxed, the fort inevitably fell into British hands. In the rebellion of 1857 John Russell Colvin, Lieutenant Governor of the North West Provinces was trapped here with a small force. His diplomatic skills ensured they survived, but Colvin himself died of cholera. Unable to bury him outside the fort, he was laid to rest inside, right in front of Hall of Public Audience, which was considered a little insensitive. The Hall once contained the Peacock Throne, which later made its way to Delhi, and later still to Tehran, where we saw it in the treasury in 2000.
 
The grave of John Russell Colvin, Agra Fort

We finished the morning at a pietra dura workshop. Using diamond tipped wheels turned by muscle-power, they cut the gemstones to fit the spaces carved in the marble. Many hours of highly skilled work are required to produce a finished article, which can be as small as a drinks coaster or as large as a dining table. Solanky described the workers as the descendants of the men who built, or at least decorated, the Taj. In a spiritual sense they undoubtedly are and, quite possibly, that they are in a literal sense too.


Grinding the stones for Pietra Dura. Agra
The pieces seemed expensive - but not when you consider the work that goes into them. We did not need a set of drinks coasters, but they are extraordinarily beautiful and provide some sort of ersatz link with the building down the road. After a short bargaining session we became their owners. The coasters are handmade, so they are all different, but you have to look closely to see that.
 
Pietra Dura Coasters

We fancied a light lunch and a snack of fried pakoras filled the bill nicely. I was delighted to find, for the first time on this whole trip, that we were in a restaurant that sold beer. Many years ago a wise man told me that there is no such thing as bad beer, there is only beer and good beer. In his binary world, Kingfisher is definitely beer.

In the afternoon we took a walk. Our hotel was situated on Highway 62 as it starts to leave the town which is not the most interesting area, but this being India, there was plenty to see, a cow walking up the road….


Highway 62, Agra


…. a bicycle repair shop located in a banyan tree…..
 
Bicycle repair man, Highway 62, Agra

…. a roadside barber's….
 
Having a shave beside Highway 62, Agra

… and a small shrine to Hanuman the monkey god.


Small shrine by Highway 62, Agra
On one side of the road there was squalor, on the other the wrought iron gates outside the homes of the prosperous. We came across a smart looking self-service shop selling a peculiar selection of packaged foods and cooking utensils. We bought some crisps, which pleased Lynne as her stomach was still not right, but she can always manage a crisp.

There was little choice locally in the way of restaurants but there was one smart looking place within easy walking distance. Most of the clientele were from a large tour group. A few other couples and foursomes were dotted around room, but they too were all European; the only Indians diners were the guides with the group.

Lynne had a snack and a lime juice. I had my second beer of the week – and of the day - and ordered murgh badami, a dish I sometimes cook at home; I wanted to see how it should be done. It ought to have a rich sauce based on ground almonds and be gently spiced; that is the theory, but what I was served could only be described as ‘bland’. This was not how Murgh Badami should be, this was the regrettable result of a restaurant frightened of offending even the most unadventurous of western palates.


Delhi and Uttar Pradesh
 
Part 4 Varanasi

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Lucknow (2), La Martinière College, the British Residency and the Indian 'Mutiny' 1857: Part 8 of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh

I heard the unmistakable sound of a mosquito during the night. It was zizzing right beside my ear, as they always do, and I made a grab for it, as I always do. I have yet to catch one.

In the morning I was smearing anti-histamine cream on a couple of bites when Lynne drew the curtains. Monkeys were swinging in the tree outside and chasing each other over the building opposite; it is worth the odd itch to start a morning like that.

When Sanjay arrived we headed south to Constantia, once the country pile of Claude Martin and now the home of La Martinière College.
La Martinière College crest
The motto ‘Labore et Constantia’ (by Labour and constancy) incorporates the name of the building

Born in Lyons in 1725, Martin first joined the army of the Compagnie des Indes as a common soldier but later accepted service in the army of the British East India Company, rising to the rank of Major-General. His organisational abilities led him to be recruited by the Nawab of Awadh and he arrived at the time Asaf-ud-Daula was moving the capital to Lucknow. He became a confidant of Asaf-ud-Daula, using his architectural skills to build much of the new capital and his business skills to amass a huge fortune.

Martin was a complex man. He never returned to France, though he kept his French citizenship all his life, and he never married though he had long term relationships with several mistresses. His only child, a daughter, died in infancy and is buried in an ornate tomb inside the entrance to La Martinière College. Wikipedia claims the tomb is of his favourite mistress, Boulone, a woman thirty years his junior whom he allegedly bought when she was nine years old. Boulone died forty years after Martin, so it is unlikely the tomb was built for her, but maybe she lies there with her daughter.

The tomb of Claude Martin's daughter, La Martinière College, Lucknow

Martin was a soldier, administrator, art collector and philanthropist. In his will, he divided his fortune between the poor and the foundation of schools in Lucknow, Calcutta and his home town of Lyons. Legal wrangling meant La Martinière Boys’ School in Lucknow did not open until 1845, 45 years after Martin’s death, and the girls’ school 24 years later. He made no stipulation concerning the race of the students, but in the 1850s the 150 boys were all European or Eurasian. Today there are over 4000 students, including some boarders, overwhelmingly the sons of the wealthier citizens of the Lucknow area.  The school has carefully maintained the ethos of an English public school and boasts many illustrious old boys including politicians, Bollywood stars and industrialists.

Constantia, La Martinière College, Lucknow

We arrived just before break and from the reaction of the pupils – or lack of it - they are used to strange foreigners wandering round their school. All smartly dressed in blazers, white shirts and ties they largely ignored us, though one boy approached carrying a large bag of sweets, said it was his birthday and offered us a chocolate éclair – the school is obviously doing something right.

La Martinière College is expensive by Indian standards but the single classroom we looked  into - which may not be typical - was basic; bench seats, old wooden desks, no air-conditioning and chalk and blackboard the only equipment on view.

The library, too looked small for a school of its size and standing. We met the librarian who was keen to raise money for improvements and we bought two coffee mugs bearing the school crest.

The Chapel, La Martinière College, Lucknow
Many schools, including the one I attended, have memorials to old boys who died in two world wars, but La Martinière may be unique in having a memorial to students who participated in a military engagement while still being at school. I will come to the events of 1857 shortly, but the boys (and staff) of the college played their part in the defence of the British Residency.

Roll of Honour of the staff and students at La Martinière College
who defended the British Residency, Lucknow 1857

And if that does not make the school unique, having their founder's grave in the crypt below the chapel, surely does. Claude Martin shares this quiet spot with a small flock of bats.

The tomb of Claude Martin
La Martinière College, Lucknow
Constantia is now within the city boundary but was built as a country house and a landmark was constructed to help visitors find it. We have become so used to the metaphorical use of ‘landmark’ that we (by which I mean I) have almost forgotten that it has a literal meaning.

Landmark, La Martinière College, Lucknow

Dilkusha Gardens are two hundred metres from the school and it was here that the Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Awadh wound up the British by exercising his troops. In 1847 he had ascended the throne of a very different Awadh from the one Claude Martin had known. A treaty of 1801 had given the British East India Company half the kingdom in return for military assistance. As part of the treaty the Nawab had accepted that his government must be reformed for the benefit of the people. Wajid Ali Shah assumed power with an ultimatum on this issue already hanging over his head.


The remains of Wajid Ali Shah's military buildings, Dilkusha, Lucknow

The new Nawab liked to rattle his sabre but was more interested in dance, music and courtesans than in politics. The British lost patience with Wajid Ali Khan in 1856 and assumed direct rule of Awadh. The ex-Nawab spent the rest of his life in exile devoting himself to the arts.
 
His parade ground is now a garden dotted with the remains of his military buildings. The largest ruin, though, is of the Dilkusha Kothi. Built in 1800, it is a country house designed by the British Resident, Major Gore Ouseley, in the English baroque style and intended as a hunting lodge and summer residence for the Nawabs. Like nearby Constantia, it was shelled in the rebellion of 1857, but unlike Constantia, it was never restored and for many years was left to rot.

Dilkisha Kothi, Lucknow
The design is reputedly based on Seaton Delavel Hall, Northumberland
Back in town we visited the British Residency, the focal point of the events of 1857 – known, in my schooldays, as the 'Indian Mutiny'. This term is rarely used today, partly because of its colonialist overtones and partly because it was much more than a mutiny. The Indian government prefers 'First Indian War of Independence' but the ‘first’ upsets many in Kerala and Punjab who would make that claim for earlier risings in their states. Sanjay further pointed out that the events were confined to the Gangetic plain of northern India, that there was as yet no all-India consciousness and the word 'independence' had little meaning to the common people. I will use 'Indian Rebellion' which is, I hope, politically neutral.

The Gates to the former British Residency, Lucknow

The rebellion did, however, start with a mutiny among Indian soldiers in the army of the East India Company. When I was twelve we were told the cause was the introduction of new greased cartridges that needed to have the top bitten off before insertion into a musket. The truth is, as always, more complex; the rebellion resulted from a build-up of resentment over time not a single issue. The cartridges, though, provided the spark, and it is a measure of how bad things were that Hindu soldiers believed the cartridges were greased with beef fat, and Muslim soldiers believed it was pork fat.

After the initial mutiny, there were risings all along the Ganges from Calcutta to Delhi, including in Awadh, which was fertile ground after the recent removal of the Nawab.

The first British Commissioner in Awadh – as opposed to ‘Resident’ – was the tactless and inept Coverley Jackson. Six weeks before the rebellion broke out he was replaced by Sir Henry Lawrence who attempted to calm the situation while preparing the British Residency for the possibility of a siege.

That possibility became reality on the 30th of June 1857. The Residency building was the centre of a complex covering some 13ha, but at the start they also tried to defend some detached outbuildings amounting in total to some 24ha. Inside were 855 British officers and men, 712 Indian soldiers who had remained loyal to the company, 153 civilian volunteers and 1280 non-combatants, mainly women and children. Outside were 8000 Indian soldiers and the retainers of several local landowners.

The Residency Annex looks relatively unscathed and now houses the 1857 Memorial Museum which among other exhibits has a model of the complex as it was at the time and a diorama of the siege.

The Residency Annex, Lucknow
The Residency itself, once three storeys high and with two turrets, is a ruin after being heavily shelled. Women and children were sheltered in the relative safety of the basement but Sir Henry Lawrence was fatally injured while sitting in the library on the 2nd of July, the third day of the siege.

The former British Residency, Lucknow

He was taken to the house of Dr Fayrer, the residency surgeon and died two days later. He appointed Major Banks as the Civil Commissioner but he was killed within a week by a sniper and Colonel John Inglis, the military commander, took overall control.

The remains of Dr Fayrer's house, Lucknow

The attackers attempted to storm the residency and to gain entry by mining but the defenders held out. Surrender was unthinkable; a similar but much briefer siege in Cawnpore in June ended in surrender and a promise of safe passage. The promise was not kept and women and children were massacred along with the defenders.

By late September only 300 British soldiers, 300 Indian soldiers and 550 non-combatants remained. The 25th of September saw the arrival of a relieving force led by Sir Henry Havelock. Unfortunately he lost a significant number of men fighting his way in and they were not strong enough to get everybody out. The siege continued.

The treasury building, which had only been completed in 1851 became an ordnance factory; predictably, little remains.

The Treasury, former British Residency, Lucknow
The loyal Indian soldiers held the Baillie Guard Post where there is now a memorial to them.
 
Memorial to the Indian soldiers who remained loyal to the British
former British Residency, Lucknow


St Mary’s church was razed,.....
The remains of St Mary's Church
former British Residency, Lucknow
....but many of the defenders were buried in the churchyard,.....
St Mary's churchyard and memorial
former British Residency, Lucknow
 ...including Sir Henry Lawrence with his rather double edged epitaph.

The grave of Sir Henry Lawrence who 'tried to do his duty',
former British Residency, Lucknow
With the rebellion beginning to falter, the siege was eventually lifted on the 18th of November and the Residency was abandoned.

The aftermath of the rebellion was brutal. The British ‘army of retribution’ stamped out the insurrection, but it did nothing to address the original causes. The Rebellion brought about the end of the Mughal Empire, but it also finished off the East India Company, which was dissolved in 1858 transferring its ruling powers to the crown. Queen Victoria became Empress of India and so began the British Raj.

These events are important to Indians because although they started the Raj, they also contained the seeds of its destruction. My précis of the events has been entirely from the British point of view because, ironically, that is the only information that is available – even in Lucknow today.

We returned to our hotel via a long detour to see the 43ha Ambedkar Memorial Park. Largely constructed of red Rajasthan sandstone, the park is dedicated to the memory of Dr B R Ambedkar, the father of the Indian constitution, though it is actually a vanity project of Mayawati Kumari, chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, on and off, between 1995 and 2012. She spent 7 billion rupees on a project that has been described as ‘world class’ by some and ‘politicised stone work’ by others. Sanjay was ambivalent and we could not judge if it works as a park as it was not open at the time – but it certainly looked odd.


Dr B R Ambedkar Memorial Park, Lucknow

After showing us the dubious wonders of the park Sanjay had finished for the day.

We lunched, again at Coffee Day, and spent the afternoon shopping; the RE department at our former place of employment had requested a Hindu god or two - there are several thousand to choose from - and we are always on the lookout for spices which are a touch fresher than at home, and a touch cheaper, too.

Much of the next morning passed in similar style though many shops were closed - everybody we spoke to denied it was a holiday. We found a Sikh-run bakery that was open and bought supplies for our train trip and then tried to photograph a cow walking the wrong way up the outside lane of a city centre street, but with limited success. The picture below, in which the cow is (just) visible among the traffic, is a reminder that nine of the world’s ten most polluted cities* are not in China as I would have expected but on the Indian subcontinent. Delhi has the world’s worst air quality, while Lucknow ranks tenth. It was time to cough and move on.


Cow and traffic, Lucknow

We reached the station in plenty of time for our train and found our way to the appropriate coach which was classified as 'second class air conditioned' though it only had ceiling fans. It looked tatty but the seats were comfortable enough and we left on time for our scheduled seven hour journey to Agra.

Lucknow North East Railway Station

We pottered along pleasantly and after four hours we were only twenty minutes behind schedule. Then we had a long stop at a red signal.

We fell into conversation with Sashi, the guide of a small Turkish group in the same carriage. 'Maybe we have spoken before,’ he said, telling us that he used to work for Barclays call centre. He had given it up to be a tour guide which was, he said, better paid though the hours were irregular. It was his wedding anniversary and he would rather have been at home than accompanying tourists to Agra. When he eventually arrived back in Delhi, he was going straight out again with a party of 32 British tourists.

As the sun set, our progress involved stopping, re-starting, crawling through the gloom and stopping again in an irregular cycle. IST officially stands for Indian Standard Time, Sashi informed us, but on the railways it is Indian Stretchable Time, and our only option was to be patient.

We sat for an hour at a dark and deserted station. On the side of the embankment someone had painted in English in large red letters the word 'ABANDONED'.  I understood how the station felt.

Eventually we moved on, finishing the journey with an hour at barely more than walking pace. Sashi offered his assistance if there was no one at the station to meet us, but we had every faith in whoever had been deputed to be there.

We arrived not at 8.30 as scheduled but at 11.30, but Solanky was there with a driver waiting to transfer us to our hotel. Well done them.
 
* Pollution measured in terms of particulates in the atmosphere