Lucknow, the city of minarets and domes, Nawabs and kababs, tehzeeb and ada! Tourists from all over the world come to ‘Imambara’ and it is the most visited place in Lucknow. This beautiful heritage architecture encompasses in itself mysteries and histories worth delving into. Every stone within this monument holds a secret. It is called as the ‘bhool-bhulaiya’ meaning labyrinth. It was built by the fourth Nawab of the Awadh Province, Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula. It took fourteen years to complete this structure. It was built with a noble intention. When famine struck the Awadh estate, the Nawab thought of building this structure, which will generate employment as well as provide food to people in return for their services. It was designed by the Architect Hafiz Kifayat Ullah. There are three halls in the Imambara. The central hall has the tomb of Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula.
The minute you enter the place, you get the feels of the Nawabi era. You see these gigantic structures all around you and you imagine the kind of life they had in the era of the kings and queens. The kind of carvings and the design pattern just take you by surprise. This whole structure does not have a single pillar or beam. That information is enough to marvel you at the engineering of those times and the fact that they still stand strong and tall, is commendable. When you see people walking out of the Imambara, you see trails of awe and astonishment on their face. It is advisable to ask for a guide when you start your journey into the ‘bhool-bhulaiya’, but if you want to test your skills and instincts, then you would want to take a risk and go in without a guide. Since there are many people exploring at the same time and you get lost, you could follow them if they have a guide and pay the guide later.
Best time to visit Bada Imambara
Winters are the best time to explore the Imambara because it gets suffocating in the summers. When you reach the top level, it is a bliss, but if you visit in the summer, the heat will bother you. So, it’s better to make a visit in the winter.
Few amazing facts about the ‘Imambara’
The ‘Bhool-bhulaiya’ has more than 1,000 passages and around 489 identical doorways. If you take a guide, he lets you guess which of the four doorways is the right door. The experience just gets better when you guess the right one and the guide asks you to chant with him the bhool-bhulaiya’s famous funny rant which goes something like this- “ Chaar raaste bhoot. Ek rasta sach, teen raste bhool-bhulaiya.” But if you guess the wrong door, he lets you climb those stairs while he waits down and you realise that it takes you further down instead of going up. It surprises you at every turn.
When you are walking along the long passages with doorways at frequent intervals, you also come across the central hall. You can enter the hall from outside the bhool-bhulaiya too, but when you take the long passages, you end up in the balconies of the central hall.
This hall is built with amazing techniques. When you stand at one end of the hall’s balcony, the guide goes to the other end of the balcony to show you an amazing thing. He lights a match from that end and you can hear him light it so precisely at this end. This is possible because of the grooves created in the ceiling. They allow the sound to travel from one end to the other. It is indeed a wonder creation!
The complete structure is designed in such a way that it provides great ventilation. It has vents in the wall at frequent intervals that let air and light pass in. These are the vents that allow different views of the main gate and helps to keep a track of the happenings of the outside world.
The walls of the passages are built with great wit. The guide asks you to lean on the wall with your ears keenly pressed against the wall, while he walks a long distance ahead and whispers something into the wall from his position. It will surprise you how you can hear every word that he whispers. It’s not that he says it loud enough for it to be heard otherwise. He walks really far enough and literally whispers into the wall. They say, this was how people overheard the conversations back in those times.
When you finally reach the top level of the ‘Imambara’, it’s breathtaking. You can see the whole of Lucknow at once. You can see the Rumi Darwaja, Asifi Masjid , the Husainabad Clock Tower and every other monument that stands there. It is a beautiful experience. You will be in awe for the kind of beauty that you beheld.
Author : Leeba Thomas