Saturday, 27 August 2011

Bara Imambara, Lucknow: Pictures Of An Architectural Marvel

This post is dedicated to one of the most beautiful monuments of LucknowBara Imambara, also known as Asfi Imambara after the name of its creator Nawab Asaf-Ud-Daula. Lucknow is called the City of Nawabs, and true to its name, it has been a center for art and culture in North India for centuries. The people are also royal in true sense - their language is pure, they are lovers of good things in life- art, music and food and are generally a happy bunch; proud of their past, looking into the future. Now how can I say all these things with authority? I can, because I've known many of them very closely. Wonderful and righteous people! But the discussion about living beings some other time, this post is about a 227 year old piece of history that doesn't breathe but is very much alive!

I've been to Lucknow many times and have also lived there for short periods but never looked into the history this place has to offer. I believe you don't always have the time, priority or maturity to rise over your own petty issues and look at the other side of life. It is with time and experience, that you learn to observe and appreciate the fine nuances of life. 

So it happened, that after a long time, I was again in Lucknow. This time for my best friend's marriage. We were a group of friends and had one full day for a tour of city. Spirits were obviously high! We decided to start with Bara Imambara and visit the nearby places like Chawk and Chhota Imambara, however we were so consumed with first place itself that we had to cut short the time for others. Between performing my duties as the official photographer of the group and clicking all sorts of lovely (and awkward!) single and couple pictures, I did manage to sneak in some shots of interest. Here goes...

There are two magnificent triple-arched gateways to enter the premises. Move inside and the first impressive structure that you see on your right side is the Asfi Mosque. This mosque is still is use but only muslims are allowed to enter it. I clicked some shots from distance. Later noticed that there was an interesting reflection in the glass of the lamp. 

Bara Imambara: Asfi Mosque

Moving ahead, there is huge courtyard, which leads you into Imambara's central hall. Standing here, look back. You can see the side view of the Asfi mosque and marvel at the beautiful golden color of the structure.

Asfi Masque: Side View

The courtyard allows you to peek through the windows into the halls and you can look at the gateways on the other side. It feels like, on one side are you, standing in the present and the other side is the time gone by. 

Peek-a-boo with History

The most interesting feature of the structure is Bhul Bhulaiya on the upper floor. It is a complex maze or labyrinth of similar looking, dark passages hidden inside the walls of the structure. These passages or corridors are interconnected to each other through 489 identical doorways. Some of these passages have dead-ends, some end at precipitous drops while others lead to entrance or exit points. These were constructed to confuse the visitors and it is a real challenge to come out of these passages without being lost. One can actually reach to the terrace of the building through these passages. We could try it on own own but given that we all were accompanied by our wives, whatever sense of adventure we had suddenly vanished and we silently hired a guide. We entered Bhul Bhulaiya to witness the most amazing display of lights and shadow in the corridors. 

Bhul Bhulaiya Corridors

The corridors of Bhul Bhulaiya are a treat for photographers who find symmetry and pattern appealing. In addition to great symmetry and patterns, the rugged texture of walls, when lit by natural light, adds that WOW appeal to the pictures. Sample this shot, which coincidentally, is my most favorite photo of this trip. 

Light, Shade, History

Following aimlessly the guide through various corridors, you'll suddenly end up in the balcony of this enormous sized hall. This is the central hall. It is one of the largest of its kind in the world without any external support of wood, iron, or stone beams. The roof, which is said to be 16 feet thick, with a weight of nearly 20,000 tons, has been put together with interlocking bricks without using a beam or a girder. Astonishing!!! No wonder that it is considered to be a unique achievement in the field of architecture. Another very famous and interesting fact associated with the hall - the acoustics of the hall are such that you can even hear the strike of a matchstick across the length of the hall. This hall houses the graves of both the creator, Asaf-ud-Daula, and the designer, Kifayat-ullah, of this monument. Another interesting and unique fact!

Bara Imambara: The Central Hall

Leaving the hall, you enter another doorway following the guide and are once again lost in the darkness and confusion of passages. At some places in corridors, it is complete dark and you move ahead only by feeling the walls on your sides. 

Interesting Corridors of Bhul Bhulaiya

While at some other places, you find beautifully lit junctures like the one below. In the shot, don't miss the Indian way of graffiti on the walls- few of us don't ever miss leaving our personalized expressions on the places we visit! 

Beautiful Descent of Sunlight

While passing through the corridors, you get to see the Asfi Mosque in all its splendor. I particularly liked this frame from where the tombs of mosque were visible.

Asfi Mosque Tombs

Finally, through many narrow allys and staircases, you emerge on the terrace and get to see the breathtaking view of the Lucknow city. After another long photo session on the terrace, we moved down and proceeded to another attraction in the complex - the baoli. Baoli is five-storied step-well, with the first two stories being above water and the rest being under water. The one thing that stroked me most about it was the beautiful color of the walls.

Another attraction: Five Storied Baoli

The source of water for this baoli is said to be the Gomti river. The maintenance of the water was poor as I could see an entire ladder lying in it!

Baoli: Another View

While I was busy clicking pictures, I overheard a guide telling a group of visitors about this special spot in baoli. He revealed that the gate of the baoli and one window were so perfectly aligned that by standing behind that particular window, a person could see anyone entering into the baoli. This was used to monitor the gate of baoli. I didn't waste time and clicked one shot as souvenir!

Baoli:  The window from where one can monitor the entrance

When we left Imambara, it left a wealth of memories for me. Some of them in form of pictures.

Historic cities have a lot of character imbibed in them, which can, to a certain extent, be felt through pictures. However, one has to be there to 'truly' experience it. I hope these pictures will encourage the traveller in you to get up and visit this wonderful city. And mind you, I've only touched the tip of the iceberg, there is much more to see and do in Lucknow.

Ok then, bye for now and if you liked the post, don't forget to leave your comments. I'm waiting...

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Red Fort (Lal Quila), Old Delhi : 12 Visuals You Wouldn't Have Noticed Yourself

While roaming through the lanes of Chandni Chowk and Chawri Bazaar, strolling in the Sunday book market at Daryaganj, eating out Mughlayi non vegetarian delicacies at the famous Karim's opposite Jama Masjid, one can't help but surrender to the fact that Old Delhi is another world in itself – it has its own pace, energy, vibrancy and yes- charm. I've visited and photographed most of these places but somehow one gentle giant has always been elusive for my lens. Ok, no points for guessing. I would be seriously offending your wits by asking this question, given that I know you've already read the title of the post. Yes, I'm talking about our very own, Dilli ki shan, the Red Fort!

I've now lost count of how many times I've left Red Fort on the side walk while going to or coming from the Old Dehi Railway Station – It has always been that red old building I wanted to visit but couldn't as you could say "the stars were not right". So, one fine day, which was in no ways special than my other days - other than the fact that my hands were etching to hold the camera - I decided that yes, today I'm going to Red Fort and shoot. And as it happens, once you make up your mind for something, there is no looking back. So I got ready, took the next bus to Old Delhi, which dropped me right outside the fort. The first feeling when I looked at the fort was AHA, here I come!

The weather was all good and this being a weekend, there was a huge rush. Well, good for me, the more the people, the more the photo ops! I bought the tickets (one for entry to the fort and the other for the museum inside), deposited my bag pack in cloak room (they don't permit these inside), got in the long line and got busy with my camera right away. And I think I should shut up for now and let the photos do the talking. Immerse yourself...

Moving towards the fort, I spotted these beautiful purple colored wild flowers. Clicked a coupled of shots but somehow the concept was not clicking. Then thought of clicking them against the towering backdrop of the tombs. Tombs added the much needed perspective.

Red Fort: Wild Flowers

For me, nude monuments are dull and boring, its the presence of the living that makes them colorful and attractive. And what's it with historic monuments and pigeons, eh? They get along like house on fire ;-)

Who Flew!

The main entrance of the fort looks awesome – the Lahori Gate, named so since it faces Lahore, Pakistan. Standing outside the massive gate, looked up and saw the Indian Tricolor furling well, it was an awesome feeling. In this pic, I wanted to cover the gate as well but didn't have the right wide angle lens to do it. Still tried to capture as much as I could...

Red Fort: Lahori Gate

Move inside and you are right into the 'Meena Bazaar', also known as 'Chhatta Chowk Bazaar' meaning covered market. It was buzzing with activity. There was some painting work going on. The guy at the far end of the picture, up the ladder, was busy in his own work, irrespective of the sea of people below.

Red Fort: Meena Bazaar

How many times you have seen chilies and lemon, sewn in a thread, hanging on the entrances of shops, on the bumpers of cars or other vehicles? Have you ever counted the chilies ;-) Well, I guess not. There are seven of them. Now why are they used? I found two explanations for this. First (and the more logical one) is to ward off evil spirits or jealous glances from your article of possession. Second (and the funnier one) is to keep one's business 'Hara Bhara' (growing and prosperous), chilies being 'Hara' (Green) and lemon 'Bhara' (full) ;-)

Seven Chilies and One Lemon: Keep the Evil off

From the point where I was standing, the long lasting chain of electric bulbs was looking very interesting. So here goes the only vertical frame of this post. 

The Bulb Chain

At such a crowded place, people usually don't spot a lone photographer. Actually, there are so many tourists, poking there cameras in each and every possible direction that separating one out is quite difficult. As I was clicking frames of my interest and suddenly caught this guy staring at my lens. Some faces really catch you attention. And in a flash of second, another click!

Not Another Face in the Crowd

The museum in the fort, the Indian War Memorial Museum to be precise, has all sorts of old and world war time weaponry. The Naubat Khana or Naqqar Khana (Musical house) of the Fort houses the museum in its first and second floors. Making interesting pictures here is bit difficult. So I tried this – created this frame and waited for someone to be caught in the trap. Finally clicked :)

The Man and the Machine

What impressed me with the floral drawings on the walls of Diwan-i-Khas are their natural looking colors. Tried one macro on it...

Beautiful Flower Drawings

Standing below the Diwan-i-Aam platform, I clicked many moving feet. Sharing these ones. Those who saw this shot, found it kind of symbolic - the older generation moving into oblivion after the work has been done.

I Leave...

Now comes the most cherished shot of this visit. I love photographing people but the problem is the most interesting faces in the crowd are strangers. Now how to proceed strangers for a shot? I've been following good photographers who suggest that its easy. One needs to politely ask for the permission, make them comfortable and shoot. Sure, its easy to read, but tough to execute. It was basically a mental block on my side. That day, I saw these two friends spending a good time chatting to each other. Both looked interesting characters. I gathered courage, approached them and asked them that I wanted to photograph them. They readily agreed but became conscious of camera and ended up posing, which was not what I intended. Still love these guys and yes, I'm going to be careful in future :)

Friends, Always and Forever!

Finally, the last shot of this post. Leaving the fort, I went to collect my bag pack and on my way back, saw the shadows of the police men. Shadows always provide exciting visuals. Here goes...

Shadows on the Wall

All in all, a good trip. Loads of shots and one satisfactory realization – I might not have an army with me, but I conquered Red fort with my camera! Hope you liked the post. If you did, there are a lot of options on this page for you to acknowledge that. On top of that, I would absolutely love your comments and feedback. Do wait for the next post. Till then, ciao and a very Happy Independence Day to all of you.

PS: Its purely a coincidence that this post and Independence day are coinciding. Believe it if you can ;-)