CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.

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‘Chowk’ existed in most cities and towns of India since the Mughal days. It is central for culture hubs, shopping, entertainment studios, and culinary. The term ‘Chowk’ was used for the crossing. Similarly, Lucknow has its own ‘Chowk’, an epicentre of all the activities. To know Lucknow from the closest proximity-Chowk is the place to be.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Picture of Old Chowk

I wanted to explore the nightlife of Chowk, so I decided to take a historical walk starting from Lal Pul, Tila Wali Masjid, Bara Imambara, Gol Darwaja, Chowk Bazaar, Phool Wali Gali to Akbari Darwaja. I met my Guide at Lal Pul; he was standing there with a water bottle. The walk was for 3 hrs, depending on our speed, and it can end in 2 hours too. We walked back to Teele Wali Masjid just across the Pul. On the bank of River Gomti stands the most prominent and beautiful Sunni Mosque, giving a glimpse of Mughal Architecture. Built on 125 Bigha land, it was gifted land to Hazrat Shah Peer Muhammad.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Tila Wali Masjid

It is a beautiful Indo-Islamic construction with three enormous domes on the top, which are surrounded by two exquisite minarets; these minarets consist of five storeys, in addition to three small bastions (Burji) at the front and four forts at the back. There are three windows for cross ventilation inside the mosque. There are seven gateways to enter the campus of the mosque.

The Mosque

Lal Pul, also known as ‘Pakka Pul, ‘ was built for 100 years. This bridge replaced the Royal Bridge, also called the Shahi Bridge, created by the ruler Asaf-ud-Daula. The Sahi Bridge was broken up in 1911 when the new bridge foundation was laid. In 1914, the British opened the Lal Pul- one of the few bridges firmly withstood the Gomti River’s floods.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Lal Pul

As we walked, he started talking about Chowk, a place where the clock has stopped moving or moving slowly, preserving a lot of the old-world charm, mainly the signature laid-back attitude of Lucknow. Moreover, Chowk is a vast area, and within its periphery are all the markets catering to all and with everything. He further said Chowk had a considerable Hindu and Muslim population long before the days of Emperor Akbar. And here, traffic truly gets chaotic to an epic degree.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Chowk Area

It is believed that Chowk was established in 1775 when Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula shifted the capital of Awadh from Faizabad to Lucknow. However, this is not the correct speculation as Akbari Darwaza, a famous south gate and part of Chowk, existed since Emperor Akbar and the Firangi Mahal. Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula added Gol Darwaza on the north of Chowk, an entrance from the side of Macchi Bhawan, the fort. Chowk’s current landmarks are Gol Darwaza and the Tomb of Shah Mina, a celebrated Muslim mystic.

Current Chowk Status

Talking about the Gol Dawraza, Wazir Begum from the royal family of Awadh was the architect. Since then
Chowk became ‘go to’ for most needs, flowers, ‘Chikan’, ‘Zari’, ‘Itar’, ‘Huqqa’, ‘Topi’, kites, tobacco, silver, etc. Even Asaf-ud-Daula frequented Gol Darwaza to fulfil his love for kite-flying from the rooftop of this gate.

The night Bazar of Chowk

Just outside the Gol Dawraza, many vendors were selling Nimish, a heavenly dessert which transports taste buds to a realm of pure delight. Nimish is a traditional Awadhi delight known for its delicate texture and melt-in-your-mouth goodness resulting from skilled craftsmanship and the perfect balance of ingredients. Nimish, also known as Makhan Malai, is primarily prepared in winter. And I was lucky enough to Immerse myself in the rich heritage and culinary prowess of Awadh.

Nimish Vendor

While looking around me, I could only see heavily encroached Nawabi-era decaying structures. The Chowk market–a typical Indian bazaar street was bursting with unbelievably narrow houses and large markets. The imposing darwaza dwarfed all and gave some semblance of structure to the area. From here, my experiences began when I saw humungous traffic, not because of vehicles or people but the calm tea-sipping, gutkha-eating, pan-chewing police officers. With a metaphysical disinterest, they keep looking upon this physical reality, boasting the signature laid-back attitude of Lucknow.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Old Decaying Structure

The Darwaza is not round, but it is adequately significant as the alley, also known as Phoolwali Gali. It is about three feet in width with an unending line of bikes. And flower shops on both ends, making the entire alley smell divine. This historic core displays a combination of unique cultural attractions prominently in the form of its built environment.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Phoolwali Gali

Further ahead was small Karkhanas dotting the entire street and letting travellers like us quickly peek at some work in progress. It was the reflection of Nawabs as great patrons of art where few traditional crafts that can still be seen here include Zardozi work (gold embroidery), Chikan work (especially block-printing the designs), Kites making and some iconic Ittar shops. Chowk is not only the cradle for the craftmanship but also in loudness – both in design and decibel counts – but you can find one of your kind.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Zardosi Karkhana

Crossing another lane led me to the oldest Unani hospital, a geriatric medicine came to India with Islam, which was promptly accepted and assimilated into the culture. The Unani Dawakhana here is quite old but still functional and as popular as Ayurveda centres, and both use herbs and traditional medicines for treatment. The Hakim sits here every day and sees patients for a nominal fee. But the tradition is dying away with time.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Unani Dawakhana

Now, we were entering an exciting section of the walk: the discovery of Tolas. Since I am from Uttar Pradesh, I have heard that a Tola is a community-specific housing area with one entry and only one exit. The fascinating part of the Tola is its interconnectedness. That means the exit of one Tola becomes the entry of another Tola. It has mainly been done for security reasons in the past. But it’s a maze way more complicated than Bhul Bhulaiya and, unfortunately, much less famous.


Walking around for over an hour, admiring the crowd and letting the locals admire us, we reached the era of Nawabs-The Kothas. Now, this reminds me of Umrao Jaan- a famous courtesan whose life story also echoes the story of the rise and fall of the city and when she disappeared into oblivion after the mutiny of 1857. These Kothas are glorified brothels, but the reality is far from today’s truth. Lucknow’s famous Tehzeeb was learnt from these Kothas by Nawab & other wealthy men and getting familiar with the opposite gender. Moreover, Nawabs being the patrons of art and dance, Kathak flourished in these kothas. The demise of Kothas to brothels happened after the nawabs were disposed of from Lucknow.

Kotha’s Era

Walking towards Akbari Gate, my nostrils flared with sweet, floral & woody scents of Ittars, whose history is closely linked to the account of the Kothas in the city. Though Unnao is the place to be for perfume, there is also a vibrant perfume industry here. These Kothas were also the key reason for so many Iitar shops. To hide the sweat odour from the Kathak dance, kotha women used a lot of it to smell good when Nawabs visited them. Moreover, perfumes were also much loved by the Nawabs.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.

Our last milestone was Firangi Mahal before we entered gastronomic pleasures. This Mahal was where the European traders lived during the Aurangzeb period. And how it got its name, too. Later, this was converted into a centre of Islamic studies. A prominent centre of learning, often compared to Oxford and Cambridge in England.

Firangi Mahal

I kept walking, finally to see Raheem ki Nihar, from where I packed our dinner.

CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.
Raheem Ki Nihari

From there, we walked to Banwali Gali after bidding farewell to our guide. I kept asking for Ram Asrey’s shop at each turn, ensuring I reached the correct shop. And why was I heading to it to fulfil my gastronomical impulse for Kali Gazar ka Halwa? The delicious black beauty of Ram Asrey was established in 1805.

Ram Asrey’s Sweet Shop

Though the Chowk has faded with time, it has retained some of its old glamour. There is an intermingled aroma of the fragrance of “Itra”, scented oil and delicious sweets under preparation in the air. The market has a large number of “Gota and Kinari” shops, “Saryaf Khanas” and “Attar” shops. Thus, even today, this place is a unique shopping arcade where gold and silver merchants, chikan workers, flower vendors at phool wali gali, and zari-jamdani specialists are found in the same place.

One thought on “CHOWK: A living Museum of Lucknow.

  1. You are a great guide and your in-depth knowledge about places is excellent.your blogs motivates us and guides us properly to see the beauty of India.Thanks

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