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At 200, Chowringhee cousin let down by Lucknow

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Tapas Chakraborty Published 02.01.11, 12:00 AM
Hazratganj Road on New Year’s Eve. Picture by Naeem Ansari,(Below)A map drawn by the British army in 1857 shows Hazratganj Road. The British advanced through the road to defeat the sepoys

Lucknow, Jan. 1: As Calcutta’s Chowringhee welcomed the New Year last night, its counterpart in Lucknow missed a date with history.

The Uttar Pradesh capital was to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its main thoroughfare Hazratganj Road, which was modelled on Chowringhee in 1810, sometime last year.

But the city’s development authority kept missing deadline after deadline for the road’s repair and beautification, which includes renovating and giving a coat of pink and cream to every building flanking it, from shops, bars and restaurants to heritage palaces and mansions.

At midnight yesterday, the 2km road, on which the Raj army had once marched to the residency to put down the sepoys, turned 201 years old without the bicentenary celebrations. Even the usual New Year parties in the upscale street were largely missing because Hazratganj Road is still partially closed for repairs.

Bahujan Samaj Party sources said the planned yearlong celebrations might now begin on January 15, the birthday of chief minister Mayavati.

“It wasn’t planned that way, but now the chief minister may herself flag off the bicentenary programmes on January 15, by when all work would hopefully be complete. It will be her birthday gift to Lucknow’s people,” a senior party leader said.

Many residents have been left disappointed, among them a descendant of Nawab Sadaat Ali Khan, who built the road and many of the mansions on it, largely abandoning Mughal architecture for the European-style buildings he had so admired at Chowringhee.

“We missed a date with history. Everyone knows the road completed 200 years in 2010. Now the street is one year older. They could have begun the celebrations last year and let it spill onto 2011,” said Nawab Ibrahim Ali Khan of Sishmahal.

The celebrations are to kick off with a citizens’ procession, to be led by Lucknow’s oldest resident, 105-year-old Justice R.K. Sharma. The programme includes a roadside exhibition of old photographs of the street. This will be followed by cultural events, such as poetry competitions, through the year.

“But with the centenary year having passed, people will lose much of their enthusiasm,” said Pradip Kapoor, a senior journalist.

The street stretches from Kothi Nur Baux, home to the district magistrate’s office, in the west to Kothi Hayat Baux in the east, where the governor’s house is located.

It is flanked on either side by beautiful buildings such as the Begum Kothi, Khurshid Manzil, Sibtainabad, Amzad Ali Shah Imambarah and the Kankarwali Kothi, all built by Saadat Ali Khan, who ruled Awadh from January 21, 1798, to 1814.

This was the road that Lucknow’s last nawab, Wajed Ali Shah, took when he left his beloved capital for the last time.

Later, Hazratganj Road became an exclusive zone for British officers. It came to have Lucknow’s first bank, first fire station, first ice factory and the first dedicated English movie theatre.

Rosie Llewellyn-Jones, a historian of Lucknow who was here recently, said that sometime before his accession, Saadat had escaped to Calcutta after being implicated in a case. There, he fell in love with the handsome mansions that lined Chowringhee and decided to build a mini-Chowringhee in Lucknow.

So, the road was born. It was originally known as Ganj Road. It got its current name in 1842 when the then nawab, Amzad Ali, dedicated it to the memory of Hazrat Ali, whose tomb is in Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan.

Saadat, an enthusiastic builder, commissioned many other palaces in Lucknow, including the Dilkusha Palace, Hayat Baksh Kothi, Farhat Baksh Kothi, Lal Baradari, Chhatar Manzil, Kothi Dil Aram, Munawar Baksh and the Chaupar Stables.

Some of these were designed by noted architect Claude Martin, a French soldier who had turned a general in the British army, historian Yogesh Praveen said.

The Mayavati government woke up to the idea of celebrating the bicentenary in October. But the road had been badly encroached on and its old-world charm was fast fading in the face of unplanned construction.

The Lucknow Development Authority repaired the road, pavements and some heritage buildings, put up iron railings and Victorian-style street lamps, and built a fountain and a huge parking lot. Owners of private buildings were given loans if they couldn’t afford the cost of painting.

A non-government organisation, Lucknow Connect, was already planning bicentennial celebrations for the road but once the government entered the scene, it had to abide by the official deadline.

Mayavati kept sending note after note to her officials to finish the work on time, but Lucknow ended up letting down a part of its history.


Name: Hazratganj Road
Built: 1810
By: Nawab Saadat Ali Khan
Modelled on: Chowringhee Road, Calcutta
Known for: Beautiful European-style buildings in a city of arch and dome-dominated
Awadhi architecture. Later, known for Lucknow’s first bank, first fire station and first English movie theatre
Mansions: Begum Kothi, Khurshid Manzil, Sibtainabad, Amzad Ali Shah Imambarah, Kankarwali Kothi
Modern landmarks: Leading restaurants and bars
Witness to history: Last nawab Wajed Ali Shah took the road out of Lucknow; the Raj army marched on it to the residency during the 1857 war of independence

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