House-guests could well be Lucknow’s answer to extending Lucknawi Mehman-nawazi to foreign and domestic visitors in a big way.
Chikan embroidery and Kebabs may be enjoying international fame, but Lucknow’s tehzeeb that originally lured many in search of El Dorado to settle right here, is yet to reclaim its claim to fame. Lucknow as a cultural destination is hugely undersold, feel eminent Lucknowites.
Legendary bookseller Ram Advani confirms the take, “Foreign visitors usually share their surprise that they weren’t previously aware about how beautiful Lucknow was, and find their previously planned one or two day stop quite insufficient to soak up the cultural riches here.” Obviously, Lucknow is not only about an itinerary featuring illustrious monuments. One needs to live with local families to maximize the touristy feel, or so it seems going by neighbouring Rajasthan’s success story.
When asked about UP Tourism’s take on spear-heading a plan for house-guests in Lucknow, DG Om Prakash answered, “That’s a good idea. We should explore this, no doubt.” Secretary Aradhana Shukla informed that the Rajasthan govt was giving subsidies and investing in infrastructure to facilitate house guests, and “UP may begin with something in Varanasi and Agra. Screening and training of local families will be required.” Regardless of govt support, Varanasi’s localites are already capitalising on the cultural extravaganza that Varanasi is by hosting house-guests round the year.
While UP’s department for tourism still flounders with vague planning and uninspiring brochures, Lucknow’s private tour companies are capturing the imagination of French, American and European tourists. “High tea at LaMartiniere, picnicking at Malihabad, dining in a Nawabi home, watching a Kathak recital or even a Mujra, and,” you won’t come close to guessing this one, “a visit to the Dhobi ghat at Gomti,” is exhilarating their foreign guests, reports Ajay Jain, Vice-president of a city tour company. “Even though, we don’t have the means to send our presentations to World Travel Marts, we manage a steady flow of clients through word of mouth publicity,” sounds Ajay, and continues on a wistful note that, cultural tourism would escalate here if the tourism department should showcase the private sector’s unique ideas at international travel marts.
Nawab Mir Jafar is all praises for his late friend Jogendra Singh’s club ‘Experiments in International living’, started in the 70s, which did well for two decades. This facilitated an exchange programme for international house-guests. Quite like the visiting students and research scholars that visit Lucknow nowadays. “Muzaffar Ali is also eager to open a Nawabi Kothi in the city for house-guests,” informs the Nawab.
Lucknowite Prof Nishi Pandey is among the many who open their homes for foreign visitors, but not for monetary gains “Mehman-Nawazi is a sacred affair. I have had women visitors referred to me from Germany, Argentina, the US.” And she observes: “they enjoyed the personal association of a local to explain everyday things of our Nawabi city.”
Increased house-guests in Lucknow would obviously help “preserve the cultural heritage of Lucknow, and give local-families a new perspective on foreign lands and cultures,” feels Lucknowite Arshi Raza. And, this would be in sync with this year’s catch-phrase to promote worldwide tourism - ‘Enriching Tourism’.
Tourism is booming, according to trade analysts. And abreast of the trend, Commissioner RK Mittal reveals “The city’s master plan envisions Lucknow to become a hub for tourism.” In the year 2004, UP Tourism recorded a footfall of 31,166 foreign visitors to Lucknow. Now think of the rise in this number if locals open their homes and turn into guides in tandem with the authorities to sell Lucknow’s potential as a cultural destination. Wah Janaab, is may be what you’ll end up saying to the amazing results.