The Begum’s blooming Bauhinias

Bauhinia variegata

The ‘Residency’ in Lucknow is a township built by the Nawabs of Awadh for the British Residents, tracing back to 1774 AD. The 40-odd acre historical site consists of the ruins of several once-imposing buildings, and is one of the must-see sightseeing spots of Lucknow, having been declared a monument of national importance. It was the main centre of the revolt of 1857, and subjected to a five-month-long siege by the rebel forces in Lucknow.

Most of the buildings were destroyed in the battle. A few have been suitably restored, but most have been preserved by the Archelogical Survey of India in the same state as they were left after the siege in 1858. The buildings were named after their occupants or the purpose they served.

Bailey Guard Gate
Bailey Guard Gate from the outside – the entry to the Residency

Site plan of Residency

Main Residency Building
Main Residency Building
1857 Memorial Museum
1857 Memorial Museum

‘Begum Kothi’ was the only building in the Residency that was built in the traditional style of Awadh. According to information available, Begum Kothi was named after Malika Mukhdarah Aliya aka Vilayati Begum, the European wife of King Nasiruddin Haider. It was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula and was bought by some Europeans before it was bought by John Culloden, the Begum’s merchant grandfather. The Begum came to live here after the death of her husband. She herself is buried in the compound.

Begum Kothi
Begum Kothi

On entering the Begum Kothi compound, one is greeted by two beautiful pink-purple flowering trees. “Take some pictures… these are the only two of this kind in Lucknow.”, we heard someone tell his friends.

Trees at Begum Kothi
Bauhinia variegata trees at Begum Kothi

Looking up at the trees we could spot tiny birds (sunbirds?), jumping from branch to branch, sucking out the nectar from the exquisite flowers. My modest phone camera managed a record shot.

We didn’t get to check if the rarity of the trees in Lucknow was really true, but we did take a few pictures as the gentleman had suggested… from different angles, in the fading light as the setting sun shone through the branches.

Bauhinia canopy 1

Bauhinia canopy 2

Bauhinia variegata trees

Bauhinia at sunset

One branch was low enough to give us a close-up view of the flowers. Exquisite they really were – five-petalled, quite like orchids, and with the central one having special markings, similar to those seen in the orange Mayflower.

Bauhinia vriegata close-up

After a bit of research, we were able to ID the tree/flower – Bauhinia variegata / Kachnar / Orchid Tree, deciduous, belonging to the Gulmohar family. Indeed, if these trees were around during the time of the Begum, she surely would have loved them!

I myself revisited the place a couple of mornings later, with a different group of athlete friends (we were in Lucknow for the National Masters Athletics Meet), and got a picture under the Begum’s Bauhinia!

Under the Bauhinia tree

 

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