Bara Imambara Tomb, The Residency, Uttar Pradesh, India
This colossal imambara (tomb dedicated to a Shiite holy man) is worth seeing in its own right, but the highly unusual labyrinth of corridors inside its upper floors make a visit here particularly special. The ticket price includes entrance to Chota Imambara, the clock tower and the baradari (summer palace), all walking distance from here.
The complex is accessed through two enormous gateways which lead into a huge courtyard. On one side is an attractive mosque, on the other a large baori (step-well) which can be explored. Bring a torch (flashlight). At the far end of the courtyard is the huge central hall, one of the world’s largest vaulted galleries. Tazias (small replicas of Imam Hussain’s tomb in Karbala, Iraq) are stored inside and are paraded around during the Shiite mourning ceremony of Muharram.
But it’s what is beyond the small entrance – intriguingly marked ‘labyrinth’ – to the left of the central hall, that steals the show. It leads to the Bhulbhulaiya, an enticing network of narrow passageways that winds its way inside the upper floors of the tomb’s structure, eventually leading out to rooftop balconies. As with the step-well, it’s handy to have a torch.
Just beyond the Bara Imambara is the unusual but imposing gateway Rumi Darwaza, said to be a copy of an entrance gate in Istanbul. ‘Rumi’ (relating to Rome) is the term Muslims applied to Istanbul when it was still Byzantium, the capital of the Eastern Roman empire. Over the road is the beautiful white mosque Tila Wali Masjid, a deceptively shallow building built in 1680. The interior is repainted periodically over the original designs.
If you are a heterosexual couple, you will be required to pay for a guide (₹100) to prevent any hanky panky in the labyrinth (yes, we’re serious).
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