This is perhaps the best time of the year to be in Lucknow. At this time of the year, the numerous gardens in the sun soaked city are in full bloom. Taking advantage of the pleasantly cool weather, countless flower shows and festivals are hosted.

The season kicked off with a two-day Chrysanthemum show, which had 72 exhibitors showing 569 exhibits. The audience was huge as the city's popular flower show was held after a break of two years due to the Pandemic.

However, the most awaited event is the flower show in the sprawling garden of the 200 year old Kothi Hayat Baksh. This is the official residence of the Governor of Uttar Pradesh (UP).

Every spring the doors of the majestic Raj Bhawan are open to flower lovers for a three-day show of blossoms and plants of every aroma, hue and colour. The kothi was planned by Lucknow's most famous European Claude Martin and built by then ruler Sadaat Ali Khan.

Martin came to India in 1785 as the bodyguard of the French general Thomas Arthur comte de Lally. Once in Lucknow, he made the city his home and died here at the start of the 19th Century after having designed many buildings incorporating European architectural elements with local designs and commissioned by the affluent rulers of the city.

Lucknow has always been famous as a city of gardens. Every second neighbourhood is called a bagh or a garden like Aishbagh, Alambagh, Charbagh, Kaiserbagh or Lalbagh. The city is home to the National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) on the premises of a 19th Century pleasure garden enjoyed by the rulers of the city.

Wajid Ali Shah, last king of Avadh had gifted the royal garden to his favourite wife Sikander Mahal Begum. To this day the place is called Sikander Bagh. The British used the Sikander Bagh for hectic horticultural activities in the early 20th Century involving well known horticulturists like Dr. J. Cameron, Dr. E. Bonavia and GM Ridley.

Indian plant scientists Professor Birbal Sahni and Dr SK Mukerjee converted the place into a national botanical garden in the 1930s with the purpose of studying medicinal plants. After independence Professor KN Kaul served as the first director of the national institute for plant science research. The 25 hectares of land with a herbarium, two laboratories and a huge library is transformed into a hi-tech research institute with state-of-the-art facilities, taking on advanced research at a globally competitive level.

The rose and gladiolus show is annually held here in January, mainly to instil a love for floriculture amongst citizens.

The Begum Fest

Salempur Estate hosts a Begum Fest on the lawns of its Lucknow home. The theme this year is Rooh-e-Lucknow, a tribute to the soul of the city which are its colourful mohallas or neighbourhoods and to the staunch belief of most residents in the time tested maxim of live, and let live.

The highlight of the festival is a photo exhibition by Mosaddiq Reza Qummi, an award winning photographer known for capturing different aspects of human life around their social milieu.

Yet another corner of the city promises a series of sher-o-shairi, ghazal, music, dance, drama, book launch, discussions, dastangoi and local meals at the annual Lucknow Expressions Society Metaphor Lucknow Lit Fest that celebrates its 10th anniversary with 36 events and 60 artists. Star attractions at the fest this year are poet Javed Akhtar and actor Shabana Azmi along with Kathak Queen Shovana Narayan.

"We are excited to host two thrilling days of conversations, connections and camaraderie," said Kanak Rekha Chauhan founder, Metaphor Lucknow Lit Fest. The city has come to expect much from the Lucknow Expressions Society as it has spent a decade to create a space for everyone to enjoy art and literature without asking citizens to buy tickets.

Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival

The very popular Mahindra Sanatkada Lucknow Festival (MSLF) is round the corner adding to the on-going celebrations in the city. The curtain raiser events included shaadi ke naghmat, an evening of songs sung at traditional weddings.

No wedding is complete without the involvement of music. A few days before the wedding day, the relatives and friends associated with the bride and bridegroom, usually women, gather together for an evening of music, dance and laughter. The songs, sung in the local languages, are traditional, some being passed down quite a few generations.

They are humorous in nature, poking good-natured fun at the soon-to-be wedded couple's relatives. They are vital in establishing the celebratory wedding spirit. The event took place in an art deco home of a local resident. Earlier the organisers had paid tribute to contemporary music composed in the city.

The theme of the festival that will be held in February is raqs-o-mausiqui or dance and music this year and the idea is to provide a medley of every form of dance and music found in the cultural scenario of the region from the past to the present from the kathak gharana of Lucknow to the mystical traditions of qawwali and sufi music.

Music has always been an important component of our culture. The festival this year will see Lucknow through its traditional songs that tell a story, to many different traditional musical instruments unique to Awadhi culture, to the energetic beats of taali during qawwali, or the light, happy notes of the Shenai to inspire us on a different level, said Madhavi Kuckreja, founder MSLF which is in its 14th year.

Women on the Move

Note how women like Kanak Rekha Chauhan, Madhavi Kuckreja and organisers of the Begum Fest are keeping alive the traditions of the city, especially for the youth. Kavita Devi is yet another woman worth celebrating here.

Kavita is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Khabar Lahariya, the only women-led digital rural media network in the country. She is the first Dalit to become a member of the Editor's Guild of India. As the CEO of Chambal Media, Kavita trains young women in rural India for a career in the media.

"We have designed a course on mobile journalism, and want women from rural areas to become journalists, producers and filmmakers. We want to empower them to make their dreams come true," she said, adding that they have trained approximately 270 women so far.

Born to a family of farmers in Kunjan Purwa village near Banda in UP, Kavita was married at the age of 12. Despite resistance from her family and villagers, she educated herself and published a two-page black-and-white broadsheet called Mahila Dakia that had articles written by women in the local Bundeli language. Today her village is so proud of Kavita.