Faizabad - Ayodhya's twin city
India is full of tiny towns with interesting histories. This hub is about one such small place in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Faizabad, a city close to my heart as my wedding reception was held here. No I don't belong to the place, it just happened to be the place my parents were living in when I got married. I spent my first Diwali as a married woman here in an old house that was constructed by the British during the Raj.
This sleepy little place is a one horse town. It has more area as a cantonment than what was traditionally the town. Being an old cantonment of the British days it still has Grant Houses intermingling with the Cantt areas. Though things are changing fast with new areas being developed on the so called outskirts and some of the MNCs discovering it.
It has a famous neighbour. A place which everyone has heard of for sure after Dec 6th 1999 – Ayodhya. In fact the roads and shops are now so close that one can be forgiven for believing that the Ram Janam Bhoomi lies in Faizabad itself. Of course if you do not like crowds you must make sure that you do not visit this town during any of the important festivals associated with Ram ji.
Even if you are not religiously inclined pure curiosity will help you enjoy the tented temporary temple of “Ram Lala” (Baby Ram). You actually feel like you are entering a high security prison. Not surprising when it is one of the political hot spots and one of the most sensitive areas of the country. Faizabad is predominantly Muslim and Ayodhya has a high Hindu population so clashes over religious sentiment are very easy to stir up.
The temple town of Ayodhya has more temples per square foot than any other city in the whole of India. Some are ancient dating back to 8th century and others are more recent dating back to the 1980s. You can not go ten paces without hitting a temple, big or small dedicated to one of the hundreds of patron Gods that the Hindus worship. Although being Ayodhya you will find most of the temples associated with characters from the Ramayan.
If you have had your fill of temples you can head for Sita’s Palace. It is said that when Lord Ram’s Father, Dushrat first saw his daughter-in-law Sita he presented her with this palace as her “Muh Dikhai”.The place is over run with moneys as they are considered Hanuman ji and are said to be Sita Devi’s guards. They also tend to have a keen interest in any packages that you might be holding so leave anything unnecessary in the car when you do the parikrama.
If you are tired of palaces and old, dilapidated, dirty buildings head for the River Sarayu. If you remember your Ramayan correctly you will recall that Ram, Laxman and Sita were helped by a boatsman to cross the river into the Jungles beyond. The ghat where they crossed over is now a popular tourist destination. Some people even take a dip in the holy river which is actually much cleaner than the mess at the sangam at Allahabad. In fact if you go early in the morning you will find the local lads swimming there.
After visiting all these places if you still have the urge to roam around, and given the heat and dirt in the place you might not want to, you can head for Company Baagh. As the name suggests it was a garden conceived of by the officials of the erstwhile East India Company. Now it is being looked after by the local government with the help of the Army. This is what helps keep it cleaner and greener than the rest of the town.
The place may be small but the shopping is great. If you are fond of embroidery this is the place to get it done. The Muslim population is feathered with Tailors who are all experts at embroidery. You can give them what cloth you want and have it embroidered with the design you choose in the shades that you want it. The best part of course is the price. Haggle as they expect you to do so.
In the central area of the Town Square you will also have access to a number of gold shops. The one I would recommend is a double storied one to the right of the Tower Clock. This guy has silver on the ground floor and gold on the first floor. You can pick up some amazing artifacts and jewelry for a fraction of the price you will pay in a big town like Delhi.
The town’s old market is highly congested and you might have a cow trying to poke her head into the car if your window is lowered. You will find the latest smuggled goods from Nepal, given the proximity to Gorakhpur. Again if the piece of crystal is unavailable with them at present just point it out in the catalogue and they will have it waiting for you the next time you visit them, usually within a fortnight.
Unique to Faizabad
There is a house in the older part of town which is believed to be the place of birth of Umrao Jaan. The present occupants profess to being the direct descendants of her brother and also show you some memorabilia if you are interested in it. Umrao Jaan was abducted by her father's enemy when she was just a child and taken to Lucknow where she was sold to a brothel. However her voice was so melodious that men would flock to hear her sing and dance the "Mujra" and she became a minor celebrity in the town. Bollywood has even made two films on her rather unique life.