Happiest City Index: a joyous case of the Indian identity of Kanpur


For a city so notorious for its quality of air that has it continuously featuring on the list of worst polluted urban areas of the world and notorious as well in its sterotypification as an identity of gutkha chewing and spitting people, Kanpur has come to find distinction in an unrelated, even contrary aspect of its living. One of the world’s happiest cities and the only entrant from India in the 2023 list, this Uttar Pradeshi conglomerate of numerous claims comes across as quite a pleasantly peculiar place to fancy.

Finding expression in such newfound reputation just outside the top 10 in a listing of 40 such places basking in the cheer of living is this city that exuberates today also in the joy of some associated resplendence. Kanpur is also the most affordable among all the happiest cities even as the occurring of this collective identity draws upon its distinction of a 10th place standing as both a sunny haven and a friendly abode of people.

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With so much working for this unusual contender of chasing the bright, happy feels- and sunny vibes, which to be frank is not so surprising given that the concept of happiness itself is subjective as well as unspecific, Kanpur seems to be outliving even the rich legacy of its history. That, along with its continuing charm of a curated diversity in all matters of culture and cuisine, heritage and hustle, beauty and beyond has only furthered the flair in which this Manchester of the East finds frisky fame in.

It’s very exciting eponym of being likened to the world’s first industrialised city of Manchester draws upon its prominent popularity. A hub of chemical, textile and leather industries, particularly preeminent in the latter occurring, Kanpur stands up to its glory of being an important commercial centre. As the city where the first woolen mill was set up in India, the magnificence of which asserts till today as the Lal Imli, this current global positioning of Kanpur as being also a place close to getting as happy as can be only enthuses the already accomplished contours of its populous identity.

Buzzing in the lingo of its commerce and crowded in the count of its people, the vibe of Kanpur might be majorly one of a very urban uttering. It also would be in such accounts of ‘modernity’ that the city has for long been dwelling in a cloud of dust dawning upon it also the dubious distinction of being the world’s most polluted city at one point of time. And that it has yet managed to claim space amidst an utopia of spaces globally acknowledged as being happy and sunny and friendly speaks therefore of a beauty innate to its being, largely deciphered and explored but somewhat downplayed as well.

The character of Kanpur is one of a harmonious salubrity. Even in its definite existence as a metropolitan identity, the city lives through some very significant strands of religious and spiritual significance. Some kilometers away from the centre of the city is a place that assumes all importance as being the center of the earth. The Brahmavart Ghat at Kanpur is where humankind is said to have been birthed from, by Lord Brahma who Himself inhabited this very place. And yet for some reason, this holiest of the holy ghats is not as well known despite it being steeped in such measure of mythology. The touristry prospects of this place are rather promising though, with its locational setting along the banks of the Ganga river making it a vantage point to witness spectacular sunrises while also alluring in all the abundance of natural beauty.

Mythology continues to unravel through this land of what finds greater presentation in less celebratory aspects of its defining. Home to one of the most unique temples called the Dashanan Temple that is open only one particular day of the year is the city of Kanpur, where the demon king Ravana is held in reverence. On the Dashami day that marks the culmination of the Durga Puja celebrations, the temple is opened and its presiding deity worshipped. Believed to be the guard of Lord Shiva and Goddess Chinmastika besides being an embodiment of ‘Shakti’ and ‘Gyan’, the 10 headed Ravana finds devotion from unexpected quarters in a country celebrating the legacy of Lord Ram.

It however isn’t just the spiritual premise that curates for the temple an identity in distinction. Remarkable also is the architectural impression of the structure that is housed in an even more interesting premise of cultural composition. At the famous Shivala Bazaar of Kanpur where the Dashanan Temple along with a Shiva Temple finds their place of sanctity, the surrounding vibe is one of a more human eclecticism. A popular wedding market of the city and one that offers as well a delectable blend of culture and cuisine, such character of curiousness spins for the entire Kanpuri narrative a significance belied by its more rampant pop cultural presentation.

The essence of the religious continues to be infused into the greater breath of what life in Kanpur emerges as, with the aesthetics taken care of as well so as to unfold an experience in encountering the joys of many a pleasant surprises. Consider for instance the Jain Glass Temple or Kanch Ka Mandir and the beauty of what reflects through this entire construct of glass indeed makes for a view as enriching as what it affords through the ultimate nature of divine devotion.

Venturing into such realms that afford a deeper reach into the essence of Kanpur’s leathery luxuriousness and one would land up in its suburb of Jajmau. The oldest and largest exposition of the characteristic Kanpur fame in its leathered legion, the littleness of Jajmau’s geographical range holds in its might a staggering worth of some 1500 crores as annual revenue. With everything from leather clothes to leather footwear as well as the in-betweens of accessories accruing from this archaeologically also prominent site, Jajmau is another definite dimension within which the Kanpuri identity scouts distinction.

Sitting atop this ‘mound’ of the leather reputation is also one very spectacular place of religious regard. Called the Jinnat Mosque that which reverberates in an aura of the mystic as well as the spiritual, this immaculate specimen of an Islamic evoking isn’t the only presence of divinity in this otherwise exclusively industrial township. Jajmau also houses the ancient temples of Siddhnath and Siddha Devi and is therefore also referred to as Siddhapuri.

jajmau mosque
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Like its construct in the world famous export of leather, Kanpur also is as essentially encapsulated in its identity by the unmissable magnificence of the Lal Imli. The historical significance of this quirkily named cotton mill itself is indubitable but also prominent would be the specificness of its architectural grandeur. Replicating England’s iconic Palace of Westminster in its architecture as well in its locational settings, complete with a Big Ben like clocktower, the red bricked assertion of Lal Imli is impressive presentation then of a Kanpur highly regarded in its numerous flaunts of heritage.

lal imli kanpur
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A century old structure and the only survivor of all of Kanpur’s textile industry, the presence of Lal Imli is precisely the reason why the city came to be known as the Manchester of the East. Evoking an emotion of wonder in its every expression of many beauties, Kanpur perhaps is perfectly pitched in acquiring for itself the current day status in happiness so much so that has earned it a place of prestige upon a globally curated list.

Wonder flows through the many meandering spaces of which shapes the Kanpuri physicality. Be it the country’s first Plastic Waste Ludo Park or the Kanpur Zoological Park also called the Allen Forest Zoo being one of the few zoos in India to be created in a natural habitat, the city has forever lived up to its own envisioned ideals of uniqueness. There also is the Nana Rao Park that might be in a present day celebration of Nana Sahib but back in history, it commemorated the massacre of British women and children during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 and was known then as the Memorial Well.

History comes to life also in the official museum of Kanpur, the architecturally grand Kanpur Sangrahalaya as it does upon the Satti Chaura or Massacre Ghat that is quite esteemed in its touristry value. Tourism also is an exploration afforded across the Ganges Barrage in its picturesque facades of the waters and the greens. Similarly vibrant in the feels of such natural splendor would be the Moti Jheel and the adjoining Moti Park even as the aesthetics of the Japani Garden entice in an altogether different range of its visuals. Religion however is the element most expressed and explored through the greater Kanpuri range of living, with churches and temples in particular summing up its intention of the Godly.

Be it the architectural consonance struck between expressions of the ancient and the modern in the Radhakrishna Temple or what is also known as the J K Temple, the Bhitargaon Temple that exists as the oldest remaining terracotta Hindu shrine with a roof and a high Sikhara, the Anandeshwar Temple where Karna is believed to have worshipped Lord Shiva, the Kanpur Memorial Church or the All Souls Cathedral that is historic again a structure of as much beauty as of spirituality, every encounter with the religious in the happy city of Kanpur is guaranteed to be one immensely fulfilling experience of its travel and exploring.

In other areas of interest, there would be places like the Green Park Stadium and the Portuguese Cemetery or the Gautam Buddha Park, as well as the bustling local markets of Becon Ganj and Sisamau that each holds within themselves diverse worlds of delightful options to explore and experience in all beauty. Witnessing the true colors of Kanpur could nowhere occur as more frenzied an experience than through its annual Ganga Mela. An extravaganza that unfurls on the last day of the week long celebration of the Holi festival, immersing oneself into the medley of sounds and events and fun that sum up this fair is one of the most happening ways to lap up every feel and emotion of happiness and congeniality that makes this city reveal as remarkably different and beautiful than what it is perceived to be.

The coffers of the characteristic Kanpuri happiness are also continuously fed into by the tastes of its cooking, the flavors of which are as delectable as they tend to be whimsical in some of the elements. Consider the exponentially sparked interest in sweetmeats coursing in through the famous Kanpuri trail of Thaggu ke Ladoo and one could not help but be joyful indeed in the anticipation of what curates such character of the cuisinal of a city that is compelling in its every curation. That only is an embodiment of the greater mavericks in which Kanpur finds vibrant expression as a kaleidoscope of the joys and laughs and delights of a live experience that in turn enthuses it thus in all hues of happiness.