Lucknow: Other than colour, Holi in this part of the country is time for bacchus lovers to let their hair down. But as other places have moved to beer and other forms of alcohol like wine, vodka and Scotch, the elder generation in Lucknow is still hooked to the traditional thandai - a concoction of chilled milk, sugar syrup, almonds, cashewnuts, rose petals, fennel seeds, pepper and cardamom.
The old city on Wednesday buzzed with activity as more than a dozen shops in the Chowk area prepared for Holi and decked up their shops with earthern cups (kullhad) and glasses as they mixed the thandai in huge urns. The biggest of them all is at Raja Thandai, a shop run by the Tripathi brothers.
In the thandai business for the last four generations and 100 years, Ashish Tripathi, the owner, said that his hands were full this Holi.
With an order of more than 200 glasses from Lucknow District Magistrate Anil Sagar Holi was going to be a busy day, as in past year.
Having been a favourite stop for former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, the shop takes pride in the fact that he even wrote a poem on the thandai that he was served.
While Tripathi rued the fact that soft drinks have become a big-time hit during the summer season for youth, he is happy thandai is "back in action" every Holi and Shivratri.
What makes thandai a popular drink during Holi is the fact that shops in Lucknow offer it with bhaang, a herbal intoxicant often identified with Lord Shiva.
The thandai mixed with bhaang is served in two forms - Gahri (strong) and Halki (mild).
And the long queues are proof that the combination is a hit with people of all age groups. Served for Rs 25 (large glass) and
Rs 15 (small glass), bhaang comes free with it.
"Bholenath ne bhaang ugayi thi, hum sab kaat rahe hain" (Lord Shiva cultivated the bhang and we are harvesting it) Tripathi said in jest.
A few metres away is another busy shop.
A mix of dry fruits, spices and kesar (saffron) makes this small, makeshift shop outside the Kalicharan temple a must stop for old timeRs
Vijay Kumar Sharma, the pot-bellied owner sits on a stool, mixes a sugar syrup, laces it with bhaang and a dash of milk, leaving customers asking for more.
Mukesh Mishra, 42, one of his customers says the drink is good as it is herbal and helps in digestion. Into drinking the 'Bhaang waali Thandai' for the last 27 years, since he was 15, he says the habit is a part of the Avadh culture.
Conservative estimates say over 1,000 litres of milk will be consumed on the Holi day in the old city.