“If you haven’t seen the city, you haven’t been born.”
They say it about London, New York, Johannesburg and about Lahore-my Lahore.
The subcontinent has always been famous for two things-its food, and its cultural diversity. Lahore is known the heart of Pakistan. Its origins reach into antiquity. The city has been controlled by numerous empires throughout the course of its history, giving it the diversity it has today. The city is an epitome of beauty, impressive temples, large markets and huge orchards. The perfect weather to go sightseeing in Lahore would be a cool summer day, with a soft breeze and a temperature around 25 degrees Celsius.
The traffic is haywire, a swarm of bikes will whizz past you from all directions as you drive. You will come across rickshaws and donkey carts, and even the finest cars in existence like the …. It doesn’t matter. What you will not miss anywhere is the buzz of traffic, the beautiful lights and flowers which line the canal and the roads, and music. The music just never stops. You pass by a wedding hall and you hear catchy tunes being beaten on drums, keep driving till you halt at a red light and the car to your left will be playing bhangra music at full volume. At the shrines you witness Qawalli, and Sufi music and dances, and at posh restaurants, serene English tunes to calm your nerves.
If you’re an avid reader, you may know of the Zamzama, It’s a cannon, that Rudyard Kipling immortalized in his novel, Kim. Lahore is home to the Zamzama. Terraced and walled gardens spread over a massive 32 acres dotted with about 450 fountains form the beautiful Shalimar Gardens. Also, Lahore is the seat of the University of the Punjab, made in 1882, which is the oldest university in Pakistan. Near the university is the Lahore Museum, 1864, which houses eclectic collections of art and historical items. The Gaddafi Stadium, has seen some of the most spectacular matches one can find in cricket history, including the 1999 Cricket World Cup final.
Next, is the Wagah Border. Where arch rivals India and Pakistan collide. The border is closed to Indian and Pakistani nationals, foreigners however, may walk across the gates of the Wagah. There is a flag hoisting and a mock parade every evening, where Pakistani guards and their Indian Counterparts perform what the international community refers to as the “Beating Retreat”.
Moving on, food is to a Lahori heart, what paint is to an artist. Music, laughter and tantalizing aroma that pervades the atmosphere of Lahore’s very own Food Street. It’s a foodie’s haven, an ordinary man’s escape, a family’s perfect night out. The frying pans sizzling, and the drum-like beating that signifies a Tukka Tukk being cooked. Walking through this food paradise, wide-eyed and overwhelmed by the perfection of what stands before you. You stand, in the midst of it all, surrounded by the glorious flurry of activities that hallmark Lahore’s Foodstreet: chefs, in their aprons and tall hats, flipping tikka seekhs as the meat turns just the right shade of gold, rushed waiters expertly balancing dish upon dish as they run to the seated customers anxiously awaiting their slices of heaven.
Many cities have walls which are home to graffiti art. In Lahore, however, the art has a different appeal. It focuses on messages of faith, unity, the patriotic verses, and the power of the youth. This was done by volunteers to salvage the city’s walls from horrific wall chalking’s ranging from herbal medicine practitioner advertisements, to political slogans.
Modern Lahore is a maze of modern buildings, shopping plazas, five-star hotels, broad avenues and boulevard. The Liberty and the Gulberg Market are popular shopping centres. The M. M. Alam Road, named after a brave Pakistani Shaheed solider, known for the havoc he wrecked among India’s ranks in the 1965 war. It runs parallel to the Main Boulevard, and is a commercial hub and home to a variety of flashy high class restaurants.
The tomb of Allama Iqbal, The Poet of The East, is one of the most simple and impressive structures you find in Lahore. It sits between Lahore Fort and Badshahi Masjid. The architecture is a reflection of combination of Moorish and Afghan Architecture, and is built from red sandstone. It is a small but somber place, and is a must on the visit list if you’re a visitor.
The old city was at one time surrounded by a wall and a moat, but these structures have been replaced, except in the north, by parklands. A circular road around the rampart provides access to the old city by 13 gates.
The walled city, now known as “Androon Lahore” or Interior Lahore, is not merely a hub of architecture, markets or monuments; the unity, harmony and brotherhood we find there among the people, and that too in terms of religions, is matchless. One example of this is the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh next to the Badshahi Mosque. Both the religious places share the same wall, and also respect each other’s prayer timings. This is something you may not find anywhere else.
Let me bring to life the one of the Gurdwaras located inside the Chohatta Mufti Baqar, near Wazir Khan Mosque inside the Delhi Gate. This Gurdwara is associated with the pioneer of Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev. It stands there, in all its grandeur. Its walls are painted in white and yellow, and the building has a beautiful marble façade, and if you happen to be there at sunset or at sunrise, the light reflected of its golden domes is enough to blind you. Prayers are held every morning and evening.
Another Gurdwara is inside Lal Khoo Mochi Gate. The same gate is known for the Muharram processions and Havelis converted into Imam Bargahs.
Just across one of the walls, a famous restaurant, is Cuckoo’s Den. Cuckoo’s is the perfect place to eat out-you will have trouble in choosing between the food or the view. Cuckoo’s overlooks the beautiful Badshahi Mosque. Built in 1673, by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. It is one of the city’s best known landmarks and is capable of accommodating over 55,000 worshippers.
Like the character of its founder, the architecture and the finishing is unmistakably bold, and majestic in its expression. It was the largest mosque in the world for a long time. The interior has rich embellishment in stucco tracery, all in bold relief, as well as marble inlay. Stone carvings and marble inlay on red sandstone adorn the outside of the mosque. The skyline is furnished by beautiful ornamentals, which add further grace to the perimeters of the beautiful mosque.
Next to it, perched on the Northwest corner of the walled city, is the Lahore Fort, one of the noblest structures of its kind.
In Urdu, it is often said to beware, even the walls have ears. If only those bricks could talk…one can only imagine-stories of adventure, of love and of romance, of treachery and of revenge, of coronations and assassinations. The beauty and the horrors of royalty, the dark eyed beauties, the queens and the kings, the slaves and the concubines, the rebels and revolutionaries, the poets and the prisoners, the artists and the court intrigues, the elephants and the dungeons.
Across the other side, is what was once the Shahi Mohalla, or Royal Courtyard. Literally meaning “Diamond Market”, Heera Mandi is a red llight disctrict area tucked away in the streets of old Lahore. It is the oldest red light district in Pakistan. Nightlife at Heera Mandi starts just before 11:00pm, and ends at 1:00am.Aside from being a red-light Area, Heera Mandi was once renowned for culture and courtship during Mughal times. The artists and the dancers here were held in high regard and respect, unlike today, where most women have dropped to selling themselves into prostitution.
If you choose to visit one of the few remaining brothels there, you are likely to enter a small room called the ‘time-room’ or ‘office’. There is room for two or three spectators to sit there, while her own troupe — the musicians—escort the girl to the small gathering. The moment she begins to sway with the music, the whole world seems to be dancing with her; it is no lie, in the moments she dances, time seems to be frozen.
You must to one more thing before you return from your trip to Lahore: shop at Anarkali Bazaar. Even though it might seem to be a crazy place for some foreign tourists, but for the locals it has always been a charm. It is one of the oldest markets of the city and offers an array of all sorts of traditional stuff you can pick from- jewellery, handicrafts, clothes, food, or even hand painted kitchen trays or dishes. Anarkali Bazaar seems to be lost frozen in time, a maze of covered streets, not a single vendor will accept your credit card, beware of pickpockets, and also, you might want to take a local friend with you to bargain over the prices.
The city is absolutely magnificent. This article, or even a hundred other articles, will not and cannot do justice to Lahore because seeing is believing, and believing is everything.