Plans are underway to restore the Shahi Guzargah — the route that the kings used to take.
By Adnan Adil
As a part of its plans to market Lahore’s ancient and living cultural heritage, the Punjab government is planning to preserve and renovate a portion of the Walled City, with the name of Shahi Guzargah, a two-km long trail followed by the Moghul emperors entering the Walled City from Delhi gate to reach the Lahore Fort.
The project has a strong backing from the World Bank whose country director, John Wall, is said to have a strong liking for the Walled City. In August 2005, the World Bank completed a study on the project carried out by a team of experts headed by an Italian architect Raffaele Gorjux, who had developed this kind of street in Fez, Morocco.
Bilquis Tahira, a social scientist and Harold Goodwin, a tourism development expert, have contributed to the study. The study claims it has relied on the lessons learned from previous such projects and on international best practices, involving also the direct experience of the consultant in similar projects in Italy, Morocco and Jordan.
Punjab government officials say the government has allocated funds for this pilot project in the annual budget FY 06-07 and is planning to create an authority to undertake this project. The authority will have powers to carry out its projects bypassing the Lahore Development Authority and the City district government.
The creation of the Royal Passage or Shahi Guzargah, as envisaged in the World Bank’s study, will lead visitors from Delhi Gate, which will be made an equipped entry point to the Lahore Fort connecting along the trail some significant heritage assets of the walled city, such as Shahi Hammam, Wazir Khan Mosque, Kashmiri bazaar, Sonehri Masjid, Baoli Bagh and Begum Shahi Masjid. Instead of taking a straight route from Kashmiri bazaar to Taxali bazaar, the proposed royal trail will turn into Dabbi bazaar near Rang Mahal and passing through Choona Mandi, it will enter into the Lahore Fort from Akbari Gate, an entrance of the monument which is not in use these days.
The proposed Guzargah (trail) will end at the triangle near Red Light area entering the Lahore Fort where a food market and occasions of cultural activities have been proposed.
The project study proposes a number of improvements of the urban space along the trail such as removal of electricity wiring and laying underground electricity lines, paving of public space and below-grade infrastructure refurbishment, public lighting, urban furniture and tourist signage. The study suggests imposing restrictions on motorised vehicles of different kinds at different periods of day. It also seeks to reduce the number of encroachments along the way and the conservation of cultural property.
The architects say that to facilitate the arrival of visitors the layout of the Circular Road needs to be improved with the building of an underground parking below the Circular garden and extensive resettlement plan for removal of encroachments at Delhi Gate. They want to use and develop the buildings of closely situated Shahi Hammams, the only public bath remaining from the Mughal period, as a space for information centre and interpretative displays such as maps, and heritage trail leaflets, information about buildings, craft producers, guide booking services, tickets for cultural performances etc.
The project asks for reclamation of 3000 square kilometers of open space in the square facing Wazir Khan mosque (built in 1634 AD) for public and civil use. The architects say the primacy of the mosque should be reasserted and the encroachments around it removed in order to reveal the majesty of its architecture. However, the study recognizes that the foresight of the builder of the Mosque, spread over 4000 square metre, was in providing for its maintenance by endowing the mosque with rental income from 22 shops built into the ground floor of the Mosque, and this characteristic needs to be maintained.
The Shahi Guzargah envisages Kashmiri bazaar to recreate its charm, the feel of being in the heart of a medieval city, by creating some space in it for recreational and cultural use by residents and visitors. The project envisages retaining the bazaar’s commercial bustle while creating tourist attraction at the same time through the sale of some traditional goods there along with the imported goods being sold there these days.
Baoli Bagh, a garden around water well for public welfare built during emperor Jehangir’s period by Sikh Guru Arjun and restored by Sikh ruler Ranjit Singh in 1834, is heavily encroached these days. The Shahi Guzargah project will recover the garden by removing heavy encroachments, restoring the perimeter walls, re-establishing entrance arches and the step-well along with the provision of soft landscaping, lighting and urban furniture and toilets.
Guzargah’s architects call for re-opening of presently closed Akbari Gate of the Lahore Fort and its equipment as a visitors’ entrance. They say on the eastern side of the Fort and Akbari Gate, the existing Rim Market with highly polluting activities make it incompatible with the plans for restoration of Akbari Gate. So they suggest this light industrial markets needs relocation somewhere else. In its place, the project envisages a Punjabi market showcasing craft for the province and demonstrations of a craft working as well as for sales of craft and folk arts.
Nearby Akbari Gate is situated the historical Begum Shahi Masjid, built by emperor Jehangir’s mother in 1614 AD, and its fine frescos in the prayer hall display the sophisticated taste of imperial family of the Moghuls. The frescos are in damaged condition and need conservation. The architects say the original layout of the mosque’s courtyard needs to be reestablished which is now cluttered by an obtrusive reinforced concrete structure.
The proposed project for Shahi Guzargah mixes cultural experience with an economic opportunity for the residents and shopkeepers of the area. It says the proposed uplift of Guzargah will offer an opportunity to visitors to see the urban, religious and vernacular architecture, to experience bustle of the commercial heart of the old city along with rich cultural life and to purchase handicraft from the producers.
“The objective is to attract visitors to the area and to encourage them to spend money there,” the study says.
The study says the marketing of the route will be easily accomplished as previous experience with food streets suggests. The focus of the trail has been designed to encourage the local residents to value the heritage for both cultural pride and economic benefit.
The architects of the project say that the heritage trail should be designed to compliment, rather than compete with existing tourism products in Lahore. For example, it says, food and drink elements in the heritage trail should not be a central focus of this project because there are already four tourist food streets in the city. In their view, the proposed trail would add to the variety of tourism experiences by focusing on urban bustle, the feel of commercial hub along with the traditional architecture and the Islamic street pattern.
The comprehensive study on the proposed Royal Trail is complete and evokes optimism that the glory of the ancient Lahore has finally drawn much-needed attention of the authorities. The funds (Rs 586 million) are available, thanks to the interest shown by the World Bank. Sooner the Punjab government creates authority for implementing the project, the better will it be. Otherwise this project may run the risk of getting drowned in the humdrum of forthcoming general elections.
Courtesy: The News on Sunday