The rich history of South Asia is the history of Pakistan too. Renaming areas of Lahore with Muslim names encourages supremacy of the majority faith and is a deliberate attempt to erase our diverse heritage.
Category Archives: Walled City
This article was originally published on TNS
Work on restoring Masjid Wazir Khan’s eastern façade and forecourt is fast underway, despite the challenges, and the place is likely to be open to public by the end of this month
By Akbar Shahid Ahmed
The value of one’s soul is hard to measure, but Baqir Abbas, a musician in the Pakistani city of Lahore, has it worked out for himself. Abbas’ soul is slightly less precious to him than the delicately designed bamboo flutes he carves. “All the stories of the world will play from it, God willing,” he says, before kissing his latest instrument and touching it twice to its forehead.
Abbas explains his philosophy in “Song of Lahore,” a new documentary about an intergenerational community of musicians skilled in their own mix of traditional Pakistani music and the Western orchestral scores demanded by Lahore’s once-booming film industry. He and his fellow musicians “find God in music,” Abbas says.
Their critics do not, and the very act of practicing their craft now makes them targets in a more conservative Pakistan. Followers of the increasingly influential, hardline Deobandi school of thought in Sunni Islam consider music to be sinful and musicians to be apostates who have no place in an avowedly Muslim nation.
“Song of Lahore” is powerful because it shows these musicians do have a place in Pakistan.
Last week, the 82-minute documentary won multiple standing ovations and a joint second place in the Documentary Audience Award category at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival. But the feature’s greatest triumph is that it proves the Deobandis wrong: These musicians are quintessentially Pakistani and essential to the nation’s cultural identity, Islam and all.
Progressive Pakistanis who value their country’s musical heritage have been making that case for decades. Continue reading
The Disco Laari Project offers a fun and engaging tour along Lahore’s historical paths
Ever wonder how Lahore’s infamous Heera Mandi got its name? Or who the architecturally magnificent Wazir Khan Mosque is named after? Ever felt the desire to follow in the footsteps of Mughal royalty, wander the narrow streets of Lahore’s inner city where princes and nawabs once roamed, all the while sampling authentic Lahori delicacies as you browse through tiny shops in markets that can be traced back to a hundred years?
The Disco Laari Project makes it possible to do all this and much more. A guided tour of Lahore’s walled city that starts off in a pimped-out bus and ends with a meal had in the shadow of the imposing Badshahi Mosque, the Disco Laari Project is just a couple of months old but already garnering the attention of locals and visitors alike.
The initiative is the brainchild of three friends – Faisal Naeem, Asser Malik and Taimur Ehtisham, two of whom gave up lucrative job offers post-college to take the plunge and do something they all believed in wholeheartedly. “We wanted to show people the real Lahore, discover its hidden gems and experience its rich culture so we can be proud of our city, instead of taking it for granted as most of us do,” says Faisal.
“I have been in the field of design education for almost 23 years now. I was born, brought up, educated, and married in Lahore. I live here and eventually whenever that is, hope to die here too. I feel Lahore has shaped and moulded me into what I am today. Data Darbar, Mian Mir Sahab’s Mazaar, Bibi Pak Daman, Mela Chiraghaan, Masjid Wazir Khan’s tiled decoration, Maryam Zamani mosque’s frescoes, Taaveez Dhaagay on different mausoleums around Lahore, hence my thread and Taweez collection of various motif and design all speak profoundly of the cultural and the socio-political concerns that are owned and celebrated in my works. Shahi Qila’s Haathi darwaza, the old city with all its enclosed gardens and alleys, colonial buildings on the mall, Shalamar Bagh’s picture wall, Alhamra by Nayyar Ali Dada, Lahore Museum, National College of Arts, popular Punjabi food, the cinema hoardings that I experienced when going to school on a Tonga, the trucks and the colorful imagery ….these are all part of my being. This imagery constantly informs my work. The basant that we have lost, how we no longer can accept and appreciate diversity is an ongoing tragedy for me, I am constantly incorporating these in my works through metal, stones and cloth.”
See complete article here.
This report was first published here
LAHORE The city of Lahore, along with its ancient traditions and culture, is also known for its mouth-watering cuisine which predates even the British Raj. But Partition, apart from tearing apart Lahoris, also affected the city’s cuisine. For example, the traditional das kulcha, which existed in the Mughal era, gradually faded out and disappeared. Continue reading
I visited historic Wazir Khan Mosque with my friend in a tour to explore Lahore and what I found was a bit of tragedy of ruining frescoes and mosaic treasure. Many of whom had already vanished due to ignorance and incompetence of officials. It is a tragedy that such a historical site is being used by commoners with out the supervision of experts. Some of the still safe frescoes and mosaic are under with my comments from Instagram account. (Photos by the Author and Umer Khalid)
These are last photos for my Wazir Khan Mosque series. This is of numerous frescoes in the mosque used as decoration on walls. These are masterpieces of Mughal art each wort of millions of rupees dating back to 4 centuries.
These mosaic and frescoes are ruining rapidly. When I went there I saw an empty wall but if you see just ten year old photos of Wazir Khan Mosque you find a fresco work there. Now it has vanished completely. This is the case with other frescoes.
I tried my best to find details on these frescoes on internet but was unsuccessful. Would love it if someone can give me details.
Imagine this wonderful piece of art is 400 years old left to ruin and fade away.
Mosaic tiles forming the star of David. Back then it was halal. No one said there is a Jewish conspiracy behind this mosque.
This article was originally posted in The News
LAHORE: Pakistan’s monument declared as the world heritage, Lahore Fort has turned into an inaccessible destination for local as well as international tourists after closure of the main link road and shifting of parking facilities far away.
Lahore Fort is one of the favourite visiting places of local and international tourists, especially in the winter season. Residents of the provincial metropolis also used to visit this marvellous building with their families to spend a whole day in lush green lawns. Mostly, school trips are also scheduled for winter season.
The main road dividing Minar-e-Pakistan (Iqbal Park ground) and Lahore Fort was closed for normal traffic during the construction of Azadi Interchange. This road links Azadi Chowk to Lorry Adda. During construction of the Azadi Interchange, heavy vehicles and machinery used this road to bring sand, mud, iron, bricks, concrete, etc, due to which it had broken. Continue reading
Lahore, the cultural capital of Pakistan, is one of the epicenters of architecture, particularly that belonging to the Mughal period. Historical monuments and buildings serve as visual reminders of the past. They bring the general public closer to the relics of various civilizations that had once existed in the pre-historic times. The historical pieces are like safe vaults carrying centuries old secret treasures. Not only do they connect people with their history and cultural heritage, they also give them a better understanding of where they hail from and how they should appropriately define themselves today.
Unfortunately, most of the monuments in Lahore are facing a host of issues ranging from human neglect, environment degradation to factors as aging and natural decay. Despite conservation efforts, the Department of Archaeology and Government of Pakistan have failed to preserve various monuments that possess sheer historical importance.
Situated on the Multan Road, the monument was actually a gateway to a garden that has now disappeared. It is called Chauburji (the four minarets) because of its four corner minarets, out of which one on the north west corner was actually lost. The fragmentary inscription on its eastern archway records that the garden was founded in 1664 A.D by a lady, mentioned metaphorically as “Sahib-e-Zebinda.
The reference is most probably to Jahan Ara Begum, the eldest daughter of Emperor Shah Jahan who was entitled as “Begum Sahib “.
The main architectural merit of the building is its rich mosaic decoration with which its entire façade including the octagonal corner minarets are brilliantly embellished
Tomb of Anarkali
Anarkali, a beautiful girl brought up in Akbars Tharam was suspected by the Emperor of having a secret love affair with prince Salim (Emperor Jahangir). According to the legend, she was executed for her amorous folly in 1599 A.D. Six years later, when Salim came to the throne, he in the memory of his beloved, constructed a monument known as Anarkali Tomb. The mausoleum which stands within the enclosure of the Punjab Civil Secretariat, was completed in 1615 A.D. It has undergone great changes from time to time that it has lost all its original decorations. In 1891 A.D. it was converted into Punjab Records office and still serves the same purpose.
Hazuri Bagh and Baradari
The quadrangle now occupied by the garden called Hazuri Bagh with a marble Baradari (1818 A.D.) in its center, was originally a Sarai built by Aurangzeb, where during the Mughal rule thronged the Imperial cavalcade and armed retainers.
The two storied building adjoining the southern gateway (Hazuri bagh Gate) was also originally built in the time of Aurangazeb as a boarding house for scholars. Later on it was used as Abdar-Khana or place for keeping refreshing drinks. During the reign of Ranjit Singh it came to be called Gulabkhana or “Rose water House”. During the British period it was again used as a boarding house for students.
The marble baradari was constructed in 1818A.D. by Ranjit Singh.
The Sikh Maharaja used to sit in state and transact business of his kingdom, and it was also in this baradari that Sher Singh received the British Embassy sent by Lord Ellenborough in 1843 A.D.
Dai Anga Tomb
Behind the Gulabi Bagh Gateway and on the site of the former garden lies the mausoleum of Dai Anga, nurse of Shahjahan. She was the wife of Murad Khan, a Mughal Magistrate of Bikaner. She also founded Dai Anga’s Mosque, one of the well known ancient mosques of Lahore. The Quranic inscription on the walls of the tomb chamber ends in the name of the scribe, Muhammad Salih. According to the date inscribed on the tomb, it was constructed in 1671 A.D. The mausoleum comprising a central tomb chamber and eight rooms around it, was once beautifully decorated with mosaic work.
Samadhi of Ranjit Singh
Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler, ruled Punjab from 1799 to 1839 A.D. His Samadhi occupying the spot where he was cremated lies just opposite the Lahore Fort. It was commenced by his son Kharak Singh and completed in 1848 A.D. Built in bricks with a sprinkling of red sandstone and marble, it is a mixture of Hindu and Muslim architecture composed and constructed in conformity with Hindu tastes. The ceilings are decorated with class mosaic or plain glass work. Eleven smaller marble knobs placed all around hold ashes of four queens and seven slave girls. The interior of the Samadhi chamber is also decorated with frescoes depicting mostly the stories of the Sikh Gurus.
Haveli Maharaja Naunihal Singh
Haveli Nau Nihal Singh is reckoned among the most magnificent buildings of Lahore constructed during the Sikh period. It was built by Nau Nihal Singh, son of Maharaja Kharak Singh, and was used as his private residence. It contains numerous spacious chambers, halls and balconies. The roofs are decorated with paintings and mirrors decorated with gold. The walls are richly ornamented with glasses and artificial flowers.
Tomb of French Officer’s Daughter
Originally this garden was laid by General Venture a coach to Sikh army. Another French General M. Allard an officer in the services of Maharaja Ranjgit Singh was also residing in the same garden who remained in service from 1822 to 1889.
The daughter of General M. Allard named Marie Charlotte died on April 5 in 1827 in Lahore and she was buried on a mound in the north west corner of this garden. General H. Allard also died due to heart attack in January, 1889 during the campaign of Peshawar and his body was brought to Lahore and buried by the side of his daughter in the same tomb.
It is small tomb with a dome octagonal in plan. On the top of the main entrance, a tablet with Persian script is fixed bearing the name of the bidder and the death date of Marie Charlotte.
Gulabi Bagh Gateway
Known for its excellence of rich and vivid mosaic tile work and superb calligraphy on plaster base, this was the entrance gate to a garden which like many others in Lahore has now disappeared. It was constructed by a Persian noble, Mirza Sultan Baig, who was Aminul Bahr (admiral of fleet). It is said that in 1657 A.D while on a hunting excursion to the royal hunting reserve at Hiran Minar near Sheikhupura, he died from the bursting of an English gun given to him by Shahjahan. The title “Gulabi Bagh” (Rose garden) occurs in the last line of the inscription of over the archway which not only describes the kind of the garden, but as a chronogram, also gives the date of its construction, 1655 A.D.
In 1609 the Emperor Jahangir ordered a small minaret like monuments to be built at every kos along the Grand Trunk Road. Kos was an ancient measure of the territory distance which varied from time to time. It was derived from Kross meaning a “cry” used as an indication of distance as early as 300 BC. It was probably known also to Hiuen Tsang in the seventh century AD. During the period of Emperor Jahangir the conventional Kos, was measured between 2 miles 3 furlongs to 2 miles 5 furlongs. Remians of a 4 Kos Minars of Mughal period still exist in the environs of Lahore, among which the typical example at Shahu-ki-Garhi near the railway line just outside Lahore station is prominent. It is built of burnt bricks about 27 feet high, with an octagonal base and cone-shaped super structure not having any inscription.
The other Kos Minars exist in the most miserable condition.
Bhardrakali Mandir, an ancient Hindu temple is situated inside the famous Thokar Niaz Baig. The temple dedicated to an incarnation of the Hindu deity, Durga Mata was once a grand complex comprising various smadhs (stupas), baoli (well), banyan tree, a pool and two temples. According to the writer Kanhiya Lal, the largest Hindu festival of Lahore used to be held in this temple. Unfortunately, historical account regarding the main temple can’t be found. However, another structure created by Maharaja Ranjit Singh during his reign still stands there and is being used as government primary school.
This article was originally posted at Dunya News Urdu Website
I cannot recall anything that thrilled me more than kite flying in my boyhood days. Whenever I observed my kite soaring towards the clouds, I experienced a sense of power and mastery over the elements. Perhaps, in a way, I identified myself with the kite itself flying so free and so high above me, far from the madding crowd, enveloping me in a spirit of freedom and adventure, I felt that kites also signified a hope, a desire for escape, fancy dreams entrusted to a breath of wind and connected to a string and the hand that clasped it.
Those were the days when kite fighting instead of kite flying was in vogue. Pecha larana, or to entrap another kite by pouncing upon it from above or below or sideways, depending on its position, was the most exciting part of the sport. The skill lay in crossing dore with an opponent until the vanquished kite, cut loose, floated helplessly over the rooftops. The victor and the teammate would announce the defeat of the rival with loud cries of Bo-Kata, and throw a challenge for a return pecha. The defeated rival would accept the challenge and stir up a fresh kite into the sky. The rules of the game did not permit entrapping the kite till it was high above in the sky. It required great manoeuvring to entangle or disentangle one’s kite from the clutches of the opponent. Sometimes, we heard a shrill commotion on the rooftops and saw boys running with bamboo poles to catch a drifting kite. A falling kite in a street or bazar also created a stir and passer-by of all ages would run to catch the booty as a prized possession. Some boys who could not afford to buy kites often amused themselves by watching pechas and catching the falling kites.
Every mohalla in Lahore had its own acknowledged khilaris (expert kite-flyers). As soon as they launched their kites, it was a signal for the small-timers to pull back their kites and leave the field open for them. They dared not venture to disturbed the khilaris, each of whom had established his sphere of influence. I was also a small khilari who after accepting a challenge from a rival would enter the battle only at an agreed time.
There was a style of kite flying called kaincha that entailed cutting the twine of the rival kite by dragging and pulling it with a sudden jerk. This was a practice followed by some boys who had very little twine and were looked upon with contempt by the khilaris who would sometimes even give them a beating for attacking their kites in this fashion.
We always looked forward to Basant, the king of all festivals in Lahore. About two weeks before its arrival, the kite shops were specially decorated and a large variety of kites of different colours, shapes and sizes were displayed along with small and large pin nabs and artistically wound dore in numerous attractive colour combinations, large stocks of kites were also brought from Lucknow for the occasion. The kite makers and dore producers worked round the clock. The khilaris used to pile up their stocks of kites and dore well in advance to avoid the last minute rush. Second in importance to basant was the Lodhi festival held on Makar Sankranti, which usually falls on 13th January. On that day we had kite flying on a large scale, a full-dress rehearsal for Basant, which falls usually in the first week of February. Basant signaled the end of the winter season in Lahore and the onset of spring.
The celebrations on Basant day would commerce well before daybreak, when specially constructed box kites carrying lighted candles like lanterns were set afloat in the sky. These moving lights in the sky made an enchanting sight and signified the inauguration of the great kite-flying festival of Lahore, unmatched anywhere else in the world. Rooftops and terraces were crowded with men, women and children of all ages. It was also a custom to wear yellow turbans on Basant day. The women, young and old, also sported yellow chunnis which lent a new charm to the festival atmosphere. By daybreak the sky would be ablaze with thousands of kites of different colours, shapes, sizes and designs. The whole atmosphere of the city also reverberated with the triumphant shouts of Bo-Kata and the blowing of the trumpets to proclaim victories in kite-fighting battles. There were famous khilaris in said Mitha, Wachhowali, Machhi hata, Sutar Mandi, Rang Mahal and other areas of Lahore. They challenged one another for paichas. The Basant festival was also held outside near Haqikat Rai’s Samadh, where crowds from neighbouring villages joined the city crowds and enjoyed kite flying. There were also renowned Khilaris who played for heavy staked in Minto Park. The winners were admired for their dexterity and skills in gauging the winds as well as for the perfection in the tactics of manoeuvring, surging, shielding and stretching during the kite flying.
An exciting report has been published on The Express Tribune about the renovation of Surjan Singh Street by the Punjab Govt with the help of Aga Khan Trust for Culture and World bank. Walled street is a gift of our ancestors with rich heritage to be proud of. We hope more such projects start and preserve this invaluable heritage.
Lahore: Located inside the Walled City’s Delhi Gate, Gali Surjan Singh is home to 13 residences. This week, conservation work on these homes and in the area received an ‘honourable mention’ from the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation for “efforts of private individuals and organisations that have successfully restored and conserved structures and buildings of heritage value”.
The Gali Surjan Singh project includes a restoration of heritage architecture, replacement of infrastructure and services, including underground telecommunications, electricity, gas, water and sewerage. A total of 23 houses have been restored as part of the project, 13 of which were fully restored, and encroachments removed. Approximately Rs20 million was spent in the restoration of these 13 homes.
Gali Surjan Singh is named after Hakim Surjan Singh and it is believed that it dates back to the period of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh in 1849. In 2007, the Punjab government received financial support from the World Bank and technical and financial assistance from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) in order to begin a project of urban rehabilitation here that took into consideration the area’s historic nature and the lives of current residents. Continue reading
To all the readers and friends of Lahore Nama, Eid Mubarak.
May this Eid bring peace, prosperity and happiness to all of you and above all Pakistan.
Here is some photos of Rainy Eid in Lahore from Social Media.
Saira A Nizami
The Old City, or the Walled City of Lahore is in the northwestern part of Lahore, Punjab. The visitor is given access to the city by 13 gates, few of them being Bhati Gate, Lahori Gate and Roshnai Gate.
As he visits the Walled City, Razi Rumi shares these rich moments and his thoughts while walking through streets of Lahore:
Lahore’s heritage: Inside the Faqir Khana Museum, Bhatti Gate. Some of the carpets are from the Emperor Shah Jahan’s era.
Imagine living in a room with such amazing frescos – A hidden corner of Haveli Naunehal Singh, walled city of Lahore.
Wouldn’t you love to have balcony like this? Spotted in walled city Lahore.
Met this young girl in walled city Lahore last week.
Unfortunate graffiti on one of the 17th century walls of Lahore fort. However there is a guy out there who loves US.
Twinkle Scholar (private) school has great advertising. Also shows what is valued as success.
Clever combination of modern and traditional education: Madrassa Safeena-tul Quran.
Ready for artwork? Look again, these are walled city Lahore’s colorful spices
A hidden jewel in the densely populated walled city of #Lahore. Haveli Nonehal Singh, Victoria School since 150 years.
When I was procuring old plates, saw this too. The guy got the sign made and only 22 years later had to leave Lahore.
The half-burnt building in Shah Alam Market tells the story of a bank that was never meant to be
From the foundation stone to the very inch of the complete structure – every building encompasses a journey. But some stories always remain untold like the story of Gobind Ram and Hindustan Commercial Bank. Sixty years since the partition of India and the building with the inscription ‘Gobind Ram Kahan’ and ‘Hindustan Commercial Bank Established 1805’ still remains amidst the hustle bustle of vendors, gold and crockery traders of Rang Mahal in the walled city.
Badar Munir Butt of AL-Sadiq Jewellers was four years old in 1947. Though he faintly remembers the partition violence he has heard stories about Gobind Ram and the building. His shop is adjacent to the half burnt building. According to him, Gobind Ram owned a shop at the ground floor of the present building. Trader of achaar, chatni and sharbat, Gobind Ram’s sharbat was very famous in this area. Supposedly, one of the richest men in this area he was well-respected too. And, with money comes influence. When he, with his family, left Lahore for India he had put the money and jewellery in the basement of this same building. Some years after the partition he came here with Army officials from both India and Pakistan and took away all the jewellery and money that they had kept safe in the basement. To the neighbours’ dismay, the loads of gold and money kept lying there all those years without them knowing about it.
According to an elderly man who owns a shop in the basement of the building.and also one of the oldest residents of the area, Gobind Ram’s sharbat was “famous and if one bought it for one takka, one would reach Amritsar but the sharbat wouldn’t finish.”
All the gates of Lahore survived the violence of partition except the Shah Alam Gate which was destroyed along with other buildings in this area. From Shah Alam to Rang Mahal, this was the sole building that survived and that only because it was a new building. Some myths follow the existence of a trench in the basement that goes to the Lahore Fort.
The branch of Hindustan Commercial Bank for which the new building was made never saw the light of the day. Established in 1805 one branch of the bank was supposed to be opened here in Lahore and Gobind Ram was among the partners.
Majeed Sheikh, a renowned historian, informed that The Hindustan Commercial Bank Lahore was to be one of the five branches of the bank that was established in 1805 and whose first branch was opened in Amritsar. The bank opened in Bengal on January 2, 1809. Two branches were to be opened in Lahore, one here in the walled city and the other in Neela Gumbad. “After 1965 war with India the building was declared enemy property.”
During the partition the present area of Rang Mahal, Suha Bazaar and the adjoining area was a Hindu majority area. A Baowli, a reminiscence of the Sikh history in Lahore, was also situated in this area. The Baowli was destroyed during the partition violence. But some Sikhs visit it even today to remember the long forgotten ghosts. Dr Khan, the Chief Minister of One Unit, got the Baowli renovated during his government. Haveli Mian Khan, also located here, now has almost hundred small houses in its premises. Settlement Department gave the houses on claim while some were built.
Kashmiri Bazaar was the hub of trade in pre-partition days. There was a press and several famous shops in this locality. Being a Hindu majority area the trade and business of this area was also controlled by Hindus. Now the building is encircled by garment shops, gold market and crockery.
This article was originally posted here written by Sarah Sikander.
Mobeen Ansari’s sensitive photography tells tales of vibrant lives lived out amidst wistfully neglected structures
Lahore is not my city. This allows me to view it with a mixture of foreignness and belonging; as simultaneous insider and outsider – removed enough to be endlessly fascinated by it, close enough to be able to photograph it consistently. The Badshahi, Wazir Khan and Lahore Fort may be clichéd photographic pursuits but I never get enough of the new angles and insights they afford me each time.
I went on my routine old Lahore photography trips around fajr time each time I drove down to Lahore from Islamabad; had been doing that for a few years, but i wanted to get into the heart of these neighbourhoods, really peek into people’s lives and capture their stories. One day I got lucky. Walking into Masjid Wazir Khan – it was my second time there – I struck up a conversation with the Imaam of the masjid, sharing with him my curiosity about the man said to have built the mosque – Ilm-ud-Din Ansari. Since I shared his surname I wondered if I also shared his lineage. The Imaam asked for my ID card, squinted at my full name and asked me to follow him deep into the neighborhood, into alleys beyond Delhi Darwaaza that I could never have discovered on my own. He knocked at a door and asked for keys, I think to different areas of the mosque; one of these keys he gave to me, of a minaret I had never expected to be allowed to climb, knowing as I did that it is ordinarily closed to all visitors.
Back at the mosque I lugged my heavy camera bag up the high Mughal-era steps. The suffocating dankness of the minaret gave way to a clear Lahori dawn that I observed from a unique vantage point. The height afforded fascinating aerial glimpses into the lives of the residents of the old city sprawled out below me.
Once every week I go to Lahore for work – meetings, shoots etc. So I had gone to Lahore for one night only for a meeting. When I got done with my work I met up with a friend from college who was also in town. Both of us had laptops and camera bags but no car. We had dinner, took a rickshaw to a cinema to watch a movie, and at midnight came out into the freezing and foggy Lahore night. We walked and rickshawed (changing six of them!) till we reached his place, warmed ourselves with some chai and set out for androon Lahore, managing to get there just before dawn. It was the morning of the 12th of Rabi-ul-Avval (the Prophet’s birthday) and the night’s lights hadn’t been turned off as yet. In the eerie twilight glow, before many people had woken up we roamed the labyrinthine alleys of androon sheher and experienced it like never before in the magical hours between sleeping and waking. Why I am so obsessed with going to these places early in the morning is because there’s no rush at that time and you can see history clearly.
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Picture this. You enter the Walled City from Delhi Gate and find yourself in a ‘unique’ setting — one you are completely unfamiliar with. The Mughal era buildings you see on both sides of the road wear a majestic look. The ambience, the architecture, the colour scheme, the sweetness of the music on play and the artistic illumination of these buildings are stunning, to say the least.
The streets are clean and there are shops, courtyards and pavements where traditional food and drinks as well as crafts are on offer.
You may also find small inns where you can sit back with your friends and enjoy a sip of indigenous ‘qahwa.’ A few steps away, you are likely to come across a place where you can see well-built men wrestling with each other in an earthen pit.
The biggest relief, perhaps, would be the absence of motorized vehicles and the noise and smoke that is generated thereof.
There are parts of the Walled City where the pedestrians can tread without fear of being crushed by a fast moving vehicle. For once, vehicles of all sorts are barred from entering the areas making them navigable on foot.
All this may seem like a fairy tale but, in fact, it is not. Fortunately, for the people of Lahore in particular and Pakistan in general, an ongoing project promises all this and much more. Called ‘Sustainable Development of Walled City Lahore Project,’ it was launched in 2006 by the Punjab government in conjunction with the World Bank. The budget estimate for phase one is Rs70 crore, which will be shared equally by both the partners.
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture agreed to provide technical expertise and carry out surveys that cover topography, water quality, socio-economic conditions, geographical information system (GIS) etc of the Walled City.
Initially, it was a project but later, in 2010, a body called the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) was set up under an Act by the Punjab Assembly. The main purpose of the move was to help sustain the restoration work irrespective of which party is in power.
The project suffered some delays in the past due to various reasons including shortage of funds, non-cooperation of locals, resistance by commercial interests etc. For long there was a feeling that the project will not go on as planned and may be abandoned altogether. However, some recent developments have infused hope among those involved directly or indirectly with the project.
One such development is the association of prominent bureaucrat Kamran Lashari with the project as director general of the WCLA. Having a significant track record of successfully carrying out heritage/conservation projects, many believe he is the best person to complete the task.
The project is of equal importance to all as heritage has to have common ownership, says Lashari. His point is that it is imperative for Pakistanis to have something which they can relate to with pride, especially when they are facing a crisis of identity.
He explains that the Walled City project is not about merely setting up a food street, refurbishing a monument or repairing a trail. It is about comprehensive urban regeneration where every aspect of day-to-day life will be taken into account and displayed in totality.
“If we can properly showcase our history, food, architecture, culture and traditions at one place, it would be a great achievement,” he says.
The first phase of the project entails complete restoration of the heritage architecture along a 383-metre route and 57 streets falling on the main trail. A total population of 5,951 individuals and 513 houses will benefit from this phase which will be complete by November this year.
Later, the Authority intends to start talking to donors for the next phase, says Lashari who is confident this dream will become a reality.
A major part of project money will be spent on laying of quality infrastructure for provision of gas, electricity, water and sanitation. The dangling electricity wires, which give an unpleasant look, will be concealed in pipes and the sanitation scheme will be kept underground.
Tariq Iqbal, a teacher in his early 40s, is relieved to find several encroachments removed from inside the Delhi Gate and the restoration work in progress. The WCLA has paid compensation to the encroachers along the boundary walls of Shahi Hamam and Wazir Khan Mosque and asked them to leave.
Tariq has lived here for ages and seen how unplanned commercialization harmed the architecture and the social life of the Walled City. Even though he is not fully aware of the components of the project, he is in love with the idea of being able to relive his childhood or even that of his forefathers.
He says he cannot believe his eyes when told that the Authority shall regularly organize cultural festivals, display crafts, arrange wrestling bouts, poetry recitals (mushairas), food fairs, jewelry shows etc in this part of the Walled City. The spacious court of Wazir Khan Mosque has been marked as the point for this purpose.
“We have involved National College of Arts (NCA), Pakistan Institute of Fashion Design (PIFD), several guilds and associations and are open to advice on how to bring the Walled City to its original shape,” says Lashari.
Once popular drinks such as ‘tukh malanga’ and ‘kanji’ will also be introduced to the new generation which does not know anything about them, he adds.
Besides, there are proposals about asking corporations to adopt a haveli, a heritage house or a monument.
Lashari is clear that the sustainability of the project lies in involving the residents and making them stakeholders. Once this part of the city attains the status of an international tourist attraction, they will be in a position to earn from the resulting economic activity.
Easy access to the Walled City is a major issue without solving which the very idea of making the place a tourist attraction will not materialise fully.
Lashari says he has written to TEPA and requested the organization to re-route the Circular Road from Azadi Chowk to Badami Bagh. This can be done by constructing an elevated semi-circular loop to give an alternative route to the traffic plying between these two points. Once the road between Iqbal Park and Lahore Fort/Badshahi Mosque is closed to traffic the whole area will turn tourist-friendly.
With congestion-free Lahore Ring Road lying in close vicinity, some options can also be mulled to connect the area with other parts of the city.
Secondly, he says, TEPA has been requested to study/survey the parking flow within the Walled City so as to identify areas that need to be restricted only to the non-motorized traffic. Exemption for emergency vehicles or facilitating the residents or timings could also be taken into consideration.
Lashari dispels the impression that he is being overambitious about the project, saying that there are several examples worldwide where heritage has been conserved in totality and many of them happen to be in the Muslim world — for instance, Isfahan in Iran, Fez in Morocco, Aleppo in Syria and Grand Bazar in Turkey.
Iqbal Hussain’s new work reveals a darkly poignant preoccupation with death, an artistic crisis born of the violence in our midst. But this work may yet survive the changing cultural topography of Pakistan, says Raza Rumi
Being stuck in an awful traffic jam on Lahore’s Mall Road is an everlasting nightmare. This was the road which once housed the tempestuous and famously poly-amorous painter Amrita Shergil, as well as the grand old man of Indian writing in English, the legendary Khushwant Sigh, among other lost symbols of our bygone past. But mine was not a fruitless journey: I was heading to the Zahoor ul Akhlaq Gallery at the National College of Arts (NCA), where Iqbal Hussain’s new work was being displayed. I would not hav e gone to see this exhibition had I not heard about the significance of the show from the proficient curator of the gallery Qudsia Raheem. I liked to meet Iqbal Hussain in the throes of the walled city where he has reinvented a space for himself among his own people — entertainers, artists, traders, sex workers and a multitude of local and global visitors. Iqbal Hussain has been successful through his personal endeavors to put Lahore’s old city and its infamous red light district on the world map. He has achieved this primarily through his stupendous paintings and sublime rooftop views of Mughal monuments from the Cooco’s Den Café he owns and manages.
Iqbal Hussain’s work over the decades has brought to life the shades and aspects of sex workers from Heera Mandi around whom Hussain grew up. Most importantly, he is proud of his heritage and origins and, unlike the hypocritical and self-denying society in which he lives, he has publicly claimed ownership of this background. His work has obsessively captured the many narratives about the women who are central to Heera Mandi. In doing this, Hussain has humanized the portraits of the “dancing girl”, the aging prostitute and the honorable livelihood earner. Contrary to the religious decrees on such women, or the excessive romanticization of dancing girls in our culture, Hussain’s subjects are nothing but human. They are real and vulnerable while blessed with the ability to sing, dance and celebrate life and sex. In our socially conservative culture, made even more so since the advent of Victorian values in what was then British India, such characters have been the recipients of much derision. Hussain, through his momentous collection of paintings, has countered every stereotype and cliché that comes to mind about such women. Continue reading
Akbari Gate of walled city of Lahore. This gate exists no more. This pic was taken in 1962 by an unknown photographer.
Posted by: Shiraz Hassan
Posted by Raza Rumi
A TV journalist prepared this bold documentary for a news channel but it was never aired for obvious reasons – electronic media remains conservative about taboo subjects. The documentary provides great insights into the way women live, work and identify themselves as sex-workers in Lahore’s oldest red-light district known as Heera Mandi (Diamond Market) ironically next to the great Badshahi mosque. Coverage of Multan in the later parts is also interesting.
The narrator obviously has his biases – the usual refrain of middle class Muslims of the subcontinent – but he tries hard to remain neutral and investigative. There is a good dose of Mujras inserted into the series for the viewers; and tit bits of the Hollywood/Bollywood melodrama on the oppressed ‘tawaif’ (prostitute). Whilst tragedies bring these women to the sex-trade, not all of them lament their lives. If anything, Mirza Ruswa’s Umrao Jan (way back in the nineteenth century) was pretty comfortable and empowered by her profession. Similarly, one of the interviewees says: “money is the father, mother and everything for tawaifs”. The head of Kanjar biradri says that girls are taught to be ‘men’, earning ‘horses’ fooling their clients! Not to be missed.
My favourite is the ‘client’ who confesses how intoxicating it is to be “in love” with a sex worker. One gets tired of ‘using’ a wife all the time he says. Wish this documentary had been aired.
The language of these videos is Urdu so it might not be accessible to all the visitors here.