In the wake of recent news, I feel compelled to write about my recent trip to Lahore. I was going to take my time, find a new angle to an old city and slowly sieve through pictures I took. But then tragedy stuck in the form of soulless monsters that took the life of children in a park. And every nerve in my body suddenly became charged with anger. How dare you? How dare you walk in strapped to explosives I wish would have blown you away in some ditch, and take the lives of 72 people and injuring 300 (the latest figures I read)? How dare you attack on a holy day such as Easter, shattering the peace of not only those in the vicinity but of the entire city, rather the entire country? And above all, how dare you murder children? But that monster dared and now Lahore is in the news for heart-wrenching reasons.
But, precisely 8 days before this, I had spent a wonderful 10 days in the same city. I had roamed the streets with my sister and two infants, free of worry and fear. I had admired the greenery so carefully planted to give a beautiful facade to the old city. We had driven by the metro; a fantastic venture taken by the government and utilised wholly by the city’s residents. I walked from shop to shop in a crowded market area like Liberty, my only fear being that my baby would get hungry and our shopping trip would be cut short. Not for a second was it on my mind that an imbecile would taint this city just a week later.
However, we can only do what is in our power to do and I think, in the light of recent events, what better way to pay ode to a beautiful city but to rave about it’s many offerings? So, here goes.
Before I arrived in Lahore, I did my usual Googling of everything there is to do there. I found many historical sights but not much else. Of course, you know Lahore is home to the Badshahi Mosque and the Lahore Fort or Shahi Qila. But I discovered some other interesting sights I wanted to share. For me, the most memorable day was when we drove to Ganda Singh Wala, which borders India and is in the Kasur district of Punjab. Interesting, this was named after a Sikh man and it’s neighbouring town, the one in India, is named after a Muslim man. One can see the parade there, where our proud troops make a show of strength against the Indian troops who do the same. However, I can’t write much about that because we missed most of the ceremony. But, the experience was amazing nonetheless.
It was a beautiful rainy day, we rushed to get there, 5 of us running, two of us holding giggling infants, trying to make it to the border. Once we got there, huffing and panting, I was struck to see how close we were to India. It was a bittersweet moment to take pictures by a barrier that shuts us away from each other and you can’t help but think, ‘they’re right there, we can shake hands, we can embrace, so why can’t we cross over?’ I enjoyed every minute of my time there because it’s always fascinating to see how close two countries are, and yet, in our case, how far. We then snapped pictures of our giant-like guards in their proud uniforms and admired the setting sun behind green fields. Hailing from Karachi, I was soaking every minute of how beautiful Pakistan can be.
Another highlight of my trip was the Wazir Khan Mosque, named after a governor from the Mughal times. Intricately adorned with fresco designs and beautiful tile work, it’s a peaceful place to rest and pray. Intermittently you’ll see birds flocking above, creating a frame around the already majestic mosque. The little ones crawled around the inner carpeted halls and there was a faint scent of rose all around. A friend had recommended, rather insisted, that I visit here and I’m glad I did.
The walkway to the mosque is tight and lined with hawkers selling various items from kitchenware to hair clips. But behind them are tiny streets, wooden shutters of different colors and a wealth of history. It was easy to imagine the Mughals walking these streets or their carriages rushing through as they make their way from inside the Delhi gate to the mosque.
A few nights before then we had been in the area again. We had dinner at Cooco’s Den, owned by the famous artist Iqbal Hussain. Built on many levels, it’s a beautifully quaint building that has narrow steps leading up to each floor. It’s been impressively maintained and the food was as good as Lahore boasts its food is; divine. It was lovely to sit, our feet being warmed by little heaters, the cold breeze making the hot food taste even better and the gentle music playing in the background. Around us was the Fort again; silent yet majestic.
Lahore is of course known for its food. And boy, did we eat. From Cosa Nostra, to Sweet Affairs, I ate it all. Desi foods, delicious burgers, amazing italian pizza and gelato and good ol’ fried chicken from Jalal Sons. Even had delicious ice cream from this man making cold coffee topped with soft cone style ice cream on a kiosk like stand parked in a popular market.
What truly struck me about Lahore and then subsequently saddened me about the tragedy was how open the houses were. Low walls, open gates, beautifully but houses lined the streets we drove on. This is how life should be. Not walls that are sky high yet don’t protect us. Or gates that are tightly shut, constantly manned by nervous guards. Anyhow, let’s move on before this becomes a how-disappointed-Karachi-makes-me-sometimes post.
A little gem my sister introduced to was ‘The Last Word’, a bookstore with an amazing selection of books apparently hand-picked by the owner. The vibe in the store was relaxed, with pillows strewn about and a table in the middle of the store where one could leisurely browse the collection. I highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the city.
Oh and one thing you must make time for is the Daachi (or was it daichi) ride. I’m talking blasting music, a 10 seater being pulled by a camel, up and down one of Lahore’s busy streets, at midnight. Oh and did I mentioned the 10-seater is heavily adorned with glittering lights, pompoms and basically every metallic coloured decoration you could fit on it? I guess the unique experiences is why they say ‘Lahore, Lahore Hai’ (said with a heavy Punjabi accent of course).
I know most reading this might think that Lahore is a well known city, and maybe didn’t warrant a travelogue. But I loved it. I loved the relaxed vibe, the scent of food cooking in the air and the freeness of all it’s residents. Above all, I pray that Lahore can hold on to that free spiritedness it possesses and not let this heinous attack change it’s nature. And I pray that Lahore, and in fact Pakistan, can rid itself of all those that wish to harm it. Because with all it’s history, culture and beauty, it’s definitely a city (and country) that deserves much better.
(Excuse the horrible quality of the pictures. Most were taken in a rush, from my phone.)