Sunday Spotlight: Lahore

During the week someone lay down the challenge to me to write about Lahore, so here I am responding to the challenge.

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Now, Pakistan is probably not right at the top of anyone’s travel itinerary right now. It’s not really the safest of countries and hasn’t been for a few years. I went ten years ago, in 2004. And I really loved the place, I have to say. I don’t know what the specific safety concerns are in 2014 (other than obviously terrorism and a Taliban push for control of parts of the country) but if you are considering travelling to Pakistan (and people do still go there, especially Karakoram and that northern region) do check the situation  thoroughly and stay abreast of what is happening.

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Having said all that, there is a new backpackers place in Lahore today, and backpackers are going there. Just keep your ear to the ground!

Lahore is a pretty handy city to visit, because it’s so close to the Indian border near Amritsar. I zoomed along the road in an auto-rickshaw, it’s about 32km which is a long ride in an auto rickshaw, but also kinda fun. After a reasonably easy (and quiet) border crossing, I was soon on a bus to Lahore. This was my first experience of a segregated bus for men and women, which was quite strange. If you do want to take this border crossing, it’s one you’ll need to check is open. It’s called the ‘Wagah’ crossing, and it appears to be open at the moment.

Lahore as a city is bustling, a little bonkers but on the whole a bit easier to survive than say Delhi. I stayed on a mattress on the floor of the Regale Internet Inn, which was a nice, surprisingly comfortable place to stay although there have been some reports that it’s a little ‘dodgy’ where women travellers are concerned.

What’s there to see and do in Lahore? Well, there’s this –

Which the manager of Regale Internet Inn took the patrons to see. It was pretty scary and odd to be honest!

Elsewhere in town, here are a couple of things that are really worth seeing – this is from my book Dhaka to Dhaka – Across Asia Chapter 4: Pakistan

Bashahi Mosque

Bashahi Mosque

Two sites that sit opposite each other are the Lahore Fort and the Badshahi Mosque. Both are brilliant and one could nearly take a day seeing them on their own. The Mosque is grand, built in the seventeenth century, and capable of accommodating 55,000 people at prayer. It is built in the Mughal style, and has some of the most striking domes on the top. They ‘bulge’ in the middle, almost egg-like, and so don’t come across as a typical dome. The outside is covered in brilliant red sandstone, the colour of many buildings in Pakistan (such as Islamia College) and the intricately carved archways that one enters through defy adequate adjectives.

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I met a really nice man inside who wanted to practice his English and showed me around, and he showed me one thing that was particularly fascinating. In some areas of the Mosque two people can face opposite corners and softly talk into the wall and hear what the other is saying. Now that’s some fine audio system indeed! After he had shown me a group of primary age students came along with their teacher and had a lot of fun doing this. Equally wonderful was a copy of the Koran that was sealed off in a glass box, with the script being sewn into the pages.

A family I chatted with in the mosque

A family I chatted with in the mosque

 

The Lahore Fort, just across the road, was just as impressive. Set over a large area, the fort had typically monstrous walls guarding it to each side and inside there were a collection of buildings and roads. It was the sort of place that one could lose oneself in for hours.

Most of the buildings were still in reasonable nick as well, the fort has been rebuilt time and time again over the centuries. It is believed that the fort originally dates back to the eleventh century, but with invasions over the subsequent centuries it has been rebuilt and modified many times since.

Grand entrance to the Bashahi Mosque

Inside the buildings are all impressive, the gardens and grounds equally worth the visit. The main gate, known as the Alamgiri Gate, is as massive and impressionable as any structure one sees in Pakistan. I felt completely dwarfed going under the arch, which joins two powerful towers, whilst a Pakistani flag flies above. In contrast to the red sandstone of the Badshahi Mosque opposite, the Alamgiri Gate is a cream colour. Other buildings of note include the Hall of Public Audience, held up principally by columns, which support many arches under the roof, and the Diwan-I –Khas. There are many more buildings in the fort, all with similar decorated arches. To find words to describe each one though is a hard task indeed.

Inside the Lahore Fort

Inside the Lahore Fort

Lahore Fort

Lahore Fort

The grass must be cared for round-the-clock, as despite the dry weather it was silky smooth and very green, and there even were ponds full of water. From the top of the fort walls I had a pretty decent impression of the city of Lahore, although far from the centre of town where Lahore was at its most dense. I saw a tower not so far away, and even a fair where I expect children were having a good time. The roads were packed and stretched way out into the horizon.

A little way out of Lahore is the Jahangir Tomb, which the ticket proudly announces is a ‘World Famous Monument’. This was another monument that was spread over a large area and featured red sandstone, minarets and very nice gardens.

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On one side is a small mosque, opposite to the side that faces the tomb proper. On the side facing the tomb I met a security guard who was eager to show me something, at first I was not sure what. He led me into a dark room and pulled out a set of keys, opening a small door that revealed a set of steps. Up the steps we went and found ourselves on the roof, revealing magnificent views, which of course resulted in taking several photos.

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The tomb itself had an entrance hall and guards looking after this most sacred of places. Jahangir was an emperor in the sixteenth century. The guards were more than happy to let me in and take photos. A light hung low over the grave of the emperor, and the entire room was tiled in mostly cream and brown, though some tiles did have flowers on them as a motif. The roof was a white dome. The Emperor had found himself a very tranquil resting place.

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There’s much more to Lahore. Markets, crazy traffic, friendly people and the like. I’d say that it would make a nice diversion for those travelling India and who were in the region. Just pop across the border for a few days! Again, I do say – exercise caution with the situation, and check out government websites like smart traveller (but then again, they can sometimes be very conservative) but if this sounds like a city you’d like to sample, it’s definitely worth considering!

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