Lahore

We visited Lahore during the Eid weekend in October 2005. We hired one of the school drivers to take us there and he turned out to be a good guide, bodyguard, and interpreter. He also helped us haggle for prices. The trip took about 5 hours along the historic Grand Trunk Road. The places he took us included the major attractions such as the Shalimar Gardens and Jahangir’s Tomb, both built by the mughal emperor Shah Jahan, who also built the Taj Mahal.

We felt disappointed and sad to see the Shalimar Gardens in dire need of maintenance and restoration. But it was heartening to see so many children in their best clothes frolicking and playing around some of the 401 fountains with no apparent supervision. As it is a UNESCO World Heritage site we hope restoration will bring forth its former grandeur.

The Tomb of Jahangir was less crowded, and afforded us more time to enjoy the architecture. We admired the beautiful flower pattern of the inlaid precious stones on the marble cenotaph, which are in the same elegant style as the tombs in Taj Mahal.

On our second day he took us to Badshahi Mosque and the Old City. This mosque was built by emperor Aurangzeb, son of Shah Jahan. It is in fact similar to the Jamma Masjid built by Shah Jahan in Delhi, India (which we visited months later). With a capacity of 55,000 worshippers, the Badshahi mosque is the second largest in Pakistan, after the modern Faisal Mosque in Islamabad (which we have never visited yet to this day). Built in 1673 it used to be the world’s largest for many years. We felt fortunate to be allowed in and to view the display at the special museum showing relics of the prophet Muhammad.

By the time we toured the Old Walled City we were already tired. We entered through the impressive Alamigiri Gates and visited the Sheesh Mahal (under renovation) and Naulakha Pavilion inside the fort. But for most part we were more interested in observing the locals who were also enjoying the Eid holidays with their families, having picnics in the gardens.

Our next stop was a special treat: a visit to the farm of our driver’s cousin outside the city. He arranged for us to have lunch with them, and it was there that we had the best milk tea in the world, made with fresh cow’s milk. Their hospitality was wonderful, we toured the farm and met a dozen members of the family. This was our first time to tour a middle class Pakistani’s home. It’s like a compound with different rooms surrounding a concrete yard. And the uncle was sitting on a charpois (bed), slicing onions and talking on his mobile phone, while the mother and  sister cooked the food nearby.

The barn adjoining the compound had water buffaloes, cows, donkeys, and goats. Geese and chicken roamed freely. We also got to peek inside some of the neighbor’s homes.

Our last stop was the Wagah border with India. This is a famous attraction for both sides of the border, because the specially-recruited (tall and good-looking) guards go through an elaborate ceremony at sunset to lower their flags with a fancy drill. No visit to Lahore is complete without watching this event at least once.

Considering the war between these two nuclear-powers (and the intense cricket rivalry), it is great to see the men trying to outdo each other with their fancy and precise drills, as crowds on both sides cheer.

There are many other places in Lahore worth visiting, such as the Anarkali bazaar, one of the oldest markets in Asia. But we were confident we would get another chance to visit so we thought it was best to wait for the next trip.

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