Lahore, a city which has been ruled by several kings, and conquered by many invaders, is rightly known as the heart of Pakistan and cultural hub of Punjab today. The city is not only known as a shelter which offer living opportunities to the immigrants, but also as one which always welcomes the outsiders with wide open arms and embrace them like no one. This city provides a reason to live, it gives you a life!
Today, when I look back over the past, I remember nothing as vivid as the golden period of my life that I have spent in Lahore. Those six years of my life in the city of wonders, were absolutely wonderful, a roller cost, a journey of dreamland, precious and unforgettable experience.
At Noor Haveli, Interior Lohari Gate, Walled City
Lahore – Shifting to the city of wonders
Roaming around inside Mochi Gate area
I have spent most of childhood in the old areas of Rawalpindi, but after my graduation I planned to move to Lahore for Masters in Mass Communication. Back then, I had no idea that there was a great life waiting ahead for me. I came to Lahore in October 2005, soon after the deadly earthquake in Azad & Jammu Kashmir and N.W.F.P (Now KPK). For me it was like a dream coming true. As I moved to the city, I found the hassle-bustle of the city very appealing.
At first, the feeling to belong to Lahore was overwhelming and indescribable but now that I am recognized as Lahori, I can proudly say that this city has given me an identity. I feel that Lahore belongs to me and I belong to Lahore. I completed my studies here, and also started my career from this city.
During my stay in Lahore I never thought about leaving this city, in fact, I could not believe that I was actually leaving the city till my last day in Lahore.
Lahore – good ol’ memories
Now that I am miles away from Lahore, I remember Lahore for many good reasons; actually there are hundreds of good memories related to Lahore.
Firstly, I miss the city! For me, Lahore is not just a city, it is a living character, a companion, who gives you company, and who listens you, who never lets you alone. Then, I miss gathering of my friends and places where we used to sit together late night and Tea and discussion ware essential parts of our meetings.
Just imagine sitting in front of an old house, where prestigious Urdu writer Saadat Hassan Manto used to live, at an open air tea stall in Old Anarkali, families and young people walking around and eating. Students, lawyers, activists and all kinds of people sitting nearby you, and you are sitting at a tea stall, busy in discussing ‘Literary Criticism’ or’ Magical Realism and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ or perhaps new aspects of Urdu poetry. That is how I spend many nights in Anarkali like that. And I miss it now.
Dhol and Dhamal at Urs Data Gunj Baksh (Photo: AFP)
Other place that I used to visit frequently is Al-fazal Hotel in Laxmi chowk, Lahore. This is a bit different place as compared to Anarkali. It’s an ordinary hotel, where poets, artists and other like-minded people sit together. It was quite ‘school’ of a group of writers, but with the passage of time many people quitted coming here due to some reason. But I always enjoyed sitting there. One of the key memories of that place is that we never ate anything or took tea from this hotel despite of sitting several hours there. Our tea usually came from a tea stall adjacent to hotel and ‘Channay’ from famous Tooba restaurant, located at the right side of Al-Fazal hotel.
Other places where I spend some good quality time are those which make up vital part of my memory of Lahore. They include: Qehwa Stall at Jail road, Nairang Art gallery, Alhamra at The Mall, Liberty Market, Krishan nagar, Tea Stall and Desi Food shops at Temple road, Mashallah parathay, Mohammadi Nihari, Basheer Machhli at Mozang, Pulao shop outside Mori gate, Dehi Bhallay and Koozi haleem at Regal Chowk, Gawalmandi and Lahore Press Club.
Lahore – changing face of the city
The year I came to Lahore I also witnessed the closure to ‘Pak Tea House’, a historic place at The Mall (once it was known as India Tea House), where writers, intellectuals, poets, artists, student and all of the seniors and junior persons from literary circle of Lahore used to gather here. I visited this place a few times because it was closed in 2005-6 and never re- opened since that. (Now, although commissioner Lahore has ordered reopening of Pak Tea House but it hasn’t opened yet. Renovation work is in progress)
Pak Tea House, The Mall (Photo: Google images)
Another place where I liked to visit was ‘Alhamra Adbi Bethak’, a hall provided by the Govt. as the alternative of Pak House, but it was as healthy and ‘cultural’ place as Pak Tea House.
Lahore, at its peak, was better known for its lively Lahori culture and festivals such as Basant festivals, Jashn-e- Baharaan, Rafi Peer Festivals, Cricket Matches, Mela Charaghaan, Weekly Dhol performance of Pappu Saayn at Shah Jamal Darbar. And also known for the world famous Food Street, Gawalmandi.
Unfortunately, I also witness this rich culture of turning into a nightmare. During the past six years I have seen several dramatic changes in Lahore. First of all Food Street of gawalmandi was demolished by the Muslim League (N)’s government because it was the initiative of General Pervez Musharraf. It was a big blow to the Lahoris and people visiting here. But I realized that it was just the beginning of the worst.
In 2007 Lahore was the hub of judiciary crises; I covered all these rallies and protests for radio network Mast FM 103, and witnessed a unique enthusiasm in the citizens of Lahore. But after the Laal Masjid, Islamabad crises terrorism knocked at the ‘door’ of Lahore. It was the worst of all that we experienced in this culturally rich city.
I saw bloodshed, I felt terror, and I saw tears, I heard screams. I witnessed terrorism so closely. I witnessed blasts at FIA building at Temple road, Rescue 15 office at Queen’s road and near High Court, as I used to live nearby.
Attack on Sri Lankan Cricket Team (Photo: AFP)
Lahore was being targeted by the terrorists several times. Attack on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore made things more complicated which resulted in withdrawing of cricket matches held in Pakistan. This is how Pakistan lost the hosting of Cricket World Cup 2011 and Lahore also lost the Semi-Final venue (India vs Pakistan semi-final could have been played in Lahore).
Within few years Lahore lost almost everything! Cultural festivals and places like Basant, Food Street, and Pak House. But the most tragic of all things is that no one is bothered about it, everyone is isolated and culture of Lahore is going to have a terrible end.
Exploring Lahore – a life time experience
I got a unique opportunity to ‘Explore’ Lahore when I discussed my idea of writing detailed features about old places of Lahore with my management. Later, I wrote more than 40 features regarding gates of walled city, old bazaars of walled city, historic educational institutes and shrines of Lahore.
This was something I really wanted to do, a life time experience. Visiting all these places, especially narrow and dark streets of old city, meeting people living there, photographing and collecting information etc. For me, it was just like re-visiting past. The feeling you have while passing by a narrow street of old city, while you see old architecture, lovely windows and chobaraas (pavilions), well designed, magnificent wooden doors. From Bhaati gate to Lohari, Mochi and Taxali, areas inside all the 13 gates of Lahore have their unique feelings, which is incomparable, I bet.
Interior Sherwanwala gate area
And how can I forget the experience I had during visit of historic educational institutes like Govt. College University, Punjab University old campus, National College of Arts, Islamia College Civil Lines, Islamia College Railway road, Kinnaird College, King Edward Medical University and others. Most of them are red bricked buildings built in Anglo-Mughal style, with hue roof and gothic arched verandas and corridors. Have you ever experienced walking down these corridors, isn’t it like walking into the past? The great personalities of this region also once used to pass these paths.
The best thing about Lahore is Lahore city itself. Lahore never lets you alone; one doesn’t need a companion to experience Lahore. Lahore gives you company all the time while you roam around.
Once one of my friends asked ‘tum kya puraanay imaarto’n mai dhoondhtay rehte ho?’ (Why in hell are you searching for in these old buildings?)
And I replied simply: “You first have to fall in love to experience love”.
I have a different approach about Lahore. Although Lahore is a modern city, and as a metropolitan city it has many shopping malls, skyscrapers (though no very tall), some lavish food places (such as M.M Alam Road), markets like Liberty, Moon market, Y Block DHA and several others. But so What? Almost every metropolitan city in this world has all these facilities.
But, Lahore Fort is the only one in the world! Shah Jamal Shrine is nowhere else in the world except Lahore! You cannot build a Walled City like Lahore city! These places have a history, history of hundreds of years. These walls, doors, windows, pavilions, streets and old trees have witnessed the history of Lahore. I smelled them; I felt the fragrance of past, and it sent me back to the golden era of Lahore. But now I miss the dust of Lahore, I miss the fragrance of Lahore.
Shiraz Hassan is a magazine reporter and feature writer for Sunday Magazine in Lahore, Pakistan, where he covers social issues, art and culture. At the magazine, he has published more than 400 features related to social problems, culture and 'show biz.' Shiraz has also worked as a news editor at the radio network “MAST FM 103” in Lahore.
He writes about culture and heritage of South Asia, particularly Pakistan. He advocates rich culture of this land and tries to explore facts. Recently he was given an award from the Federal Ministry of Population Welfare for his article on population crises. Writers Guild also awarded him a Medal of excellence for his work.
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