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The uncharted life hidden inside the Walled City of Lahore

In this article, Tania Qureshi discusses the Walled City of Lahore, which no doubt is among the oldest settlements, and a cosmos of monuments, havelis, cuisines, bazaars, culture and traditions. All these features make it a heritage museum.

“I am an unseen and uncharted life hidden inside thirteen giant gates, though some I have lost. Still, I hold the glory of the bygone days and the possessions of the past which the rulers left behind in my streets and edifices. I am walled city, the old Lahore – I am the essence of life, heritage and culture”.

Walled city of Lahore, which no doubt is among the oldest settlements, is a cosmos of monuments, havelis, cuisines, bazaars, culture and traditions. All these features make it a heritage museum.

This city is a marvel inside thirteen gates with a matchless lifestyle. The narrow winding twisting streets lead you from one point to another inside this small city. The vibrant and sparkling bazaars are open throughout the night and day. I see the strongly knitted neighborhoods which are a part of each other’s life in all happy and sad moods. I see the real spirit of harmony and tolerance when the rituals and merriment are celebrated without any discrimination of caste, colour and creed. The sky touching rooftops of havelis with pigeon’s cages on them is charismatic and take you to a different world altogether.

I am not a resident of the walled city of Lahore but I am a frequent traveler of its strange streets and monuments which have the mysterious impressions of the past in them and then I talk to them to know more about the state they went through – the state of happiness, sorrow, celebrations and misery. This is a city of life, colors, taste, and a city that never sleeps!

Walled City was the birthplace of Prince Loh. It became Brahmanabad city, got invaded by Subuktagin, and captured by Mahmood of Ghazna. Later, it was conquered by Shahb ud din Ghauri, ransacked by Mongols and remained with Khiljis, Tughlaqs and Lodhi Dynasties.

Walled city of Lahore has been the center of literature, arts and sports. Several renowned personalities of both Pakistan and India grew up in this small city

Then came the golden era of the Mughals when this city touched its zenith and became popular that the Sikhs started fighting for power and gained the throne when Maharaja Ranjeet Singh became ‘Sher-e-Punjab. Later, the British took over Lahore and carried away the precious Kohinoor diamond with them.

This small city within Lahore was given its present shape by the Mughals, Sikhs and British. The Mughal emperor Akbar re-built the mud fort of Ghaznavid period with burnt bricks and added thirteen gates to the city, connected with a thirty feet high fortified wall. The gates were Delhi Gate, Yakki Gate, Sheranwala Gate, Kashmiri Gate, Masti Gate, Roshnai Gate, Lohari Gate, Bhatti Gate, Shah Almi Gate, Akbari Gate, Mochi Gate and Taxali Gate along with a Mori. The Mughals built the giant mosques like Mariam Zamani Mosque, Wazir Khan Mosque, Taxali Mosque and Badshahi Mosque along with several other structures.

The Sikhs added in more buildings and religious sites like Gurdawara and Janam Asthan. Then came the British who demolished the high walls of the city and pulled down the gorgeous gates.

During all this time from Mughals to British, the walled city of Lahore witnessed countless upheavals which still are reflected in the balconies, monuments and streets. In early 1900s, the British rebuilt the thirteen gates with different architecture from the ones of Mughal era, and these are the gates we see today. Few gates were burnt and few collided with the passage of time and at present we have only six of them. Out of these the only Mughal era gate is the Roshnai Darwaza which is next to the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh.

The walled city of Lahore has many wonders inside it and also the world class monuments like Lahore Fort, Shahi Hammam, Wazir Khan Mosque, Badshahi Mosque, Mariam Zamani Mosque, Neevin Masjid, Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh, Janam Asthan Guru Arjun Ram, Oonchi Masjid, Golden Mosque, Moran Sarkar Masjid, Baoli Bagh and Shahi Hammam. Let me tell you that the monuments are not only the gems here but the rich havelis are also the jewels of this city. The havelis of Dina Nath, Mian Sultan, Mian Khan, Bej Nath, Nau Nehal Singh, Jamadar Khushhal Singh, Dhyan Singh, Shamsher Singh, Kharak Singh, Kabuli Mal, Noori Manzil, Qamar Manzil, Barood Khana, Faqir Khana and many more are the soul of walled city of Lahore.

This city holds wonders like the world’s largest picture which is inside Lahore fort. The roots of British East India Company are also here in the largest spice market Akbari Mandi from where the trading of spices began.

The twisting narrow streets of the city are another marvel. These streets were made for defensive purposes in labyrinth style to hamper the movement of the attackers entering the city. This is how the then town planners kept the city safe. Another interesting feature of the streets was to connect the entire city together and to have a strong neighborhood system.

Walled city of Lahore has been the center of literature, arts and sports. Several renowned personalities of sub-continent and Pakistan grew up in this small city.  Dr. Muhammad Allama Iqbal, Sir Ganga Ram, Shah Hussain, Ustad Daman, Madam Noor Jehan, Mustansar Hussain Tarar, Faqir Syed Noor ud din, Molana Zafar Ali Khan, Hamid Ali Khan, Gamma Pehalwan, Agha Hashar Kashmiri, Imtiaz Ali Taj, Rafi Singer, Nadra Begum, Judge Muhammad Latif, Hakim Shuja, Fasih Ul Mulk, Daag Dehlvi, Khawaja Khurshid Anwar, Faqir Syed Azizuddin, Syed Nazir Hussain Nazir Lakhnavi, Ghulam Ali Khan, Maulvi Ahmed Din,  Abdul Hafiz Kardar, Gamma Pehalwan and many others were born here or lived for sometime in this city of wonders. Houses of some of these personalities are still seen in different streets of the city and those take you back into the past when these people were alive and one can imagine how they would be moving around in the city which was spacious at that time.

Lahore is a city of cuisines and traditional food, but I am afraid that some indigenous recipes are fading away. Pathoora, Das Qulcha, Qatlama, Khatai, Paye, traditional sweets, firni, kheer, Lassi, Sardai, Elaichi Sharbat, Sandal etc are the specialties of this place and the guests are still served with these traditional items.

While writing on the walled city Lahore I cannot ignore the real essence of this place which is the markets of Lahore. Akbari Mandi, Pakistan Cloth Market, Azam Cloth Market, Sheikhupurian Bazaar, Moti Bazaar, Kinari Bazaar, Kasera Bazaar, Waan Market, Bangle Market, Shah Almi Bazaar, fish market, birds market, Pappar Mandi, Gumti Bazaar, Sarafa Bazaar, Lahnga Mandi, Siriyan Wala Bazaar, Sheesha Moti Bazaar and many other  make this place a living land and a city that never sleeps. Over the passage of time these bazaars expanded and thus the commercialization started which damaged the heritage built of the city. The reason for congestion in the city is also due to the huge markets here and I don’t see any solution to control this, but the further expansion can be managed.

Now what do you think of this city? This is a unique piece of land inside the hustle and bustle of huge Lahore. Most of us ignore this place because of the rush and traffic congestions but trust me it is worth visiting. Try out a tour to this cosmos on a Saturday or Sunday and you will take back good memories of the time spent there.

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