Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tour dé Lahore

A day trip exclusively for sightseeing around Lahore seemed too good to be true but where there’s a will there is a way and Jeff proved it. It is nothing short of a miracle that wedding guests, ranging from the ages of 60 to two years managed to wake up early on a Sunday morning (while on vacation and after a late night of partying) and assembled at 10ish at Liberty Market for a traditional puri halwa breakfast. The day’s itinerary was ambitious; a quick trip down Lahore’s rich historic past and (a little not so rich) present.

The mastermind behind the entire trip was none other than the father of the bride, my dear uncle, Jeff, who was harbouring the dream of such a tour since the day he moved to Lahore! This trip was a recreational and educational trip. And it was a good change from the usual mundane trips to malls and bazaars.

Our first stop was the very beautiful Wazir Khan Mosque. This mosque was built in seven years and work began on it in 1634-1635 during the reign of the Mogul Emperor Shah Jehan. It is famous for its faience tile work (source: Wikipedia). The entrance to the mosque is through Delhi Gate, one of the old gates of the inner city. The tile work is absolutely breathtaking. Our stop there was brief and though we were in the middle of the city, there was a sense of quiet calm within the walls of the mosque.

As we moved through the narrow streets to reach Wazir Khan Mosque, I felt sad at the degradation around me. There was absolute chaos outside the Mosque; life went on around this great architectural beauty in the same manner it does anywhere in our country. It seems sad that all new governments want to build new monuments to mark their time in power; ugly structures that are a display of ego and fake patriotism but no one takes any concrete steps to protect our inheritance, and the little proof that remains of our glorious ancestors.

The display of decadence is nowhere more prominent than at the majestic Lahore Fort. It was built during the reign ofAkbar (1556-1605) and inside it there are many famous sites; Sheesh Mahal, Naulakha Pavilion, and Moti Masjid (source: Wikipedia). The Lahore Fort is also a UNESCO Heritage Site (as is Wazir Khan Mosque) but it seems otherwise from its dilapidated condition. The very walls of the entire place seem to be crumbling. On a previous visit during a trip I’d made to the fort in 2006, the Sheesh Mahal was being renovated. Four years later the renovation is still going on. What a splendid sight the mirrors must be during the heydays of the Moguls. It was heart breaking walking around the fort which, too, has become commercialized.Where, once, the footsteps of Kings echoed people are eating french fries under ugly branded umbrellas of Walls and Coca Cola.

We made a very brief stop at the Badshahi Mosque which is right opposite the fort.. This grandiose structure was commissioned by the Mogul emperor Aurangzeb in 1671 and was completed in 1673 (source: Wikipedia). The Badshahi Mosque is a landmark of Lahore and it is unparallel in its beauty, magnificence and splendour. Since it was a Sunday, the place was thronging with visitors. And we had to cut short our trip so as to be able to be on time at our final stop, the Wagah Border.

Wagah Border is the ceremonial border between Pakistan and India. Over the years, it has become a major tourist attraction as there is an elaborate flag lowering ceremony which is preceded by a parade of sorts (very choreographed) between the Pakistan Rangers and Border Security Force of India. The ceremony is well known for the theatrics pulled by soldiers of the two countries with much fist shaking and boot stamping amidst cheering crowds on both sides. We also joined in the fun and shouted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ while the Indians did the same. Both the sides had more or less the same setup but ours was a little too pompous. We had a bigger and taller gate which looked rather ugly. Do we really think that a monstrous gate will make us a bigger or better country? I think the gate did represent what our nation stands for (especially now), a country which has big words and ideas (not to forget big presidential palaces and big government spendings) but is hollow from the inside (even the sliding gates did not work all that smoothly!). And to counter Asoka’s Lions which stood atop the pillars of the India gate, we had Allah carved atop both our pillars. Probably because the only reason we’re still here is because of HIM, otherwise we’ve not left any stone unturned to destroy ourselves.

The ceremony was fun. There was a hint of sadness in my feelings as I thought of the great Mogul Emperors, Akbar, Shah Jehan and Aurangzeb. They ruled over a united subcontinent where Hindus and Muslims lived together. How would they react to the Wagah Border? Surely they would be rather shocked. Will our reasons for a separate homeland for Muslims be good enough to justify breaking their homeland into pieces? Somehow, I don’t think so.

I did some sightseeing on my own also when I dragged my mother and brother to the Lahore Museum. There are some amazing things there; miniature Mogul paintings on ivory, wood sculptures of Hindu Gods, a huge stone stature of Asoka’s lions, and of course, the great Sadequain’s paintings. But it is a depressing place and it left me sad. Will we never learn to appreciate our past? I fear the answer. 

At the Shahi Qilla (Lahore Fort)

A big thanks to Jeff for planning this trip! It added a unique and memorable touch to the wedding festivities!