Its colonial architecture along the famous
Mall Road is well preserved and remarkable.
Before Partition, Lahore had a sizeable
Hindu population and some places bearing
Hindu place names have been retained.
This is a city of contrasts. The old city is a
mishmash of old and decrepit dwellings and
crowded alleyways. And, there are neighborhoods with elegant houses, spacious gardens,
high walls and well-guarded entrance gates.
I had the privilege of spending an evening
in one such residence, where my soft-spoken
host showed me what amounted to a gallery
of rare Indian miniatures, contemporary paintings and artwork from across the subcontinent and beyond. The food and drinks were
of the best quality and the ambience was
warm and relaxed, even though the conversation sometimes veered towards the more unpleasant aspects of India-Pakistan relations.
A visit to the shrine of Hazrat Data Ganj
Bakhsh, a 12th-century teacher from Ghazni
who is renowned in the subcontinent as a
Sufi saint, was memorable. The area around
the mazaar has been expanded and spruced
up, but the tomb of the pir is in a more modest building.
There is an air of piety and whispered silence as large throngs of devotees quietly pay
their respects, receiving garlands of red roses
as blessings. It is more tranquil here than
Sufi culture has been under attack from the
iconoclastic purveyors of the Wahhabi version of Islam. It was reassuring to see that the
older and gentler traditions still flourish in
The Lahore Fort and the adjacent Badshahi Mosque mirror, in many ways, our Red Fort and Jama Masjid. The architecture and the
layout are very similar, though the Badshahi
Mosque is built on a much grander scale.
The Fort houses a Diwani-i-Aam and a
Sheesh Mahal, and has a Moti Masjid, just as
we do in the Red Fort. My impression is that the Lahore Fort
premises are better preserved and have benefited more from
recent renovations than its Delhi counterpart.
The Lahore Fort was successively occupied by the
Mughals, the Sikhs and the British, and the traces of each are
scattered across the site. There is a Hazuri Bagh pavilion
built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, apparently with marble
stripped from earlier Mughal monuments. This is where he
We saw a lone Sikh. Dressed in a Sikh warrior’s costume
and with a kirpan tucked in his waist at the pavilion, he was
having photos taken with Pakistani tourists. He seemed to be
a favorite with children.
The Sheesh Mahal has paintings with the Radha-Krishna
motifs on its wall, which also date back to Ranjit Singh’s rule.
One of the most interesting places to visit in Lahore is the
Fakir Khana museum in the old city. It is a small family
museum in an old haveli, whose time-worn facade and the
air of faded elegance hide one of the richest collections of
medieval artifacts — and a now-forgotten history of
Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s rule over Lahore.
The collection belongs to the descendants of three Muslim
brothers, who served in different capacities at the Sikh court.
The eldest, Fakir Azizuddin, was a counselor on foreign
affairs. Fakir Imamuddin, the middle brother, was the treasurer. The youngest, Fakir Nuruddin, later became a member
of the Regency Council. The brothers were the sons of a
Muslim ascetic from Bukhara who settled in Lahore in the
The Fakir Khana has a rare collection of miniatures, illustrated manuscripts, old coins, royal costumes and carpets,
gathered by the family through five generations.
Presiding over the unique legacy is Fakir Saifuddin, who
justifiably takes great pride in his family heirlooms and is full
of stories about his ancestors at Ranjit Singh’s court.
Part of the old walled city is being renovated. Through the
still surviving Delhi Gate, we visited the Wazir Khan
Hammam, a Turkish bathhouse that has been restored imaginatively and gives a sense of its original layout, its beautiful
wall paintings and old clay furnaces and water tanks all
beneath the exquisite, tiled floors. It was built in the mid-
17th century by Hakim Shaikh Ilmuddin Ansari, a physician
in Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s court.
Further on, in a hidden alley, we came across another gem
associated with him, the Wazir Khan Mosque — its Persian
architecture and decorative motifs probably represent the
high point of Mughal art. The mosque is literally tucked
away in an obscure corner and it appears almost as an ethereal apparition behind a modest gate.
The old city has a charm of its own, with narrow lanes and
roadside vendors selling a huge variety of merchandise.
We stopped at a chanawala’s cart just outside the mosque
to savor some freshly sand-roasted mix of gram, corn and
Lahore cuisine is well known across the world and its food
court in the old city boasts of dishes with recipes that go back
several centuries. We went to the Andaaz restaurant, next to
the Badshahi Mosque, and sat down to an exquisite dinner
on its terrace, overlooking the old city.
The different varieties of breads, kebabs and tikka, accompanied by biryani, were some of the best dishes I have had in
a long time. This is not a place for vegetarians, although
paneer and potatoes are on offer.
Ihad decided to come back to Delhi through the Wagah border and Amritsar. There is a new divided highway from
Lahore to the border that takes less than an
hour to cover. Crossing the less than 100
yards from the Pakistani side to India is
another matter. The Pakistani immigration
and customs, housed in a modest building,
cleared us with minimum fuss.
The Indian side was a different story. Our
baggage was carried on luggage carts by
porters, who then took us through the Pakistani gate and we walked a short stretch to
where Indian guards were deployed. Our passports were examined carefully and our baggage identified before we went on to the next
There was another extended scrutiny of our
passports and then we were truly on Indian
A bus, on which our baggage was loaded,
took us to a very large building, which is the
new integrated checkpoint. The bus dropped
us at the entrance, treating us to extra loud music during the
Before we stepped in, our passports were examined yet
again. The porters on the Indian side took charge of our baggage. We went on to the immigration counter. The vast hall
had fewer than 10 travelers at that time in the morning, but
it took us almost half an hour to clear immigration.
The fact that I had entered Pakistan by air, but was exiting
through the land border seemed to have thrown the computer off balance. The immigration officer kept apologizing
while coaxing his computer to verify my antecedents. He said
he had to note down all the details in my passport before
stamping it. Then came the customs, but this was relatively
painless — except that I had to fill another form.
At the exit from the building, yet another careful scrutiny
of our passports ensued. We found our hired car waiting for
us in the large but fairly empty parking lot and sighed with
relief, having run the border crossing gauntlet without a
But as we were driving out of the gate, one final check
awaited. This took nearly 20 minutes, since details of each of
our passports were now manually entered in a register. And
then, at last, we were on our way to Amritsar.
It has been far easier to construct impressive infrastructure
for cross-border connectivity than to abandon the attitudes
of the past. The physical walls seem to have been breached.
The mental walls remain in place. n
Shyam Saran, a Indian former foreign secretary, is
chairman, Research and Information System for Developing
Countries, and Senior Fellow, Center for Policy Research.
By arrangement with Business Standard
BEYOND BORDERS M8 THE MAGAZINE
A flight to Pakistan
Clockwise from top, the pond of the Katas Raj temple, a Hindu temple; the Data Darbar Sufi shrine, Pakistan’s most important Sufi shrine; and Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s mausoleum in Lahore, a site Sikh pilgrims often visit. MOHSIN RAZA/REU TERS
MOHSIN RAZA/REU TERS