June 6, 2019
“Whoever hasn’t seen Lahore has not lived” – so goes an old saying. And it seems to be true. The vibrancy of modern life is interwoven with shades from the past in a seamless tapestry that is Lahore.
A city that was supposedly founded by Lava, the son of Rama, it pre-dates written history. Poised at the crossroads, Lahore has witnessed many an invasion, played home to rise and fall of different dynasties and taken it all in her stride. From a Jain rule to a Hindu one, to the Mongols and the Marathas, followed by its heyday during the Mughals. A short-lived Sikh rule trailed by the British until the independence of Pakistan, Lahore has played host to them all. Many are the monuments bearing mute witness, the most touted ones from the Mughal and British eras.
The huge Lahore fort with its bastions and ramparts enclose a vast array of buildings and monuments. Audience halls of Diwan-i-Am, pavilions like the Hazuri Bagh and Jehangir’s Quadrangle complete with fountains, must once have been breathtaking.
The mirrored walls and ceilings of palaces like Shish Mahal must have once been a wonder to behold. Unsurprisingly, they evoke images Uzbekistan and Iran. It is the same style, the same lavish details, the same incredible art. But what is spellbinding in Uzbekistan and Iran, are mere shadows here. The elaborate paintings along the walls are obliterated by time and neglect, the buildings crumbling to the ground. The rich heritage of Pakistan is reduced to ragged reminders of their past grandeur. It makes me unbearably sad. Perhaps now with the promotion of tourism, there will be an interest in restoration. One can only hope!
The only monuments that appear to have escaped total neglect are the many mosques. Actively used, these still retain a glimmer of their past beauty. The Badshahi mosque, the Wazir Khan and the Moti mosque among them.
But there are faint rays of hope. The mausoleum of Maharaja Ranjit Singh is better shape than most, as are the couple of Sikh gurdwaras. The Shahi Hammam within the walled city has seen some restoration so perhaps there is hope after all.
Better preserved are the relatively newer buildings of the British Raj. Weaned on Kipling and a devout fan of “Kim”, the Lahore museum is an irresistible lure. The story ran through my head as I wandered the halls of the museums and drank in the sight of the Zam-zammah. Sitting astride it as Kim had done, crossed my mind, but prudency prevailed. I had better be on my best behavior; I would like to visit Pakistan again and cannot afford to annoy the powers that be.