Lahore: Srinagar's Downtown

I am not a frequent flyer but this trip was special for many reasons – right from my visit to the Pakistan High Commission, located in Delhi’s posh Chanakyapuri, to Baba Bulle Shah’s resting place in Kasuur, it was a memorable trip. After reading my recommendation letter from a Lahore based University, I got a green signal to move. As dusk fell over the capital city, I headed towards erstwhile Ramdaspur. Amritsar is a place of love. Before heading off to Attari-Wagah border, I had a peaceful sleep at Golden temple.

After thorough questioning at Immigration Centre, I was allowed to cross over to the Pakistani side. As the cab drove towards the old city of Lahore, with Musarat Nazir’s nostalgic “Chalie’n to kat hi jayega safar” blaring from the stereo, a fellow passenger briefed about the historic significance of the City of Gardens.

Lahore is known as Pakistan’s educational capital, with more colleges and universities than any other city in Pakistan. With dog-eat-dog competition, the education sector is thriving here. At the conference, delegates discussed everything under the sun. From Trump’s travel ban to the Qatar crisis, “honour killings” to biological war, it was a great platform for battle of ideas.

I travelled the length and breadth of the city. For a travel freak, Lahore offers love. When I entered the hotel meant for delegates, I was dog-tired and hungry. I ordered breakfast. They told me that I needed to pay the bill in advance. I did. And when I wrote “Srinagar” in the Register meant for guests, the owner smiled. He folded his hands and apologized. Why?

“Sir, mujhe nahin pata tha aap Srinagar se hain, maaf karna (I am sorry sir, I didn’t know that you are from Srinagar),” he said. They refused to accept even a single penny. I asked for the reason. He didn’t say anything. He just broke down.

Lahore is a bustling city. Here, women enjoy relatively more freedom. At the famed Liberty and Anarkali markets, dubbed a shopper’s paradise, I saw young ladies shopping at ease and women shopping even in the dead of the night. Lahoris are fond of food. Eateries are open round the clock. Politics and religion are widely discussed.

I prayed for peace at the imperial Badshahi Mosque, a historical monument. The Grand Jamia Mosque is the world’s seventh largest and Pakistan’s third largest mosque and the best place to visit from an Islamic perspective. Wazir Khan Mosque, described as a “mole on the cheek of Lahore” covered with decorative tiles, is a splendid example of Indo-Islamic architecture. Every single monument, building, artefact, road and even the atmosphere tells the tales of historic emperors and dictators. The religious diversity is clearly shown by the happy co-existence of Badshahi Masjid, Gurduwara Dera Sahib and Krishna Mandir.

Old Lahore is a replica of Srinagar’s downtown. One feels the aroma of Razekadel, Gojwor, Kawdor and Habbakadal. It was fun walking alone in the lively lanes and talking to friendly people on shop-fronts who offer smiles and sweets in return. Lahore is a free city. As Ayesha, my friend from Lahore, remarked, Lahore is life. Lahoris are truly a blessed breed. An added bonus is a fair share of showbiz celebrities – Lahore produced the icons of Pakistan’s film industry like heartthrob Fawad Khan, Atif Aslam, Ali Zaffar, Saba Hameed, Faisal Qureshi, etc.

From revered Nankana Sahib to the equally sacrosanct shrine of Baba Bulle Shah in Kassur, Lahore is a must-visit place for every traveler. I also visited Lahore Zoo – second oldest zoo in South Asia after Kolkata’s – which has been a source of amusement and recreation for families for more than a century now.

I enjoyed my brief reading session at Quaid-e-Azam library at Bagh-e-Jinnah. This “White House” of Pakistan has an excellent auditorium. It hosts exhibitions, seminars, conferences, workshops, symposia and lectures. The intelligentsia discusses contemporary issues. I also visited Punjab Public Library near Lahore Museum at Mall Road. This tour was a treat for a bibliophile like me. At Raiwand Markaz, home of the religious movement in Pakistan, a person in the front row bowed in prostration – and it proved to be his last prayer. As I recall the moment, it sends shivers down my spine. The next day, I clicked few pictures in front of the mighty Minar-e-Pakistan and headed towards the border. A trip to the cultural capital of Pakistan for an academic conference to discuss the clichéd topic of peace, conflict and violence threw up many pleasant surprises.