The History of Lahore: The Known
The world is a map where every single point is not just the marker of a location but also of a story waiting to be heard. In the last few years I have started cultivating a passion for travelling within me. I find myself anticipating the moment I uncover these stories, some well-known and some known only by a few. Nevertheless, visiting these places is very different from writing about them with one of the reasons being that I find myself unable to put the majesty of these places into words and also because I find myself shouldering the responsibility of keeping prejudice and narrow-mindedness from my accounts.
Recounting my visit to ‘Androon’ Lahore or Old Lahore, I travelled with two of my friends, eager to unearth the secrets of my birth city Lahore. We began the excursion on foot as we crossed under the colossal arch of the Delhi gate. Colorful ‘chinchis’ can be found parked here, ready to take passengers through the winding maze that is the old city. The narrow streets are mostly traversed on foot, motorbikes, ‘chinchis’ or rickshaws. The gate itself lies against its post, unhinged and collecting dust. Old Lahore is a world in itself with its lively array of people and to me it is the living beating heart of Lahore. The streets are lined with shopkeepers selling flamboyant and vibrant wares, their voices adding to the din of the place.
Our first stop was the fascinating Shahi Hammam or the Royal Baths built in 1634 during the reign of Emperor Shah Jehan by Sheikh Ilmuddin Ansari better known as Wazir Khan. It is a Persian-style bath and the only remaining one of its kind. With its arched corridors and plastered walls painted with exquisite motifs, the Hammam is an excellent example of the bounding advancements of Mughal art and architecture. It was built as a ‘waqf’ for the magnificent Wazir Khan mosque that is situated next to it. The baths were quite recently renovated from 2013 to 2015 and the floors were removed from certain places due to their dilapidated condition and instead walkways have been installed.
The center of the Hammam with its towering dome is still covered in exquisite artwork from the Mughal which is mesmerizing in its detail and beauty. Covered in geometric designs painted in harmonious oranges, reds, greens and blacks, the place draws even the most inexperienced eye towards its splendor. One room in fact did not fail to bring out the childish side of us as we stood in opposite corners on the reinforced glass floor and yet could still hear each other whispering through the walls.
This was, as the tour guide informed us, an ancient communication system. We went on to climb a narrow and steep staircase to emerge onto the rooftop and be enchanted with a picturesque view of the busy streets of old Lahore. The scent of spices permeates the air and it’s as if the noises of the world are suddenly softer and richer. The street is lined with vendors displaying a mountain of colorful spices to eager shoppers, after all, we ‘Lahoris’ love our food. As this visit took place in the month of Muharram we also had the fortune of seeing the streets decorated in beautiful streamers forming a glittering roof over the alleys.
Next, after me getting lost in the Hammam, we visited Wazir Khan Mosque. This exquisite Mosque was also built by Wazir Khan, its namesake and the founder of the city of Wazirabad.
The mosque is a sight for sore eyes, adorned in eye-catchingly bright colors, with tile work done using orange, green, yellow and blue tiles. However, must of this tile work has been ruined due to neglect and time.
Although the Mosque quite recently underwent renovations, the original splendor of it has been lost to some extent. With four minarets, each guarding a corner, the mosque is a vision to behold. Next to the entrance are brick compartments that possibly served as shops at that time but now stand empty. It was under the heat of the summer sun that we entered the mosque, my feet immediately feeling the burn of the bare brick floor.
Nevertheless, cool water had been sprinkled over it to soothe the pain of the burn. Inside the mosque I felt enveloped with a sense of soul-cleansing serenity. With its arched entryways, a common feature of Mughal architecture; red carpeted floors and huge but dusty chandeliers, the mosque has recently become a popular tourist and local attraction.
The rich colors of the mosque are entrancing as several people remained busy in their supplication.
The mosque left a lasting impact on me and a deep desire to visit it again.
By Amna Khan