There’s a famous saying in Punjabi that I heard in Delhi for the first time. Jinay Lahore nai wekhiya, o jamiya nai – Whosoever has not seen Lahore has not been born. Even though I had been to Lahore a couple times in the past, it wasn’t until last June that I actually had the chance to see a bit of it.
The story goes like this. When Arman and I met in Karachi, we decided to go back to India through the Wagah border. However, Arman wanted to stay in Lahore for a day or two at his soul sister, Sumbal Api’s place. He asked me if I would be okay with that and I was. In fact, I was excited that I might finally have a chance to explore Lahore and Arman was more than glad to show me around. What an irony, no? Arman, being technically an Indian, was actually the one showing me, a Pakistani around!
And so we went, full of excitement for the two days of exploring Lahore together and then finally crossing over to the other side through Wagah. Funnily enough, I remember telling Arman not to take me to the usual sightseeing monuments but turned out we went to them anyway. There’s no escaping them when the city is full of them, right? Initially, we went to Data Darbar sahab, my very first visit to a dargah in Pakistan. Although I had been to a couple dargahs in Delhi, I had never frequented one in Pakistan. It was interesting to note the separation of men and women there which I wasn’t exactly used to in the dargahs of Delhi. It was interesting to see throngs of women just waiting to get a split second glimpse of the famous Sufi saint Data Ganj Baksh’s grave and offer flowers and prayers.
The Badshahi Masjid was our next stop but because it was lunch time, we thought we would stop over at the Food Street for some hot kebabs. When we reached there, we found out, to our disappointment that it only opens at night. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful cloudy day, so we took the opportunity to click some pictures with the beautiful havelis and their closed antique doors.
Badshahi Masjid, built by Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb is surely a beauty. Climbing the steps, I felt like I was back in Delhi walking towards the Jama Masjid. Even from the inside, it reminded me of the great Mosque Aurangzeb’s father, Emperor Shah Jahan built in Old Delhi. We even saw some really old relics of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his companions, that were displayed in one of the sections of the Mosque.
Next on our list was Minar-e-Pakistan. It was one of those monuments I knew so much about but I never knew how it actually looked in reality. It didn’t turn out to be too spectacular or anything but now I have a funny memory associated with it. You see, Arman wanted us to take one of those pictures in which you position the camera in such a way that the person being photographed seems to be holding the pointed tip of the monument. I had always thought it as something clichéd stupid tourists did, but when asked by Arman to do the same, I quietly posed and became one of those stupid tourists. Ah, the things you do for love! Except when Arman asked me to take a picture of him in the same pose, I gulped. I tried and I tried but I just couldn’t get the “right” perspective or angle. Admitting that I sucked at math, I gave up!
As we were making our way to the Shahi Qila next, we noticed an exquisite white and gold structure that looked like a mosque but was not quite. It was a gurudwara! My eyes immediately lit up as more than the Shahi Qila, I wanted to go inside the Sikh temple and see it in all its galore. As we approached the Gurudwara’s gates, it was closed. Above the gates was the name of the Sikh temple, “Gurudwara Dera Sahib” written in Gurmukhi and English.
Upon knocking one of the gates, a man answered and asked us who we were and what we wanted. We knew this was the time to play the Indian card! Arman told the man that he was from India and that he wanted to see the gurudwara from inside. The man asked for some ID proof and ran back inside to get approval from his superiors. He came back a minute later, opened the gate and welcomed us inside. He led us to his superior’s office where we met the caretaker of the holy place. He was a Muslim man to our surprise and was extremely welcoming. His face lit up as we entered the room and you could tell how happy he was to have guests from Hindustan. We had a wonderful conversation and were served cold drinks as is the custom in summer. The caretaker also introduced us to one of the Sikhs who lived there. We were given a really insightful tour of the whole gurudwara.
Before we left, we were given a special prasaad – a dry halwa from the langar along with a few other things in small paper bags. We were elated and thought we could take those tabarruks for our Sikh friends back in Delhi. To make it even more sentimental, we took fists full of sand and poured it into both the bags. After all, we knew how special it would be for our friends to feel the mitti of the holy place that was built by their forefathers. There is so much to say about our tour of Dera Sahib that I feel it’s better to do a separate post on it. So keep a lookout for that! 🙂
Let’s get back to our tour of Lahore for now. After the caretakers of the gurudwara bid us farewell, we made our way to Shahi Qila, with bags in our hands filled with tabarruk for our Sikh friends in Delhi. What we didn’t realise was that the bags we were carrying had a picture of Dera Sahib and a few things written in Gurmukhi – a foreign or an “Indian” language on it. We were automatically flagged as tourists from India and tour guides hounded us to let them show us around the Fort. We managed to evade them successfully and reached the ticket counter. Upon reaching there, we found out that the ticket for locals was 30 rupees or something while the ticket for foreigners was 500 rupees to get in. This is true of any ticketed historical monument in India as well. But since I always passed as an Indian, I would manage to get away with getting a ticket for the price any local would have paid. I thought it was time to pay it back by doing the same for Arman. After all, who was going to check whether he was a Pakistani or not. Little did we know, one of the tour guides had already teamed up with the ticket collectors at the gate and schemed to expose us as Indian foreigners trying to get in on a local ticket! The bags from the gurudwara didn’t help our case either. We tried to convince them but were repeatedly asked to show our IDs. Unfortunately I wasn’t carrying one at the time and Arman showing his Indian ID would have meant accepting defeat. So I quickly fished for a scanned copy of my passport in my phone. Upon finding it, I finally showed it to the gatekeepers and the vindictive tour guide, who was clearly shocked.
Finally, we were allowed to go inside. Going around the fort was fun but since we were really tired and hot by all the walking around that we were doing, we really needed to find a place to sit. And we did… Royal style! We found a Jharokha surrounded by exquisite jaali, a signature style of Mughaliya architecture. And my God, it was the perfect spot to cool off on a hot day! The rain clouds had rolled in and one could really feel the wind sitting at that window. I couldn’t help but imagine royal princesses or the ladies of the Mughal court doing the same in the exact spot hundreds of years ago!
Alas, our time at the Shahi Qila and our lovely spot had to come to an end. It was about to get dark and we had one last historical place to visit. The Wazir Khan Mosque – the first and only mosque I’ve ever had the absolute pleasure of praying inside! Getting to the mosque, walking down the streets of Old Lahore felt eerily familiar. I felt like I was walking through the streets of Purani Dilli (Old Delhi) as we entered through the Dehli Gate! There’s something about these old neighborhoods and markets that I find so fascinating. Walking down the narrow, often unkempt lanes of these historical mohallas makes you feel the love and warmth found there.
We reached the Wazir Khan Mosque at the perfect time – Maghrib! Although we couldn’t get to marvel its architecture much, we were awed by the beautiful azaan given by the muezzin. If one heard such a beautiful azaan (call for prayer) in such a beautiful mosque, one would automatically want to pray. And so we did! Arman prayed with the congregation while I found a secluded spot for myself as I like to be far from the crowd while in conversation with God. Although I am not that religious, it was the most beautiful experience of praying I have ever had.
That concluded my one-day tour of Lahore and I could finally say that I was born now! I felt more alive than ever walking, exploring, observing. Even though I said I didn’t want to go to the usual tourist spots in Lahore, I was happy that we went anyway and experienced them in our own unique way. Isn’t that the purpose of traveling anyways? You can see a thousand pictures of famous tourists spots on the internet but it can never beat the feeling you get when you’re the one on the other side of the camera capturing all that beauty and wonder to remember for all time to come!