Lahore, currently the capital city of the province of Punjab in Pakistan has been the cultural center of Northern India extending from Peshawar to New Delhi for thousands of years. Lahore is a city of culture, of history, of an unsurpassed charm that is unique from every other city. The city has stood witness to generations of cultural, intellectual, musical and literary evolution, which has gradually resulted in a potpourri that is evident in Lahore’s rich cultural heritage. Lahore is famous for its renowned poets, artists and craftsmen. Apart from being the cultural and intellectual centre of the country, the city is home to some of the most stunning architecture dating back to the Mughal period. For more than two centuries, beginning from about 1524 AD Lahore has been the favored capital and a thriving cultural centre of the great Mughal Empire. The Mughal Emperors have left the city with a legacy of magnificent palaces, perfectly manicured gardens and majestic mosques.
Legend has it that Lahore was founded four thousand years ago and named after Luv, son of Lord Rama. Lahore came under Muslim rule in the early years of the 11th century, and became a focus of attention for Islamic culture. Strategically positioned on the main trade routes of South Asia, Lahore has seen the birth and death of many dynasties, having been ruled by several of them. Muslim rule began here when Qutub-ud-din Aibak was crowned in Lahore in 1206 and reached the apex of its glory during the Mughal rule from 1524 to 1752. The Mughals, who are known for their fine aesthetic sense, have given Lahore some of its grandest architectural monuments. Akbar ruled the country from Lahore for 14 years from 1584 to 1598. The Lahore Fort was built by him; he also surrounded the city with a red brick wall. Emperor Jahangir and Shah Jahan further extended the fort, built palaces and tombs, and laid out gardens.
The last of the great Mughals, Aurangzeb built Lahore’s most famous monument, the massive Badshahi Masjid and the splendid Alamgiri gateway to the fort. The mughals were followed by the British who came into power in 1849 and constructed many monuments and bungalows in Mughal-Gothic style. The Lahore Cantonment is perhaps the best example of the British style of architecture with wide tree-lined boulevards and sprawling bungalows. Every section of the city has a story to tell, which is apparent in the monuments, the bazaars, the old buildings lining the Mall and in the people of Lahore.
Spread over fifty acres, Lahore Fort is located in the northwest corner of the Walled City. The fort was built by Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar during Akbar's reign between 1556 and 1605. Succeeding Mughal emperor including the Sikhs and the British all added to the original construction, making it a unique structure which represents a complete history of the architectural influences in Lahore. The fort boasts of two imposing gates on the east and the west sides. The western gate, known as Alamgiri Gate, a magnificent double-storey gate is presently used as the main entrance.
Alamgiri Gate was built by Emperor Mohiuddin Aurangezeb Alamgir in 1673, faces the grand Badshahi Mosque while opening into Hazuri Bagh. Garden of Public Audience or Maidan Diwan-e-Aam is located on the southern section and is the most important element of Mughal court ceremonial spaces. It was destroyed during the Sikh occupancy and Inter-Sikh wars and many cells were destroyed to construct artillery and infantry barracks when the Mughal fort served as a British cantonment. Diwan-e-Aam lies on the northern side of the garden and is the focal point of all activity. The Diwan-e-Aam is constructed on a raised platform surrounded by a stone railing with a marble jharoka dominating the centre. Daulat Khana-e-Khass-o-Aam is well designed and acts as a transition from the highly public area of the Diwan-e-Aam to the private residential apartments of the Emperor’s harem. The original ornate walls and embellishments are destroyed by the imperceptive Sikh painting sketched on top and British stark whitewashes having buried most of the Mughal art. In spite of the loss of surface decoration, evidence of the delicately embellished architecture can be seen in the dainty latticed jharokas and finely sculpted arches. The small but beautiful Makatib Khana is located in the northwest corner of the Maidan Diwan-e-Aam. It was designed by one of the most accomplished Mughal architects—Abdul Karim titled Mamur Khan, a favorite of both Jahangir and Shah Jahan.
One of the earliest structures of the period is Jahangir's Quadrangle which was begun by Akbar and completed by Jahangir in 1618. Jahangir's Quadrangle consists of private imperial apartments and a harem. It offers some of the prettiest view, overlooking the vast countryside.
Mashriqi and Maghribi are twin two-storey, separate havelis located at either side of Jehangir's Quadrangle. These mansions were especially built for the favored members of the royal household may it be a favorite concubine, the queen mother or a favorite daughter such as Jahan Ara Begam.
These havelis are exquisitely detailed with great attention given to its design. The columns on the portico, the carved brackets, the dainty arches are all embellished with delicate designs all over. These historically significant havelis are currently a part of a group of havelis known as Chuna Mandi Havelis. From its sprawling courtyards to its royal baths and from its arched hallways to its zenana gardens, the building is breathtakingly beautiful. But, perhaps what is far more important is that the haveli is well looked after and is being utilized as a college and every corner has been put to constructive use. It currently houses the Government Fatima Jinnah College for Women Conservation work on the haveli was carried out by the Lahore Development Authority before it was converted into a college. The college is fascinating and it is not surprising to find students sitting in a math class that is bang next to a royal bath, or crossing a dark alley that would lead them to their department. The roof tops exhibit the old city and one can spot the Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque and the Minar-e-Pakistan.
The Sikh rulers of the Punjab have left their stamp on Lahore in its music, painting, architecture and dance. Nau Nihal Singh’s magnificent haveli is counted among the most majestic buildings of the city of Lahore. Nau Nihal Singh who once used it as his private residence added numerous specious chambers, halls and balconies. The roofs are embellished with paintings and stained glass work, all worked in gold. It is now government property used as Victoria Girls' High School.
Mai Jindan was the mother of the infant Sikh ruler, Dulip Singh. The Haveli of Mai Jindan dominates the eastern section of the Moti Mosque Quadrangle. This two-storey haveli was originally a Mughal structure but it is considered a Sikh haveli now because of the many additions by the Sikhs.
Another surviving haveli, known for the grandeur of its opulent façade is the Mubarak Haveli, just off Bazaar Hakeeman inside Bhati Gate. It was here that the Koh-e-Noor Diamond was recovered from a trapped Afghan king. The haveli was built by Mir Bahadur Ali, Mir Nadir Ali and Mir Bahar Ali, sons of a well-known 'tabeeb' and 'hakeem' during the time of Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah. It took three years to build and when the three brothers moved in, Bahadar Ali's wife gave birth to a son. This was seen as a good omen and the haveli was named Mubarak Haveli.
One of the most impressive places in Lahore is the Badshahi mosque built for the devoted Aurangzeb in 1673, by one of his brothers. This magnificent mosque is built from red sandstone and white marble and as many as sixty thousand people can offer prayer together. The Badshahi mosque also has a very special place in Islam as it contains some of the relics of Prophet Muhammed, such as a green coat, white trousers, a green turban and his footmark embedded in the stone. It also has some relics from his immediate family members like Hazrat Ali and daughter Fatima. The mosque complex also houses the mausoleum of the poet Allama Iqbal. A tablet of white marble on the outer face of this entrance has the following inscription (besides the Kalima): "The mosque of Abu Zafar Mohiuddin Muhammad Alamgir, the Ghazi King, completed under the superintendence of the humblest servant of the household, Fidai Khan Koka, in 1084 AH". The arched entrance opens on a large quadrangle paved with solid bricks, where each namazi's space is marked with a black border. Its exterior walls are painstakingly decorated with sculptured panels. Each corner is marked by a square tower capped with a red sandstone turret with a white marble cupola. To the west of this square is the mosque, with three domes built of marble. With its numerous chambers and halls, its minarets and domes, which freely use inlaid marble, this mosque emanates a calm that is surprising, considering its mammoth size. Built by the last of Great Mughals, Aurganzeb, it is among the largest mosques in the world. No doubt Aurangzeb, well-known for his piety, was fulfilling an urge to pay the most impressive tribute to God in the form of a grand mosque. Inspired by the Jamia Mosque of Delhi and Agra, which predate it, the Badshahi Mosque is even more massive than they are.
Outside the Badshahi Mosque in the Hazuri Bagh on the southeast of the main gateway of Badshahi Mosque stands the imposing tomb of Allama Iqbal, Pakistan's national poet. It took thirteen years to complete this structure. It was designed by Nawab Zain Yar Jang Bahadur, the chief architect of Hyderabad. The mausoleum has two gates with teak frames inlaid with marble. The inlay of the tomb, done in lapis lazuli, the most expensive architectural stone in Afghanistan, is a gift from the Afghan government. On the inside walls of the mausoleum are written six couplets of a ghazal of the poet from Zabur-e-Ajam which epitomize the message of Iqbal.
But more than its buildings and architecture, it is the warm, friendly and hospitable people of Lahore and the hustle and bustle of the city, which spin a magic web around any visitor. Shopping in the Anarkali bazaar for the famous Pakistani salwar kameezs are a must-buy. Named after the famous tragic figure of the Mughal period, Anarkali, whose remarkable mausoleum lies on the close by the Lower Mall, Anarkali Bazaar has been a favorite of shoppers for decades. The area outside Lohari gate of the Walled City was named after her and for several decades after the annexation of the Punjab, it was occupied by the British. Anarkali Bazaar is the most fascinating of the city's many bazaars. The alleys and lanes of this bazaar are full of exciting wears, especially traditional crafts like leather wear, embroidered garments glass bangles, beaten gold and silver jewelry, and silk creations.
Lahore's cuisine is delectable, fragrant and delicious. Its barbeques and kebabs are unrivalled in taste and presentation. The old city of Lahore, which is largely intact is full of surprises in every corner. The Mohalla Kakezaiya or mohalla of the Caucasians still lives on. Lahore became a melting pot and meeting ground of many cultures which has left its influence in the cuisine. For authentic Pakistani taste, turn to wayside shops like Paradise Canteen which serves the tastiest curries, Payas, Batairs and Biryani in town or visit Nanbai shops like Abdul Rehman’s in Old Anarkali, Mian Restaurant, Baghdadi in Shadman Market, Labha and one or two outlets in Sadar, Main Market Gulberg, Liberty, Khan Baba is popular for its Pakistani dishes well-cooked in ‘Desi ghee and its piping hot Barbecues. The most common sweet is barfi , which is made of dried milk solids and comes in a variety of flavors. Other sweetmeats include rabri or thickened milk, gulabjamuns, shahi tukda and a variety of other dairy based sweets.
Most flights from European and Asia arrive in Karachi, though a few also go to Islamabad, Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta and Gwadar (Baluchistan). Much more interesting is taking an overland route. A railway links Lahore with the Indian railway system through Amritsar, and another from Quetta crosses briefly into Iran. After the Grand Trunk Road, the most famous road into Pakistan is the Karakoram Highway, over the 4730m (15,514 ft) Khunjerab Pass from Kashgar in China; roads also run from India and Iran. A bus service between Delhi and Lahore, operating four times a week, is now up and running. Sea passage is a possibility, with cargo ships calling at Karachi from either the Middle East or Bombay.