A city within a city, the magical walled city of Lahore

Published: June 28, 2015

From Lahore Fort to Data Darbar, streets of Bhati Gate to Anarkali food street; my father made sure that Lahore’s heritage was a major part of my upbringing.

I grew up visiting nooks and corners of Lahore with my father as a weekend trip. From Lahore Fort to Data Darbar, streets of Bhati Gate to Anarkali food street, my father made sure that Lahore’s heritage was a major part of my upbringing.

This urge to visit Lahore has been there in my heart ever since and I go out on the streets to replenish it every now and then. For more than a year, I have been going out to the walled city, talking to people, understanding their stories and clicking their portraits. I don’t consider myself a photographer, but I think I picked up a camera with an intention to capture their stories and to share them, at least with the people I know.

We see tons of photographers every day going to the walled city, capturing its lights and its people, yet the craze doesn’t fade away. Today I thought, as one of those crazy people, I’ll share my reasons for going there in this scorching heat and mind-boggling traffic.

The Walled city is a small world within this huge city of Lahore. Tourists are mostly fascinated by the architecture, but they miss out on the most interesting part i.e. people of the walled city. Yes! The thing which attracts me as a photographer is these people and their simplicity.

It has a culture of its own; these people are not pretentious at all, rather they’re very humble, generous, and kind. They have sheer warmth and don’t hesitate in sharing their stories with anyone. Just say salaam (hello) and they’ll even be willing to offer you free food with a warm cup of tea. Their shops are small, pockets even smaller, but their hearts are big enough to share anything they own.

During my last visit to Sonehri Masjid (gold mosque) at the Delhi Gate, a friend and I were extremely tired and had a throbbing headache. A very decent uncle sitting at his shop right across the road not only offered us water but also ordered a nice cup of karak chai (strong tea) for us. When we tried to give him some money as a token of appreciation, he bluntly refused and said,

“Aap hamare mehmaan hain!”

(You are our guests!)

You don’t see such generosity and simplicity anywhere else, not even within your own relatives anymore.

The other thing which further accentuates the importance of the walled city is the cultural mix it offers. From colourful katlamas (deep fried stuffed bread) to handmade necklaces, from siri paaye (cow trotters) to street vendors selling anything and everything; the walled city has a lot of diversity to offer.

A few weeks ago, I took a shot of a man while he made this incredible bread called katlama. He posed and created a beautifully huge round piece, and to my surprise, he gave me a generous piece of that bread for free. Can you imagine giving away your asset for free when you’re barely making enough money to make both ends meet? This hospitality is to be seen literally everywhere in the walled city.

While enjoying that precious piece of bread, I looked down and there was what seemed like a 15-year-old boy blowing off the coal to keep it burning for the cook. His face was literally burning because of the steam and smoke, and yet he was too busy in his work to notice my presence. When I asked him his name and a few details while taking his shot, he smiled and said

“Ap meri tasweer Facebook pe lagaen gi kia?”

(Will you post my picture on Facebook?)

Astounded and awe struck, I realised that everyone everywhere is quite different from our expectations. And these sorts of eye opening experiences are another highlight of the walled city.

To add more colour to these places, a lot of religious activities are celebrated every year. One of the most famous is the Urs (death anniversary of a Sufi saint) at the shrine of Madhu Lal Hussain called ‘Mela Chiraghan’ (festival of lights).

I visited it for the first time this year and trust me, it was a whole new experience. While a few boys were busy dancing to the beat of the dhol (drum), people were burning lamps and praying with a lot of devotion at the shrine. A special corner was booked for malangs where they were all scattered in a muddy ground without acknowledging the presence of anyone around them. The man taking care of the shrine offered me a red chaddar (large cloth for covering the body) with the four Quls from the Holy Quran printed on them. I was so pleased to have that souvenir that I actually had tears in my eyes.

But of course, every place has its flaws as well. In this case, they might be minute, but exist nonethless. For instance, it’s not safe for females like me to visit these places alone because there’s always someone who can tease and harm you. Furthermore, there’s no proper place for parking and the traffic can get horrible after mid-day.

But to sum it up, the experience in itself is worth all the hassle that I go through, something new every single time.

Exposure to the walled city and its people is a good way of reinforcing values like simplicity, humility, and generosity in my personality. I know it’s hot outside and the odds are against anyone visiting the walled city, but the experience is worth every bit of difficulty you face.

Make sure you take your children or younger ones along with you in order to establish a connection with our traditions. In this world of pretentiousness, take some time out and meet the people who have only sheer warmth to offer.

All photos: Anam Saeed

Anam Saeed

Anam Saeed

The author is a Fulbright Scholar, travel photographer, economist, analytics professional and a former sales specialist, currently pursuing her masters in Texas. She tweets @Missanamsaeed. Her work can be accessed on facebook.com/anamstory and 500px.com/anamsaeed

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • https://www.facebook.com/ ather khan

    a wonderful piece of writing.Recommend

  • islooboy

    Lahore tay fir lahore ey naRecommend

  • Mehar Tariq

    Beautifully put! Amazing clicks! Bravo!Recommend

  • Ayesha S

    There’s no need to feel anxious about your safety as a woman here. I”ve been to the old city a few times – on my own and wearing shalwar kameez dopatta- no one bothers you. They know that that if they have any bad incidents, they will lose the visitors. Then the parking problems exist every where in Pakistan. However for me the key concern is the bad restoration and shoddy work done at the shahi hamam and the masjid khan. One would have expected that the excavations and restoration would have been done by trained professional but thats not the case at all. The last time i visited- 3 months ago, there were common laboueres digging one one side of the mosque. At the hamam i was shocked to see that the old thinner bricks have been replaced by our common red burnt bricks. Cant they at least make sure that the right s type of bricks are used to strengthen the structures ?Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    true that :)Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    thanks a lotRecommend

  • Anam Saeed

    Ayesha I completely second you, there is literally nothing done to ensure preservation of these assets. In fact things are worsening with each passing day…every other corner is filled with garbageRecommend

  • Malveros

    Well done to the author. 10/10.Recommend

  • Ufaq Mazhar

    Zabardast Anum not only the photograph but also the comprehensive essay. I used to go there when I was doing my collection. keep up the good work.Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    thanks a lot Ufaq..Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    thanks a lot :DRecommend

  • Anam Saeed

    thanks a lotRecommend

  • Anam Saeed

    I wanted to keep the focus of this article on people of the walled city…their culture, values and attitude…will focus on the architecture in another one hopefullyRecommend

  • Sudesh

    Beautiful pictures portraying the beautiful parts of the old city.Recommend

  • Riaz Ahmad

    I highly appreciate your efforts for writing such a nice essay about the walled city people & attaching wonderful pictures. I always enjoyed visiting walled city. Keep up your Excellent work. Riaz Ahmad Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    thanks a lot riaz :)Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    Thank you :)Recommend

  • http://www.nomadic-by-nature.com/ Mike McCaffrey

    Great piece! Wonderful light in the pictures.Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    thanks a lot :)Recommend

  • Imran Alam

    I am a fan of walled city and very much upset by the rapid commercialization taking place there. Markets are expanding and population is shifting in other areas after selling their historical buildings to traders of the area who are constructing new markets.Recommend

  • Abdul Basit

    Really appreciate the way you worked on this project. From events covered in the article it is quite apparant that you have worked for at lease several months for this one article. Keep up the good workRecommend

  • Anam Saeed

    Hi Imran, I appreciate your response and completely agree with you. Commercialization coupled with lack of preservation has somehow damaged a huge chunk of this area already..Recommend

  • Anam Saeed

    Thanks a lot Abdul Basit, I highly appreciate your response.
    Indeed it took 5-6 months :)Recommend

  • Imran Alam

    Today on Eid day, i am missing the walled city again. The reason is that one of my aunt used to live there at “Pani walaTalab” near Rang Mahal. After her death, her family shifted to Johar Town and i have no connection with this part of the city which i used to visit annually on Eid day. What a wonderful place it was ! Chori market, Dabbi Bazar, Golden Mosque, Masti gate, Kasira bazar and many other wonder full places all on walking distance. I wish that time comes again but it is not possible.Recommend