There is a secret in Lahore, a mystery we can never decipher…

Published: November 14, 2013
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From the smug socialites to the joyful faces of street children playing together, there is a secret in Lahore that keeps the equilibrium in its steady state. PHOTO: SAID CHAUDHRY

There is something about Lahore. Something in the streets of this city that is a secret. However, just when you think you have it figured out, there is something missing again. We often try to figure it out. What is it about Lahore that keeps us so intrigued?

The Lahore I’ve deciphered in the past six years is one that has everything to offer – from the tolerance and beauty of its people, to all its imperfections. I made it a point to explore the city in and out, and have often resorted to using any form of transport available.

There is something mischievously funny about pulling outside Café Zouk in a rickshaw or being harassed by the guards at Avari despite being a gold member. After all, who could imagine a group of foreign medical students muttering away in their English accents with each other and then bargaining in Punjabi with the rickshaw drivers for overcharging us Rs50? All this while we were talking about how we need to stop eating at Fujiyama because it’s getting too expensive. I guess that’s enough to raise an eyebrow or two.

The new Food Street in Lahore is home to 27 restaurants, most of them serving barbecue and a few serving Chinese cuisine, and opened in January. PHOTO: EXPRESS/FILE

There is a comfort of being at ease no matter which corner of the city you’re in. Nine out of 10 people you meet will look angry to you, but if you smile at them, they will always smile back. Zinda dil (lively) enough defines this city.

I’ve walked through Landa Bazaar twice – with no problems at all. People will ask, why on earth would you ever want to go there? Well, why wouldn’t you want to go there? Why wouldn’t you want to see what the fuss is all about?

A view of Landa Bazaar. PHOTO: Waseem Niaz/Express

It’s an amazing place – surprisingly clean, with endless mazes of inner streets which house thousands of small shops all selling clothing. It is a market free of name brands and the corporate filth. You can almost taste the freedom.

I’ve walked through the famous Heera Mandi.

One of the many buildings in Lahore’s red light district. PHOTO: FARAHNAZ ZAHIDI/EXPRESS

I’ve seen the dancing girls, and the pimps and heard their lucrative offers. I’ve imagined Mick Jagger and Salman Ahmad walking about the same streets after the 1996 cricket World Cup Final.

This is the scene of a painting depicting Heera Mandi, by Iqbal Hussain. PHOTO: WAQAS NAEEM/EXPRESS

I’ve seen the walls that guard the city of Lahore; the history that their stature exudes never ceases to fascinate me.

I’ve seen the Gurdwara and the Badshahi Mosque side by side, and I’ve often stood on top of Lahore’s famous eatery Cuckoo’s Den, overlooking the view and wondering how beautiful the religious harmony must have been in the 17th century, when the Sikhs and Muslims never dreamed of a separate homeland for each other.

Cuckoo’s den.

A Gurdwara and the Badshahi Mosque together

A view of Eid prayers at the Badshahi mosque. PHOTO: SHAFIQ MALIK/EXPRESS

I’ve seen the beauty of all the seasons that Lahore offers. The winters are normally mild, but it does get cold enough for sweaters and jackets in the mornings and nights. Nothing can equate to the feeling of the warm sun and a hot cup of chai after morning lectures at Allama Iqbal Medical College. Sitting in the lawn and soaking the sun never felt any better than this time of the year. Also equally satisfying is huddling around a gas heater early in the morning.

Winter also brings with it certain foods that Lahoris prefer seasonally. Fish is a big winner here and while Bashir (a popular fish joint) may still be the best place to eat fish in Lahore, healthy competition is brewing elsewhere too. My personal favourites of the season are gajar ka halwa, petha halwa and the best of all saag.

The beautiful spring always brings out the bloom in Lahore, more so in my neighbourhood — Cantonment. Polo matches with a 5:1 ratio of women and men in attendance is always a spring special.

A view of polo match between master paints and new age at polo club Lahore. PHOTO: TARIQ HASAN/EXPRESS

The intense heat of the summer from May to July is often unbearable, but a thandi lassi (chilled yoghurt drink) refreshes you like none other ever could; it also puts you to sleep like a baby.

Afternoon naps are a tradition in Lahori summers. End of July and onward, the heat is coupled with the boisterous thunderstorms of the monsoon season. Relief from heat is blatantly obvious when rain comes pouring down- it is visible on everyone’s faces as their mood is elated and the traffic also increases accordingly. Everyone wants to enjoy the good weather outdoors, but the minute it rains too much, everyone will gal-galoch (curse out) because all the water refuses to drain out!

All the little towns inside Lahore have so much to offer. Iqbal Town, Faisal Town, Garden Town, Johar Town, Wapda Town, Gulberg, Defence, Shah Jamal, Gawal Mandi and all the other prominent places are imprinted in the back of my mind like a map.

Heck, I even went to Tollington Market in Ichra once.

Mall Road, Lahore

Compared to Lahore, has any other city in India or Pakistan produced more talented and diverse individuals who have shot to fame in their respected field of work?

Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Allama Iqbal, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar, Salman Ahmad and Aitezaz Ahsan are just some of the prominent names that come to mind.

There is a bustling energy and a cultural fusion that Lahore creates in itself. There is this unabated energy which gives rise to such free thinking and innovative artists and scholars.

The Sufi poet Bulleh Shah roamed these streets trying to search for the meaning of life. Shah Hussein expressed his love in poetry whilst wandering the same Lahore. Shah Jamal spread the spirit of Islam from Lahore, and his disciples still sing and dance in his memory. One of his most prominent followers is Pappu Saeen – a folk artist like no other who showcases his amazing talent of dhol-playing while high on bhang every Thursday. This is a show you won’t find anywhere in the world.

Lahore is and has always been a focal point in the history of South Asia. It is a secret that’s only known to those who have dared to enter the city and explore it. Its intensity is palpable in the creativity of the people it has produced and the proud institutions that produced them.

Lahore is home to many educational institutions – from the ancient walls of Government College University and King Edward Medical College, to the recently built green and quiet campus of LUMS, a pioneer of excellence in business education.

The immensely talented art students at National College of Arts (NCA) and the newly built liberal arts university, Beaconhouse, aren’t behind either. From the crafty University of Engineering and Technology, to the world-class presenters in fashion design from Pakistan School of Fashion Design (PSFD) and Aitchson College, Lahore has so much to be proud of.

Government College University

There is the delicious chana poori at Capri, roasted chicken from Rahat Bakery, the various unhygienic types of snacks vendors sell on the streets, and even fine dining and luxurious restaurants; things that make Lahore rich in flavour.

From the smug socialites to the genuine joy on the faces of street children playing together, there is a secret in Lahore that keeps the equilibrium in its steady state.

Lahore has something special to offer in all of its corners.

There’s a love that calls for its people to rise; there’s a dream that awaits its people to evolve, yet Lahore remains a mystery that may never be solved. And the love for that mystery burns the fire inside every Lahori’s heart.

This post originally appeared here.

said.chaudhry

Said Chaudhry

A doctor and cricket fanatic who blogs at saidcanblog.blogspot.com and tweets @saidation

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

  • SZA

    If I am not mistaken, Allama Iqbal originally belonged to Sialkot. Please re-check and make corrections if necessary.Recommend

  • -SHAGY-

    ahhhh…such a beautiful article and though the writer has covered many things….theres a lot more about Lahore that we all know…..or as the writer pointed out, we don’t…..Recommend

  • Shazia Khalid Khan

    EXCELLENTRecommend

  • TN

    but turned to be poet in Lahore ….Recommend

  • Asad

    “@disqus_oZK3hisp20:disqus you are right, but it is said that great cities are not those in which great people are born but great cities are those towards which great people get attracted to.Recommend

  • jayendran

    Allan’s Iqbal received his higher education in Lahore and worked in Lahore. One can argue his inspiration and mould as a poet came from Lahore. Collectively, he spent more time in Lahore than anywhere else. Recommend

  • Sadaf

    Very well written.I was wondering if Tollington is really in Ichra. Isn’t it somewhere in Gari Shahu?Recommend

  • Shahid Ehsan Deher

    Nice blog but there’s a lot which you missed while writing… for instance subcontinent famous Chacha Feeka Lassi, delicious blow fish of dharampura, Desi Karahi and Daal Chawal of lakshmi chowk, traditional food street, Anarkali Hafiz Juice Corner, The Wazir Khan Mosque located inside the Inner City of Delhi Gate. Amazing taste and experience of live cooking for meat lover’s at Truck stop in larrdi ada, the grave/tomb of first muslim emperorwho ruled the subcontinent are few examples and there are many more!!!Recommend

  • Pappu

    You missed Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz SharifRecommend

  • halali

    Tollington market in Ichra? Is there a Tollington market in IChra that i don’t know of or was that a mistake?Recommend

  • Nowsherwan Riaz

    nicely written….. except one thing… the ranjeet singh smadhi was build in 1848 and at time the mosque were used as stables… so no religious harmony was presentRecommend

  • Proletarian

    What I read:
    Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay Lore Lore hay…Recommend

  • Saad

    it’s between ichra and jail road. so it is pretty much safe to say that tollington is in ichraRecommend

  • AnumTalat

    ummmmm….you missed Mustanser Hussain Tarar and Arfa Karim Randhawa….
    though a nice write up!! now I want to visit Lahore <3Recommend

  • Supriya Arcot

    S i g h ….Recommend

  • Born Lahori

    Tolington was opposite to new Anarkali, but no moreRecommend

  • Born Lahori

    You missed Imran Khan and me, we both were born and raised in Lahore :)Recommend

  • Syed Asad Masood

    Good one bro..!! will wait for your next one.. :)Recommend

  • Dr Osama Irshad

    Excuse me since when did Ms Randhawa become a Lahorite?
    She was born and lived for the major chunk of her years in Lyallpur(Faisalabad)!
    Just because a person spends a few years in Lahore doesnot technically make them a Lahorite.
    Same goes for Iqbal. He was a true blue Sialkoti.Recommend

  • nauman

    Tollington is nowhere close to icchra or jail road.. its actually on the mall road, opposite old campus.Recommend

  • Muhammad Adil Nawaz Khan

    Yes a moderate image of Lahore. But there are many things more that can be said to discuss the Lahore as a whole. Its my city and I am proud of it. Anarkali, Mozang, Garhi Shahu, walled city , Laxami Chowk etc are also the places which a have history in it. As a student of History I feel proud that Allah Almighty selected me that I can live in this city that I can Spend my whole life here. Its a ever green city in which you can never feel boring and sad…… Thanks to Lahore…..Recommend

  • mashal

    I’ll be bold: what a pointless blog. Other than a sense of nostalgia it brings nothing to the table –I’m sure this will fill the Facebook news feed of the expats and the so called liberal elite Pakistanis that can read English (do I include myself in any of these categories cuz I was tagged on fb hence redirected here). I haven’t gained anything from reading this except for the confirmation that yes it is a secret, no one is flaunting its streets. Let’s let it be. Thanks govt of pakistan for not selling our home, our streets yet. You’re too busy selling it as a terrorist joint and making money that way. We don’t flaunt Lahore on bbc travel etc, thankfully it hasn’t turned into Delhi or Mumbai yet. Secondly, I guess we need blogs like this to make us feel good about our homeland, irrespective of how it is turning shitty due to haywire politics and glaring inequality. p.s. street children – what does that mean?! Are you referring to beggars/ children that are kidnapped and sold? or children like myself that played on the streets and had a place to sleep after sundown. If former then that is a problem and a cause of concern, so is sex trafficking btw. Can we not ignore that when sitting on our pedestal of enjoying spices and fine architecture? I’m sure the blogger had no evil intent, sorry I’m just hatin’. You couldn’t avoid attracting a cynic here though.Recommend

  • mashal

    I’ll be bold: what a pointless blog. Other than a sense of nostalgia it brings nothing to the table –I’m sure this will fill the Facebook news feed of the expats and the so called liberal elite Pakistanis that can read English (do I include myself in any of these categories cuz I was tagged on fb hence redirected here?). I haven’t gained anything from reading this except for the confirmation that yes it is a secret, no one is flaunting its streets. Let’s let it be. Thanks govt of pakistan for not selling our home, our streets yet. You’re too busy selling it as a terrorist joint and making money that way. We don’t flaunt Lahore on bbc travel etc, thankfully it hasn’t turned into Delhi or Mumbai yet. Secondly, I guess we need blogs like this to make us feel good about our homeland, irrespective of how it is turning shitty due to haywire politics and glaring inequality. p.s. street children – what does that mean?! Are you referring to beggars/ children that are kidnapped and sold? or children like myself that played on the streets and had a place to sleep after sundown. If former then that is a problem and a cause of concern, so is sex trafficking btw. Can we not ignore that when sitting on our pedestal of enjoying spices and fine architecture? I’m sure the blogger had no evil intent, sorry I’m just hatin’. You couldn’t avoid attracting a cynic here though.Recommend

  • Satesh Kumar

    So this is why people say “Jinne Lahore nahin wekhya… te jamia ae nahin”..!!Recommend

  • Parvez

    The people of Lahore are big hearted, friendly and food / eating is all important.
    I am from Karachi and in days gone by when I was working I sometimes visited Lahore for work.
    After a heavy day I liked going to the coffee shop of my hotel, take a corner table order a sandwich and a cup of tea or soup and think. After a few times my waiter with a concerned look on his face asked me if I were sick. When I said no then he said Sir, you’re from Karachi, aren’t you ?……….. I just loved that exchange and yes, Lahore certainly has charm.
    You missed out on the art scene especially the work done on miniatures in Lahore has become very recognised.Recommend

  • nomi

    Oh!! why do people try to ruin enjoyment over stupid comparisons :(Recommend

  • Ali Khan

    I have been there till my 25! I guess the thing you’ve missed is perhaps the one that enable it to create such a mysterious environment, the Originality of it’s people!Recommend

  • satwat butt

    True and genuine description of Lahore–a city of lively people–No wonder it is said that “those who have not seen Lahore are not born “Recommend

  • Bloo

    There is so much more to Lahore than listing all the places to visit. If you can’t do justice to something as magnanimous as a city, don’t just rattle off points.Recommend

  • Usman

    Nice Article ! Could have covered even more … Lahore is Endless !Recommend

  • Ųnknown Singer

    Mann , U took me There.. I Miss My LahoreRecommend

  • Dontlikelahore

    Let me be very bold and spurt it out loud, there is no mystery in Lahore, have been living here for over 1 year and never liked the place, the people are good and fun loving but other than that, its an unimpressive city. The author seems to be emotional because it is his hometown perhaps other than this there is no secret or mystery, sorry but that is the truthRecommend

  • sadia

    Lol writer made one mistake:p let it goRecommend

  • fkl

    That’s not correct. That tollington on mall road was abolished years ago. The tollington for a long time is between jail road and icchra. Rather that is called katchi jail road.Recommend

  • http://www.cidpusa.org/ Dr Imran

    There is lots more awesome reportingRecommend

  • ali.xaidi

    I miss the mention of Mehdi Hassan, M Rafi, Noor Jehan, Mohammad Ali and Zeba, Mukesh, Sehgal, Amanat Ali Khan, Inayat Hussain Bhatti and all those masters that this city has produced for the showbiz.
    I miss Shoaib Hashmi, the maestro, Shehnaz Sheikh, Khalda Riasat, Malka Pukhraaj, Abid Ali.
    I miss Ehsaan Danish in that list, Ahmad Faraz, Manto.
    I miss the mentions of intellectuals like Hanif Ramay in there.
    I miss the mention of Punjabi Complex, Alhamra Arts Center and Pak Tea House.
    I miss the mention of Urdu Bazar..
    And most of all I miss the two things dearest to me in Lahore, as a Lahori, the Shrine of Daata Ganj Bakhsh and the River Ravi. :)Recommend

  • BB

    actually the original tollington market in opposite to PU but after its shut down, a new tollington market has been made which sort of touches ichra…its on ferozpur roadRecommend

  • HZA

    Couldn’t agree more. It might be a complex or something I dont know that Lahoris are obsessed of. Fine its “Humara Lahore” ,as they say it . But it doesnt makes you any superior. ;) Chill man!Recommend

  • thinktank

    you forgot about foodRecommend

  • moof

    why are people obsessed with Lahore’s heera mandi….. there is nothing there to see…. except stinking gutters and open sewers …. and if you are lucky some drug addicts….Recommend

  • faisalkapadia

    Sounds great..: when you put it on paper except that ive visited lahore many many times and never found it to be anything but boorish and dirty. Sure it has the most amazing artisans in this land but i think the heydays of the whole cultural mecca thing are far left behind, lahore today is an urban sprawl with more underpasses and overheads then anything else. The only thing going for it is its food!Recommend

  • smith

    Landa bazaar an amazing place – surprisingly clean??? Just check posted picture, no need to visit personally. even slums of brazil are beautiful, but famed as dirty.Recommend