And so here we are at Lahore, the final city in my final Grand Tour of the port and princely cities of the East.
And what a city to end this Grand Tour on! All in all, I have been entranced by Lahore…by the beauty of its monuments, by the friendliness of the Lahoris, and by its streets redolent with poetry.The city ranks as third most important of the Mughal capitals, after Delhi and Agra; but it definitely doesn’t pale in any way in terms of monuments, and general weight of history. All of the Big Six – the Mughal emperors Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb – spent some time here and have left their trace in the city’s architecture.
Of the six, the Emperor Jahangir, and his Empress Nur Jahan were most beguiled by this city – and their mausoleums are here, side by side…well almost… in the suburb of Shahdara.
The Emperor Aurangzeb, that most pious of Mughal Emperors, erected his most enduring architectural legacy here in the city, in the form of the Badshahi Mosque – the largest mosque in the world, in its time.
It is still a sight to behold, situated as it is, at the edge of the stupendous Lahore Fort and Old Lahore with its maze-like warren of bazaars and alleyways, studded here and there with exquisite Mughal-era mosques, havelis and even a hammam.
Like Delhi, Lahore has been continuously inhabited for centuries, and so it has layers upon layers of imperial history. Qutb al-Din Aitbak, founder of the Mamluk (Slave) Dynasty and first sultan of the Delhi Sultanate is buried here, his mausoleum erected at the spot where he purportedly died from falling off his horse during a game of polo.
Across the street from the mausoleum stands the denuded pyramid of a gopuram – the sacred tower of a former Hindu Temple, now sadly disused after the mass migration of Hindus in the aftermath of partition.
The Sikhs were also here as rulers. Between 1799 – 1849, Maharaja Ranjit Singh captured the city, and imposed his own specific brand of architecture onto its urban landscape. The most imposing and evident of these stand at the very edge of the Lahore Fort – the former seat of the Mughal Emperors.
And then the British came, and made Lahore the capital of British Punjab. Their most visible legacy is Mall Road – a road that runs for miles west to East linking the colonial district with Old Lahore. The road, too, is studded with architectural monuments, but from the British Imperial era.
A major highlight on Mall Road is the delightful Lahore Museum, interior-designed, curated and directed by John Lockwood Kipling, father to Rudyard Kipling. The Museum hosts one of the greatest, and most beautiful collections of Gandharan sculpture, including some pieces of great sensuality.
One of the highlights of the city was the fact that it is not yet easy for foreigners to get to. And so there was hardly a tourist in sight at almost all of the sites and monuments I visited. All I experienced was friendliness and curiosity – and multiple requests from locals of all walks of life for me to take smiling selfies with them.
I gladly acquiesced. =)
Yes indeed, Lahore is sensual and mesmerising. A dream of a city; and one I would return to again and again, if I had the chance. Enraptured by the city at its zenith, the Empress Nur Jahan once coined this verse:
“Lahore ra ba jan brabar kharidah im / Jan dadah im o jannat i digar kharidah im.”
“We have bought Lahore by paying the price of our life, / And giving up our soul, have procured a second paradise.”
Lahore is indeed a “second paradise” on earth.
Essential Reference: LAHORE – History and Architecture of Mughal Monuments, by Anjum Rehmani. Pakistan: Oxford University Press, 2016.