Monday, January 22, 2007

Lahore Revisited

I just returned from a brief trip to Lahore and despite having only a few days there I was able to spend almost a full day inside the enchanting walled city area. I started out at Mori Gate and walked all the way across to Roshnai Gate at the end of Shahi Mohallah Road just past landmarks such as the Mazaar of Hazrat Naugaza Pir and the famous "Phajjay ke Pai" restaurant. Walking through the Roshnai gate I entered the Hazuri Bagh area and past the garden to the entrance of Gurdawara Dera Sahib / Ranjit Singh Smadhi.

The visit to the Gurdawara turned out to be the highlight of my visit. For a long time I have wanted to see this classic Sikh structure but, for reasons unknown, Muslims are not allowed to visit this sacred monument. On a whim I asked a turbaned Sardar standing outside if I could see the Gurdawara. He thought it might be possible and agreed to ask a caretaker. He went inside the complex and returned a few minutes later with an elderly gentleman who after asking me a few questions invited me to come inside. Mr. Harpal Singh was exceptionally kind and gave me a guided tour of the premises, pointing out historic facts about the building. The thing I did not know was that this monument also contains the "Shaheedi Asthan" (the site of martyrdom) of Guru Arjun Dev (the fifth Guru of the Sikhs). Harpal Ji took me to the sacred area where the Guru Granth Sahib is kept and explained the concept of the "Akhand Paath" (the recitation of the entire Granth Sahib in a single setting which can take more than two days). There is an Akhand Paath in the Gurdawara on June 12th, the day of Guru Arjun Dev's martyrdom. Guru Arjun Dev died during the reign of Emperor Jahangir. During his confinement in a prison in the Lahore Fort, the Guru is believed to have vanished into the water miraculously and attained martyrdom after his captors were persuaded to allow him to go bathe in the River Ravi.

After thanking Harpal Ji I walked back into the walled city via Roshnai Gate and winded my way through the streets and alleys all the way to Masjid Wazir Khan inside Delhi Gate passing innumerable shops, bazaars, historic landmarks, shrines, mosques and imambargahs in Mori Gate, Lohari Gate, Shah Alam Bazaar, Mochi Gate and Akbari Mandi. Masjid Wazir Khan is one of the most beautiful and famous mosques in Lahore. It is an oasis of peace set in the midst of crowded bazaars pulsating with constant, loud and hectic commercial activity. In the courtyard of the mosque is the mazaar of the 13th century sufi saint known as Sabz Pir. I sat in the mosque courtyard for a while looking at the delicate decorations on the walls, the surrounding brick buildings overlooking this serene 17th century structure and flocks of pigeons fluttering on the mosque's domes and minarets.

On my way to the walled city I made the essential stop at Kim's; a tiny but wonderful bookstore which is part of the Lahore Museum complex and sits just across from Kim's Gun and Punjab University's Old Campus and adjoins the National College of Arts. I always discover books there that I never find anywhere else in the city. I bought Majid Sheikh's new book called "Lahore: Tales without End" and Som Anand's "Lahore: Portrait of a Lost City". Both books, in very different ways, are treasure troves of vignettes about Lahore and its people. Among dozens of fascinating Lahori tales recounted by Majid Sheikh is the story of the Renault Benz gifted by Adolf Hitler to Allama Mashriqi (founder of the Khaksar Tehreek). This car in a rusted, dilapidated state is still parked in Icchra in the courtyard of Allama Mashriqi's house. Allama's descendants still live in that house.