The weekend of American Thanksgiving, I spent some time in Lahore and what a refreshing experience it was. I had some interviews and meetings to tend to in Lahore, and the CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation recommended I do a tour of the work that the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, (part of the Aga Khan network in general), are doing in Lahore to restore monuments, and ultimately to convene communities and improve the economy.
I can tell that Lahore is a city designed for old romantics, for lovers, for friendships, for artists/creatives, for the spiritual, for philosophers, writers and poets, …… for dreamers.
In just the 3 nights I ventured in its beauty, as my second time visiting this vibrant, illustrious, historic city, I got to truly feel the essence of the popular saying: “Jeendeh Lahore Nahi Dakiya, woh Jamiah he nahi.” Translated: “If you haven’t seen Lahore, You haven’t been born.”
I had the opportunity to experience this magnificent city, from Purana (old) to Naya (New) Lahore, from Liberty Market area where I resided at the same guest house I stayed nearly a year ago when I visited with my father. From the tour with the Lahore Fort and the Walled City with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s projects on the restoration of historic monuments from Moghul era, from climbing a tower of the Wazir Khan Mosque during the Azaan for Friday prayer to absorb a breathtaking view of Purana Lahore, to visiting the shrine of the great Poet Mohammad Iqbal, next to the breathtaking Bhadshahi Mosque (where I am standing in the photo featured below), to watching the sun set over the Sikh temple and Bhadshahi Mosque, modestly sitting beside one another as sisters, to visiting and making dua at the Shrine of Sufi Legend Data Darbar, and more…. and more…. I feel I was re-born….
And with such a beautiful experience in Purana Lahore, after visiting the Sikh gallery, and various places, it seems especially relevant to Imran Khan’s efforts to open the Kartarpar Corridor for Indian Sikhs to visit Pakistan, just today, and it was a huge successful and historic move for Imran Khan. Lahore has a huge Sikh population, and especially through my tour, I saw the contributions from the Sikhs, from their long time settlement in Punjab (the province of Lahore). Checking out the Sikh Museum in particular, was very fascinating.
The weather was simply beautiful in Lahore, and the moon was full every night. But most importantly, I met the most amazing people through the Aga Khan tour. I won’t forget the friendships I made…thanks to the Aga Khan network. Many of the people I met in the Project team of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture were either from Gilgit-Baltistan or Chitral, and honestly happen to be some of the most progressive, tolerant, beautiful, warm and kind people I have met in Pakistan and beyond. I hope I’ll be able to reunite with them and this city again in the near future.
My first day in Lahore began with a day long tour starting from a brief with the project manager and then moved to the walled city. There I got to see the Wazir Khan Mosque, the Shahi Iman, and the gali shahi guzargah (which was the first project Aga Khan Trust for Culture restored and successfully). A historian and an architect from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s team took me on the tour.
Then I returned to the Lahore Fort, and ate lunch with crew, and later got a tour of the Picture Wall, where I climbed on what felt like very unsteady boards up to the third floor, (very scary experience) and was briefed about how the multidisciplinary project team of chemists and architects are working together to restore the antique panels on the Picture wall, which consists of beautiful symbols, patterns, myths, stories, angels, and more. Will comment more on the details of this another time. Then we moved, with a drive on the cart up to another site on Jahangir square, where I encountered the Sikh gallery and a beautiful view of the Sikh temple beside the Bhadshahi Mosque. I then visited the Bhadshahi Mosque, but prior to that, I visited the shrine of Mohammad Iqbal. These two things were probably my most favorite moments. I love Iqbal’s poetry and have connected to it deeply since I was a quite young, so it meant everything to visit his shrine.
At the end of the visit to the Bhadshahi Mosque, after sunset, I returned to the Project office where they were playing ping pong and I played a little ping pong myself and spent a little more time with them. Later that evening, I had dinner with a few of the people I met, at Liberty Market and ate at Bandu Khan restaurant, the same place I went with my father last year. It was a lovely and memorable, eventful day.
(Will post some pictures here another time so please do return to this post, where I will put some photos and link to an album on my time in Lahore, particularly all photos I took on the Aga Khan tour).
The next morning I had an interview with Mr. Nadeem Ul Haq, the former Deputy Chairman in the Planning Commission, who offered a refreshing yet critical perspective about Aid in Pakistan and Afghanistan. I was recommended by a contact in DC to speak with him and I am so glad I got a chance to meet him at his home in Lahore, Pakistan. It was a wonderful meeting and he offered to put the interview on his podcast, but I will have to think about that. He gave me a copy of his book called, “Looking Back: How Pakistan Became an Asian Tiger”. He signed the book for me, and wrote: “Nice Meeting You Elsa, Remain Curious, but Join the Establishment.” This was in the context of our discussion on why he thinks it is a mistake to be an outspoken critic of the “Aid Industry,” as a development practitioner. Critical Thinking in certain ways is not looked upon positively in the Aid bureaucracy unfortunately…
On my final day, returning from Lahore to Islamabad, I first stopped by the shrine of Data Darbar and visited the market, and bought rice to feed people, which is a tradition there. I went inside and was there in that area for about an hour before we left Lahore. When I get more time I will post the amazing videos and photos I had there. I also visited the Khewra Mountains, Salt Mine Cave, aka Namac Pariah (Salt Mountains), where i had an unforgettable experience as well treading through the Lilla Village and up to the mountains. A great way to end the road trip. Will share more photos and observations on that another time, in another post in the near future.
I am finding myself exhausted during my fieldwork more now, which is why posting real time, or in the evenings after travels or long day of activities, has become difficult, but I plan to share more about my experience in Lahore and some of the adventures I had along with pictures in the future. As expected, fieldwork is immensely taxing because you have to manage many aspects of it. But I also would like to keep some of these things for myself, especially my time in Lahore, at least for just a little longer. I think I could write a book just on my adventures in Lahore… Maybe I will some day. Just reflecting about the experience feels like a breath of fresh air….funnily, there was no smog during my visit….
I guess it was just nice to get out of Islamabad to see “Asli Pakistan.” (Real Pakistan) I didn’t realize how thirsty I was for more of “Asli Pakistan”…
I am excited for all my adventures in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and particularly Peshawar for the remainder of my trip in Northern provinces of Pakistan.