Lahore used to be a fortified city of twelve massive gates, whose names have outlived the largely pillaged walls. It has been a great city for at least a thousand years; one ancient proverb claimed that if Persia’s Shiraz and Isfahan were united, they wouldn’t make one Lahore. It was conquered, manhandled, occupied and ransacked by the Sikhs when they took advantage of the Mogul decline in the eighteenth century to seize the Punjab. They held it as their capital until their wars with the British in the mid-nineteenth century, after which they happily settled down to being the most reliable and tough soldiers in the Raj alongside the Gurkhas. At Partition most Sikhs went to India, or died trying.

Old Lahore is the dense, tottering, bazaar-city of Kipling’s stories, and some of his titles, like The Gate of a Hundred Sorrows, could serve as name plaques every few steps. It was architecturally not as old as I’d imagined — this was because a lot of it got burned to the ground during Partition. Still, it was every bit as anarchic, boisterous, crammed, decrepit, exuberant, and aromatic. Clearly collapse had for centuries taken the place of city planning: lattices collapsed, towers collapsed, age-old balconies collapsed, roofs collapsed, entire buildings collapsed, and some makeshift replacement or other put up. The effect was of an eighteenth-century bazaar, with few houses actually that old. The wiring looked, on the other hand, totally original.

The Wazir Khan was a mosque entirely on a small scale: a beautiful squarish courtyard, four towers, and brick walls with a painted fresco work as ornate as the decor on trucks, showing trees, flowers, urns, and verses from the Koran in Persian.

Remove thy heart from the gardens of the world, and know that this building is the true abode of man.

Around it was an intricate jumble of old brick and stone work, the upper stories of Old Lahore — fallen-in roofs, lots of satellite dishes, and kites fluttering and swooping and attacking each other above the old city. Colorful paper kites were one of Lahore’s liberations. Popular throughout the country, they were an obsession here; Lahore hosts a huge kite festival every spring. The idea really was to attack: each kite string was made with ground glass, paste, and flax, and with great skill you could use your deadly twine to saw through another man’s kitestring and send his treasure plummeting to the ground. Many power failures came about when children’s kites flew into the rats’ nests of convoluted electric lines. In the rainy season people often got electrocuted, trying to untangle their kite strings from the naked old wires.

LATEST ELECTRONICS!

MOBILE PHONES & GUNS!

The street heading down to Anarkali Bazaar, one of Kim’s old haunts, led from a tires bazaar into a bicycle and small arms bazaar, where one store sold ingenious wheelchairs, handcranked on both sides. I nearly feel into an open sewer when an old man on a bike let out a blast on his horn, which was attached to a bicycle pump that made it louder than all the cars. Throughout Pakistan I was constantly amazed at the complex melodies of the vehicle horns: they ran with great velocity up and down the pentatonic and whole-tone scales, or through intricate Oriental flurries. I was told of one that played Never On Sunday.

On the Mall a corner display had newspapers hung so people could stand and read for free, and along a sidewalk was a mini-bazaar of outdated foreign magazines. There was also a Jewelers’ Row, for much of Islam has a deep faith in gold bracelets and a deep distrust of banks. The paradox was that even though Pakistan economically looks pathetic on paper, worse off than India, to someone just strolling around, people looked much better off here. Perhaps there’s a more equitable distribution of what little money there is, for I was rarely confronted with the bone-breaking poverty I saw at all times in India.

A few of the old private clubs from British days, like the Punjab Club where Kipling was a member, do still exist, but they have been forced over the years to shift their premises from those embarrassingly grand edifices on the Mall to obsequious lesser quarters on side streets. The enormous white mansion that was the Punjab Club, where Kipling went to drink after writing the newspaper all day — “the old, wearying, Godless futile life at a club — same men, same talk, same billiards” is now a government staff headquarters a blinding block long. Men who might not have been permitted into any London gentlemen’s club could relax in one larger than any of them; it was here that the young sub-editor nearly got into a fist fight with O’Dwyer, the bully partly responsible years later for the Amritsar massacre.

Kipling’s years in Lahore (1882 to 1887), in his teens and early twenties before his big promotion to Allahabad, were spent on the staff of the Civil and Military Gazette. It was where he joined the Freemasons and also had his first encounters with Indian “courtesans.” As half the newspaper’s editorial staff, he had to painstakingly correct the Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs who set the type by hand and had little idea what it all meant. The building where he worked, like the large bungalow where he lived with his family, has been demolished. “Outside during the day everything is dusty and redhot,” he said once. “You drink there for the liquid, and not for the liquor, and the minute you drink it you feel it coming through your shirt.” There were the fans, too, blowing every piece of paper but kept “ceaselessly going to prevent suffocation.” And there was also the cholera, that killed foreigners off regularly. No wonder (although most of the Indians around him and in his stories were Muslims) that a core idea of Hinduism and Buddhism, the illusory nature of this world, seeped into his bones; Kim, with the lama’s spiritual quest on the GT, is saturated in it.

The best way to see how the British relaxed here was to visit the main public library on the Mall, whose staid white arches and columns look rather formal and parliamentary on the outside. Once the Gymkhana Club, it could easily be the national assembly of some medium-size country. Inside, though, the arches go up, up, up past five glittering chandeliers, the balustraded mezzanines of books look over grand lawns and tennis courts, the ceilings are a dreamy swirl of flowers and skylights and inset flower mirrors. It makes a serene and pretty library, warm with sunlight pouring in, full of English books and foreign magazines immaculately kept, and quiet reading nooks with standing lamps. You sit there trying to imagine it as the private club for a membership of several dozen, served by turbaned waiters and the rest. Or in later years, just before Partition, when Lahore was bull of bars, cafés, cabarets, theaters, and a fashionable red-light district; and when here in the Gymkhana Club under British auspices, according to one historian, “the distance between the communities was often reduced to the thickness of a sari as Sikhs, Moslems and Hindus rumbaed and did the fox trot together.” Then the muezzin goes blaring off outside and you are really not sure where you are, or where this ever was.
Aug. 5, 1997

Anthony Weller has won awards both as a poet and a foreign correspondent, including a Lowell Thomas Medal in 1993. His writing has appeared in GEO, Vogue, Gourmet, G.Q., Travel & Leisure, Pan, National Geographic, Condé-Nast Traveler and the Paris Review.


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So we all piled in the Lexus, 3 generations in 1 car: Shazi, Abu, Taera, Sabina, Sahira and Daud at the wheel, age span between 8 and 68. Destination: Jhelum, Auntie Abda´s house. Our first meeting with Abu´s youngest sister, her son Rizwan and new wife. From there to Islamabad and a quick stop in Muree to sneak a peak at the Himalayas and the start of the Karakoram highway.
We made it out of Lahore by following Ijaz to the Grand Trunk Road, brainchild of Sher Shah Suri (ruler of the Indian Sub-continent) in the sixteenth century A.D. This road runs from Kabul to Calcutta and took us north amidst typical crazy traffic and confusing road signs. But we made it, Auntie was super hospitable and fed us a lovely meal that included Manchurian chicken…Chinese cuisine is all the rage in Pakistan, at least on special occasions such as our visit. We also watched part of Rizwan´s 4 hour wedding video epic…Muslim marriages are intricate affairs consisting of various rituals on both the groom and bride´s sides, a wedding can easily last a week!
Early next day we set off towards Islamabad, Pakistan´s capital city. The air cooled down noticeably as we left the Punjabi plains and got closer to the mountains. On the way, I marvelled at the intricate decoration of Pakistani trucks: all sorts of symbols and messages in incredible detail and colour cover these vehicles which even jingle jangle with chains as they zoom by on the road. They´re almost women, beautiful, decorative and strong.

Islamabad is a totally planned out city (the opposite of modern Lahore) with its neat sectors and official buildings. Shazi´s Lexus threw a fit on Sunday morning and refused to take us up to Muree. I was surprised by how many people stopped to lend a hand and eventually helped get the car to a mechanic while we took a taxi all the way up the mountain in a frenetic curvey ride to Muree where we strolled about the snowey streets surrounded by other daytrippers.

Yes, as we suspected, tea is drunk all times of day. The black and green varieties seem to be the most popular. Often taken very milky and always quite sweet…We have discovered green tea is usually taken after dinner with a pinch of salt as an aid to digestion. Personally I prefer “cava” or herbal tea with no caffeine…our Pakistani counterparts find this pretty amusing. Nonetheless my Yogi Tea recipe is gaining popularity (cardamom, ginger, clove and cinamon boiled down to half the original amount of water.)
As guests of honour we are always being offered food and drinks, Pakistani hospitality is truly First Class. Offering drinks, food and a place to sit are equal to being nice, and people are always being nice to us. The funniest example of this took place in Karachi when Aisha picked us up from the beach one evening, as soon as we sat down in the car she entered hostess mode and asked: “Do you want tea or coffee? We laughed, did she really have a mobile supply of chai?

Sabina drinking tea in Muree

As good tourists we went for a stroll around the beautiful Shalimar Gardens.

Shalimar darlings

Shame the fountains weren´t on, they only work on Special holidays, probably due to drought. The gardens are another masterpiece from the time of the brilliant Mughal civilization, which reached its height during the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan. The elegance of these splendid gardens, built near the Old City of Lahore on three terraces with lodges, waterfalls and large ornamental ponds, is unequalled. However, there are 2 other sites with the same name, the form of this garden is inspired by the gardens of the same name, in Kashmir, and was later copied in the Shalimar Gardens of Delhi.

Wow! we´ve been out + about the city in Shazi´s big, comfy lexus, with driver and all….but man, people drive crazy here…more like bumper cars than anything else! Less beeping of the horn than in India but there´s still an amazing array of complex melodies as they run with great velocity up and down the pentatonic and whole-tone scales, or through intricate Oriental flurries. Quite chaotic. I´ve seen children clinging five to a Vespa, their dads weaving desperately between knife sellers and kebab wallahs, dodging donkeys and low-hanging arches. Funny how the more people you see on a small vehicle, the less developed the country: in Nicaragua it was pretty normal to see whole families on a bicycle, here they´re all on a motorbike “PAK Hero” model, and the ladies always sit with both legs on the same side. In the States, however, the most common site is huge SUVs with only one person inside. When I explain the concept of the carpool lane over here people look bemused.
I do love the way they decorate all vehicles, trucks are the most ornate, but even richshaws get tuned up.

Colourful PAK traffic
Daud has been getting the hang of the local driving style and is mastering the technique quite well.

We went to the market this morning where shephards from all over Punjab are camping out with their livestock ready to do business. Shazi took 4 lambs home, the newspapers explain the need for a professional to take care of the slaughter and I saw how the ladies of the house packed the sacrificial meat in plastic bags ready to distribute amongst the people who came knocking on the door to take some home. Naturally the Eid meal consisted of lamb or Gosh in all shapes and forms.
Gosh market

As well as meeting family, the centre of life in these parts, and the reason for our visit to Pakistan, I am taking note of all things modern in the land of Pak. Shazi´s trendy interior designers love to point out all the non Third World aspects of Lahore, and of course, there is a lucky minority that live life just as if they were in NY, London or Tokyo. Unfortunately 95% of the population don´t share such a lifestyle, despite the fact that the LCD screens in every room at Shazi´s place spit out images of a youth culture where girls aren´t covered up, guys look like tanned Justin Timberlakes and the dance sequences are reminiscent of the greatest Bollywood choreographies. But none of this really reflects what you see on the streets: sure, young guys have swapped the traditional curta plus shalwar combo for Levi´s and a cool haircut, but I haven´t seen a single skirt out there although there are some pretty Pakistani girls dressed á la western at the priciest shopping malls. I wonder whether they can get out of arranged marriages as easily. It seems to me life in Pakistan could head towards moderation quite easily, but current world politics will probably send this society in the opposite direction.
But let´s not get too distracted, this post is all about the discovery of beautiful Ali Zafar, Pakistani Pop Star if ever there was one. He´s just released his second album called Masty (which means joie de vivre, apparently) and is an expert at creating teenager oriented pop music. Oh and he does it ever so well, cute as they come, his second single Sajania is on every music video channel, but I prefer the first track, Masty with its catchy guitar riff and live energy swell. I bought the album and it turns out Ali writes and composes most of his stuff which takes him out of the pop product category: the guy´s a musician whose art sells rather well. I haven´t got a clue what his songs are about, but there´s another one with a modernised Qawali vibe that I can´t help but put on repeat (yes, I am the obsessive sort), it´s called Kharayaan day. I would shoot a music video in the middle of the Thar desert with a Burning Man style installation piece in the background and beautiful lotus-eyed women that appear and disappear like mirages as Ali stumbles around in the sand. That´s the thing about being on holiday, you have time to come up with cool ideas.
Anyways, here´s a write up of Ali´s first album, Huqa Pani, and there´s loads of material about him on the web. Look him up on YouTube or take a walk around his website alizafar.net. It wouldn´t surprise me if his record company suggested he make an album in English one day and then we´ll get to dance to his music in Euroland aswell.

Ali Zafar