Akbari Mandi: Spice Trade and Historical Evolution
As soon as one crosses the threshold of the historic Delhi Gate the aroma of spices engulfs the senses and one is taken aback by the exotic-looking mounds of authentic Indian spices. Akbari Mandi is abuzz; street-hawkers line the streets calling out to customers while the traditional merchants and shop owners sit comfortably in their shops, proud of the abundance of produce stacked up in elaborate displays.
Akbari Mandi: Historical Significance
The historic and culturally-rich Akbari Mandi was named after the Mughal Emperor Akbar who officially founded this marketplace in the 16th century. He established this market at the Delhi Gate and connected it with thirteen different gates to allow easy access for traders and merchants. It also allowed for a separation between marketspaces and the main city.
Akbari Mandi evolved into the center of the spice trade in India. A market unlike any other others, it offered a wide variety of rare and sought after spices and herbs. The British and Portuguese sent several ambassadors to Akbar’s court, pleading to be allowed to trade spices in the Akbari Mandi. These proposals were strictly declined by the Emperor. However, in 1615, when the British managed to acquire their very first territories in Lahore they made Akbari Mandi a crucial landmark of their trading landscape.
This period marks the emergence of Akbari Mandi as the largest, grandest spice market in Asia. These were the times when South Asia was famous for its production of aromatic, delicious and therapeutic spices, along with grains and other products. While the Mughal Empire crumbled, the British East India Company decided to make Akbari Mandi their first conquest in the journey of seizing all trading hubs in India.
For many years, Akbari Mandi remained a significantly important landmark in the spice trade conducted by the East India Company. Local Indian spices and herbs from the market were exported all over the world, piling up revenues and profits for the British. When Pakistan was established as a separate nation in 1947, Akbari Mandi was restored as the marketplace of the people of Lahore. Today the streets of this marketplace welcome throngs of tourists, travelers, buyers, sellers, traders, merchants, photographers and of course, bloggers.
The Market Today
I adore walking through the narrow streets of Akbari Mandi; the baked brick-lined walls of Delhi Gate and the vibrant stacked up display of rice, grains, and herbs inspire me. Akbari Mandi provides me the cultural and historical dimension to view my own city from a more dynamic lens. But more importantly, it has introduced me to a plethora of herbs, spices and green teas- many of which I have incorporated into my pantry.
In the market, you will find any and every spice, herb and tea known to mankind. Some of the strains and varieties I have discovered and come to use include keffir, mitsuba, lemongrass, cassia, laksa leaves, panch phoron, radhuni, saffron, star anise, turmeric, nutmeg, mace, rice paddy herb, pandan leaf, lime leaves amongst countless others. You can find many vendors who sell fresh and hard-to-find vegetables at very economical rates, along with various shops that sell intricately embroidered silks, cotton and other fine fabrics, along with exquisite duvet and bed covers.
Akbari Mandi offers a great deal more, and this is just a short glimpse of the assortment of products that are very alien and undiscovered for the people of my generation. It is one of the largest cultural hubs of the world, and if you’re looking for a rare herb or spice that is proving to be hard to find, you are bound to track it down in Akbari Mandi.
The Mandi is also home to the magnificent Wazir Khan Masjid, commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, this mosque is a spectacular masterpiece of Mughal era frescoes and Arabic murals. You simply cannot leave the Akbari Mandi without stopping by at the mosque and admiring its vibrant and elaborate embellishments. Other than that, the Mandi also hosts the Shahi Hamam.
Akbari Mandi proves to be the perfect vantage point to muse over the cultural significance of Lahore, a city that was the cradle of Mughal influence, pomp, and grandeur.