Lahore’s Essentials with Find My Adventure
I had been meaning to visit Badshahi Masjid, Fort, and Shalimar Gardens for a long time. A friend told me that Find My Adventure offers a day-long trip to these locations, among other such places of cultural significance. I was interested. I visited their website, which offers a number of trips to locations across Pakistan. It is user-friendly, as I found a trip labeled ‘Lahore City Tour And Wagah Border Tour’ easily. I used their online text service to get the information required to undertake the trip. After that, I signed up to the website and booked my adventure trip for 14 April. Soon, I was given details about my guide, who would escort me to the featured locations in one day. He was to share a lot of information about these sites as well. I was excited.
The writer spent a whole day learning about some of the most recognizable monuments and activities in Lahore. His guide was helpful, and provided him with in-depth knowledge about the locations they visited together. Although bone-tired by the end of it, he considered his ‘Find My Adventure experience’ a fruitful one.
Despite a sleepless night, I woke up quite early on the day of the Find My Adventure visit. First, I ironed my clothes. Then, I showered. After breakfast, I left for Lahore Fort to meet my guide. Sitting silently in the backseat of an Uber, the sun warmed me up through its windows, although it was quite early in the morning. I missed the cold winter mornings with melancholic tea bags already.
I alighted from the Uber close to one of the gates leading to Lahore Fort. After the vehicle had left, I asked the people around me for directions. I realized that my Uber had dropped me on the wrong side of the Fort. I commenced walking along the fence towards Gate No.1, while the sun-scorched everything exposed to its lustful stare. There were a handful of vehicles on the road and some pedestrians, the odd junkie or two.
Striding along the fence, I approached a brown gatehouse, which looked just like red bread.
The wires festooned with electric poles in front of it offended its majestic beauty. But somehow, it retained its ancient glory like an old man, whose adventures alone make him immortal for a while. As I walked and took notes on my smartphone, I feared that I would lose my drive for metaphors as we roll down into the afternoon, and would end up spewing only nouns and verbs. I continued forth and could see the green garden beyond the fence close to Gate No.1 of the Lahore Fort. My guide from Find My Adventure was a little distance away.
Through the main gate, I entered and started on the footpath, which was lined on both sides with green trees and shrubs, and occasionally, flower beds. Several people had already arrived before me, including a throng of Chinese tourists. Seeing them around every corner in the Fort later, I thought that the Chinese seem to have discovered Pakistan after CPEC in the fashion of Columbus. Under the shade of trees, some homeless families and junkies were sitting, hungry as ever. As I approached closer, I saw a few Chinese tourists taking pictures of bearded junkies, as if they were sacred anomalies native to this region. An old man chanted slogans of Pak-China friendship as the unusual attention and photography inspired him with a fit of intimacy.
Just before the Fort’s gate, there was some construction in process, around Gurdwara Dehra Sahib. A man had set-up his sugar-cane juicer in an alcove between the protective sheets, which violated the premises of Gurdwara. Several men were sitting on the footpath selling a variety of bric-a-bracs and trinkets. In front of Lahore Fort, I met my guide, M. Asif. He is a middle-aged man with a relaxed demeanor and an affluence of information regarding the history of Mughal Buildings in Lahore. We decided to commence with Badshahi Mosque. The forebuilding of Badshahi Mosque with its dark-red color looked as imposing as ever. The spires and decorations above the gate itself in the half-dome echoed architectural arrogance, my guide from Find My Adventure tells me.
We walked inside towards the mosque; meanwhile, my guide from Find My Adventure elaborated the history of Badshahi Mosque. The intricate decorations on the firebrick building of the mosque along with its domes and arches led me to think of the indefinite hard work and expertise, which must have gone into its exquisite construction. But as human history stands, it remembers not those who built it up from the ground, but those who ordered its construction. I tarried a little longer inside the mosque and observed the embroidered walls and its detailed decorations of plants.
From there, we went to the arches on the margin, where religious scholars of days past taught their students.
My guide from Find My Adventure showed the echo system within the walls of the arches and proved how it was possible for a teacher to edify hundreds of students together without loudspeakers.
Under the white-washed arches, the paintings from some of the walls were peeling. Here, I cannot resist mentioning lovers, who gather on the margins of the mosque to whisper their vows and secrets to each other right under the blessings of God.
From there, we went down to Iqbal’s tomb, which lies on the left side of the front gate of Badshahi Mosque. A young man was washing the terracotta floor with a hose. The room itself was locked. While ambling towards the Fort, my guide enlightened me in severe details about the history of the Fort and royal life during the Mughal period. We started from the left and climbed the elephant stairs, which are guarded on both sides with two high walls with blind arches. A number of groups and families had also reached there to savor the glamour of history. The setting of the mosque and the Fort were influencing my notes; everything in loud and tall phrases resembling epic poetry.
As per Find My Adventure’s itinerary, we walked around Lahore Fort for an hour. My guide narrated sufficient details regarding the architecture of different buildings, including those of Sheesh Mahal. The Fort was first made out of mud by Loh, a prince born of Hindu gods, and then, the Mughal emperors improved upon it and turned it into a brick building. The guide also mentioned the buildings were initially constructed by Sikhs, and later, by the British.
The workings of Sheesh Mahal particularly fascinated me.
Under the globular roof of Sheesh Mahal, the Mughal king used to dine with his wife at night in the light of one candle. This candle could reflect its light through hundreds of convex mirrors fixed in the roof. The queen used to take shower in an unusual bathroom, which resembles a grave more if looked at with a modern eye. While I was there, I saw that the queen’s bathing place was filled with empty bottles of cold drinks. Besides, most of the walls were covered with claims of love and phone numbers of girls written by boys.
After Lahore Fort, we left for Data Darbar. Before going inside, my guide bought mithai [sweets] and distributed them amongst the beggars. He told me that he expected some good prayers from the poor and the wretched. The policemen patrolling the area were searching everybody from head to toe. Inside, throngs of devotees sat and prayed in front of the shrine. Despite the heat, the number of adherents kept increasing, with their hands raised in supplication.
From Data Darbar, around 12 o’clock, we left for Shalimar Gardens. Shalimar Gardens are situated on G.T road opposite to Baghbanpura Police Station.
Once It used to be the resting place of Mughal kings and royal ministers. Now, tourists and local people flock its shady grounds to live few moments of respite.
While entering, I saw lethargic school boys, with their bags, leaving after having spent their school time in the garden. Who does not enjoy bunking school at the threshold of adolescence! When I was little, I believed that giant ghosts could really lift and steal away royal palaces. For years, I prayed that some fanatic ghost might uproot my school forever. Not a brick moved.
The guide edified me about the details of Shalimar and showed me how the gardens comprise of three terraces. The first terrace, Faiz Bakhsh, slightly higher than the rest, used to be the resting place for the King and his family. The second terrace, Hayat Bakhsh, was specified for the ministers. In the third terrace, Farakh Bakhsh, the King used to sit before the commoners and listen to their problems and concerns. The garden is strewn with a large number of trees and decorated with grass. However, there were large spaces, where plants were not grown.
Some of the walls had corroded on which a number of young workers worked assiduously in the heat. All the fountains had run dry and looked rather ridiculous. About ten years earlier, when I was 9-10 years old, I had read an essay about Shalimar Gardens in my Urdu book. I remember clearly that the pictures that had been published with the essay showed waters along the fountains. This was misrepresentation at its finest. Enroute, and once again, mobile numbers, names, and vignettes from love letters were scribbled on the walls. I wondered if our foreign tourists would think that Mughal Kings loved wall-chalking and used mobile-phones before they were even invented. Preservation shmeservation.
As my guide shared information about the terraces, I imagined the medieval times with its pompous kings together with the modern democratic consumers walking around. How strange!
There were some old gates in dilapidated conditions from the old days, too. After having visited the three terraces with my guide, we sat down to take rest. Having walked for four hours continuously, I was tired. We enjoyed some refreshments and waited awhile before leaving for Wagah Border.
From Shalimar Gardens, I called an Uber to go to Wagah Border. This was the next destination set out for me by Find My Adventure. The army sentinels stopped us on the road for about one hour. They told us that the gates would be opened at 3 PM. Till then, I listened to the local FM channels on the radio and imagined how delicious my sleep that night would be. At last, they allowed us to move forward. Then, we had to get down from the vehicle and get ourselves searched by the guards and metal detectors.
After several check posts, we reached close to the gigantic twin pavilions, where we were going to witness the flag-lowering ceremony.
As we were ushered in, the loud sounds of speakers made my ears ring.
From the Pakistani side, they were playing ‘Surah-e-Rahman’ in full volume. The Indians were playing some national songs and anthems. The fusion they made was overwhelming. Because I am sensitive to loud sounds, I had to plug my ears with my fingers. After the pavilions were filled, we expected the event to commence. A large number of people took pictures with the guards, who practice military drills and strike their feet against the ground as if they have wooden feet.
A bearded man with an amputated leg came hopping across from where we were seated, wearing a flag and carrying another flag in his hand. He started spinning in the middle of the road on his only foot until I got dizzy. I feared that he might fall. He did not. On the Indian side, a group of young girls had gathered and ran in circles holding Indian flags.
Patriotic songs were blared on both sides, and the collective product was simply noise.
At last, the event of flag-lowering started. A number of tall and young men commenced their drills and stamped their feet terribly hard. The same happened on the Indian side as their sentinels wearing brown uniforms appeared. The two groups gestured to each other in antagonistic ways. I wondered only and kept thinking of Arundhati Roy’s essay “The End of Imagination.” At last, they pulled down the flags and finished the function. I had to hurry out of the pavilion a little earlier because I did not want to be caught in the crowd.
Almost asleep, I reached my room about 6 PM. It wasn’t until the next day that I could gather the magnitude of this experience for me. The aftereffects of such diverse historical places did not wear away anytime soon.
I breathed in a Mughal Fort, a British colony, and nationalist Pakistan together.
It was for the first time that I visited a number of places with a guide. It was completely different as I did not just take pictures but immersed myself in the historical life of the places with the help of my guide. I could not help admiring the initiative of ‘Find My Adventure’ and extending their services to a number of cities. I would happily recommend them to anybody, who wants to see the historical places within Lahore or tourists havens within the rest of Pakistan.