Situated on the banks of the River Ravi, Lahore enjoys fertile land and its abundance of greenery has lead to its nickname, the ‘City of Gardens’. The city is also widely considered to be the country’s cultural capital and has spawned numerous poets and artists, as well as being the home of Pakistan’s film industry.
Lahore has played an important role in Pakistani history; it was the seat of the Mughal and Sikh Empires, plus the capital of Punjab during the 11th century Ghaznavi and 19th century British Empires. The declaration of independence was made in Lahore and for this reason it is considered the ‘Heart of Pakistan’.
Modern-day Lahore is a charming city teeming with beautiful gardens and tourist attractions. Its 8.5 million residents have a reputation for warmth and hospitality, resulting in a high-spirited city with a surprisingly vibrant nightlife.
Lahore has many sights but most visitors start at the centre – the ancient Walled City of Lahore. At the heart of the Walled City is the 11th century Lahore Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built as imperial quarters by the Mughal Empire and subsequently used by the Sikh Empire. Also within the Walled City is the Badshani Mosque which was once the largest mosque in the world. It is best seen late at night when it is quiet, and respectful clothing is required.
At the centre of the Walled City is the Inner City, a maze of shrines and palaces. Although its nine-metre high brick wall was destroyed by the British in 1849, access to the Walled City is still via the 13 ancient gates which survived demolition. Visit the Imperial Baths and the recently restored Haveli Asif Jah, a striking private mansion. Nearby in Iqbal Park is the Minar-e-Pakistan, a towering monument to the Pakistani revolution often surrounded by colourful kites; a popular Lahori pastime.
Further afield is Shalimar Garden, a horticultural work of art commissioned by a 17th century Mughal Emperor. The magnificent gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site while the palaces, mosques and fountains are accompanied by three terraces with ponds and waterfalls.
Lahoris are renowned for their love of food and this is reflected by the array of restaurants on offer. Visitors can choose from the ubiquitous Western fast food chains and ethnic themed restaurants – Lahore is an ardent proponent of Pakistani-Chinese cuisine – or enjoy local and delicious Lahori fare.
Visit some of Lahore’s ‘food streets’ for an authentic introduction to local delicacies; be warned, you may require an iron constitution unless you’ve been in Pakistan for some time. These streets – found in Gowalmandi, Anarkali and Badshahi amongst others – are open around the clock but are cordoned off in the evenings to allow pedestrian traffic only, and make for an interesting pre-dinner stroll. For more upmarket options visit the suburbs of Gulberg and Defence: here Lahore’s ‘in-crowd’ congregates amongst palatial mansions and chic shopping districts.
Lahore prohibits the sale of alcohol to Muslim Pakistanis but is available to non-Muslim visitors. The nightlife scene is lively and although many Lahoris enjoy an evening at the movies, a chance to visit the theatre or the city’s burgeoning live pop music scene, there are also plenty of bars and nightclubs for those who want to find them. Many of the bars can be found in the top end hotels on Mall Road; meanwhile the best clubs can be found in Defence, although many are only on invitation.
For a day out with a difference, take a trip to the Wagah border post, sandwiched between Pakistan and India. The border is just 48km east of Lahore and throughout the day there are flag-waving parades by Pakistan’s Rangers and India’s Border Security Force. To the uninitiated these ceremonies may seem somewhat aggressive, but they are such a part of everyday life at the border post that large grandstands have now been built on either side of the Wagah Border to accommodate curious tourists and locals.