On our last trip to Lahore, Pakistan we decided to explore our city from the eyes of a tourist.
It all started with a wrong click which ended up opening a news link stating that the conservation of the 17th century Shahi Hammam in the Walled City of Lahore had received the Award of Merit in the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. It never occurred to us that we need to see the amazing things happening in city and I had no idea.
Once we reached Lahore and got over the jet-lag and weddings and food coma and family reunions we decided to put our tourist hats on and head out towards the Walled City of Lahore.
7 adults, 3 kids and loads of chaos……finally our squad was ready.
We had already booked a guided tour, the details of which we got from a member of the WCLA.
We were lucky to have an amazing tour guide who was extremely knowledgeable and had an awesome sense of humor. He made sure to give us the tour at our own pace which made it really enjoyable.
We decided to meet our guide and start our tour at the famous Food Street near the Fort Road.
We left early to beat the crazy traffic but still got stuck plenty of times.
To our surprise we enjoyed the traffic as it gave us plenty of time to reminisce and soak in the city views from the new flyovers and the graffiti along the walls.
The day was cold with a hint of fog. The first thing which caught our sight was the graceful Badshahi Masjid.
What a grand sight…..
We parked near the Lahore Sight Tour parking and caught a glimpse of the then-new, red double-decker sight-seeing bus.
We started out journey on dressed-up open Rickshaws with amazing speakers blasting famous Pakistani songs.
Through the busy Fort Street, we headed towards the Dehli Gate. For all those who don’t know, Dehli Gate is one of the most famous of the 13 gates which protected the city of Lahore during the Mughal Era.
This particular gate is home to many historical buildings including Wazir Khan Masjid and the Shahi Hamam.
The streets were busy, packed with traders, residents, and of course people like us. Once inside the Dehli Gate, we had to take the rest of the tour on foot since the streets were super crowded and it was easier to make the rest of the journey on foot.
Street vendors adorn the shoulder and there is nothing what you cannot buy here. From clocks, to shoes, to bulk grocery to you name it. A lot of people who have grocery stores in the city, usually buy items in bulk from here.
One thing most notable was the architecture, especially the jharokas (overhanging enclosed balcony) which are maintained to this day. From the brick work to the high arches, this place is an architects dream. These Shahi Havelis are the hidden gems of Lahore.
A little walk through the crowded streets full of commotion, haggling and car horns paved the way to the Masjid.
This mosque is named after the Governor of Punjab Hakim Ilam-Uddin who was the given the title of Wazir by Prince Shah Jahan. The mosque was completed in 1641 after 7-8 years of construction.
The mosque is built from brick and tile.
The entrance of the mosque is through a grand Iwan with Quranic Calligraphy. As you make your way through the Iwan, you see small rooms on either side which probably served as serai (guest rooms) or shops back in the day.
4 minarets mark each corner of the courtyard.
The corridors lead to an open courtyard. The courtyard consists of paved bricks and is surrounded by arched structures. At the center of the courtyard is a big pool used for wuzu (ablution).
The courtyard also has a crypt containing the tomb of 14th century Sufi saint Syed Muhammad Ishaq Gazruni.
The mosque’s interior is adorned with Mughal-Era Frescoes and Kashi Kari.
The prayer hall is divided into 5 sections with the main hall facing the wuzu pool. The prayer hall is collage of Mughal frescoes adorned with Persian and Arabic Calligraphy.
It is soo beautiful to see pigeons flying around the minarets and come to a complete still when the call for prayers happens.
After the masjid we took a stroll through the tung galis (tight streets) of the inner city. Some of the streets were soo tight that only one person could pass at a time.
The most memorable thing was the Akhuwat Deevar (Wall of Unity) where people leave jackets, shoes and other useable items for underprivileged people to take.
Our leisure stroll ended in the bazaar once again where bulk buying was happening in full swing. This time we ended up in the spice market. From freshly ground herbs, to lentils and rice to every kind of spice, this was one hot road.
Our walk ended at a building surrounded by red brick wall with scissor gates and a name plate saying “Shahi Hamam”.
There is a ticket to see this place which is very minimal.
The main purpose of these baths was that back in the day, army men and the travelers could rest and cleanse themselves before entering the city of Lahore.
Shahi Hamam or Royal Bath is a Persian Style Public Bath consists of :
Warm Bath Area
Hot Bath Area
This building was in a dilapidated state and little while back the Agha Khan Foundation, Walled City of Lahore Authority Norwegian High Commission joined hands to restore it and the conservation was executed so well that it won the Award of Merit at UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation, 2016.
Once you pass thorugh the gates there are stairs leading down to the Hammam having two big plaques mounted on the walls with the history of the building written in both Urdu and English.
As you enter, the first thing you notice is the high ceilings adorned with the restored Mughal-Era Frescoes. There are plenty roof windows bringing in the sunlight.
There are cold chambers and warm chambers and there are changing rooms after each chamber.
The guide told us that the baths were gender segregated.
Every room becomes more enjoyable as there is information posted both in Urdu and English explaining what was the purpose of each room and how things worked.
Towards the middle, there is display of all the artifacts which were excavated during the restoration. These clay pots and other figurine give us a glimpse into how life was carried out back in the day.
Floors are made of glass and you can look down to see the heat chambers which probably served as saunas and also a clear view of the drainage system.