Monday, February 21, 2011

Day 144: Old Lahore Sightseeing

Visiting Old Lahore and its magnificent and famous sights is always an incredible experience. This time around a bunch of us went early morning, 5am to catch the sunrise at Badshahi Masjid (c. 1671) and Lahore Fort. The entire area is now considered quite dangerous - the heavy population in the area means that it is a prime target for terrorists. Choosing early Sunday morning was the perfect decision to ensure that the danger of a bombing would be minimal and views for photography would be maximized before the rush of worshipers, sightseers, and hang-arounders.

For safety reasons, Badshahi Masjid is no longer open to the public for Fajr namaz, which meant that we drove around for an hour waiting for 8:30am when it would open for the public. In the mean time we came upon and explored Masjid Wazir Khan. Being here with the blue, early morning sky and rising sun was so peaceful, the cool brick and tiles under our feet (shoes not allowed). One does not need to be religious to feel a sense of spirituality and peace in a mosque like this, found by walking through tiny alleyways and corridors. You look around on the upper level and see the old city of Lahore slowly waking up around you, and the sun rising up orangish-purplish red. All is quiet, and a few mean wrapped in blankets sit on the carpets within the masjid, apparently in a trance, holding their prayer beads. Next time I go to this particular masjid, I will not take my camera - I will just simply experience being there. This time I had to capture it =)

After a quick breakfast of roadside hareesa, we made it into the area enclosing the Lahore Fort and Badshahi Masjid. I was so pleasantly surprised to see how much the city had cleaned up and improved upon the outdoor area of lawns and fountains and flowers, and even the tomb of Pakistan's beloved poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal. Seeing the improvements was a moment in which I felt pride once again for my motherland. I could try to describe to you the feeling of entering Badshahi masjid, a Mughal-era masjid, but nothing in the shape of letters can express that feeling. You must go yourself. All I can say is that I am always left breathless by the sheer expanse of the courtyard of red brick. I can't help but imagine it full of human beings praying altogether at once, the same words, the same sense of faith and peace and oneness and unity. I hope that some day I can come back and feel safe enough to attend Friday prayers here. The mosque is an example of the mathematical advances supported and encouraged by many Mughal emperors, this one particularly of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1671. It is an entirely symmetrical mosque, and there are clever and always amazing elements to the inside, such as the room in which two people standing far away on opposite sides facing the corners can whisper into the wall and have the other person hear it clearly through their own wall. What I'm trying to say is you must see this place at least once in your lifetime!

To add to the feeling of history and grandeur of the Mughals is the Shahi Qila, aka Lahore Fort, directly across from the Badshahi Masjid. The most fascinating part of this Qila is the massiveness of every entryway and stairway: elephants were used by ancient armies and were brought into the fort. Apparently the fort itself is thought to have been originally built as early as 1025 AD and then went through several stages of destruction and rebuilding by invading armies. The Qila as we know it today is the same one built by Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1566 and subsequent rulers added to it as the years went by. My second favorite aspect of the Qila is seeing the raised balcony in which Emperor Akbar used to sit and hold council, listening to the pleas of the common people. Oh yes, and my third favorite part is being able to see the shining, golden Darbar Saheb Gurdwara, a Sikh temple right next to the Badshahi masjid, from the raised levels of the Qila. I have never been inside the gurdwara, and non-Sikh are technically not allowed inside, but I am told that if you ask permission (for what reasons I am unaware), they may let you in. I just think it's wonderful that there is a Sikh temple in the middle of Lahore, Pakistan, right next to a masjid. Awesome.

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