August 9, 2009




Did you know that the Shahi Qila and the Bashahi Mosque in Lahore charge Rs. 10/- for locals and Rs. 200/- for foreigners? I wasn’t privy to this until today when I took two firangi friends sightseeing in the city that-I-once-used-to-call-mine. It’s been a long, long time since I saw any of these places but today I felt like I was viewing them through the eyes of a stranger. I remember, once upon a time, walking down most of the roads leading up to Data Saheb’s mazaar. I remember wandering aimlessly down the jam-packed shopping areas of Anarkali and Shah Almi, happily picking up ‘interesting’ things for a pittance. I remember taking tiny rickshaws down crowded cobblestone lanes to reach the Sikh gurdwara with Ranjit Singh’s samadi, and a little beyond to reach the massive fort with the majestic mosque that Lahore boasts about.

Today, reality betrayed my memories. Or maybe everything was jaded by the insufferable heat. What I saw when I entered the Qila (after paying Rs. 200/- firangi fee) almost made me cry. The Qila seemed to me somewhat like an aged prostitute, the kind of woman who was once beautiful but now – because she is used to flaunting herself – she does so even as the cracks on her face take on nightmarish proportions. She reveals herself in a macabre striptease that no one wants to see, but is impossible to ignore.

The Shahi Qila has clearly seen more prosperous days. Days when supplicants stood outside for hours to apply to the personalities housed within its grand, gracious splendor. Fountains that stand bare and decayed amidst hollows, were once resplendent. The grass green and the beds were once filled with flowers. Royalty walked on paths where proletarian masses come to picnic and greasy men of all ages loitre around to stare leacherously at any and every woman who walks by. Lawns littered with empty pepsi bottles and chip-wrappers of all sizes were once home to some of the most refined and beautiful women in the country.

At the moment, the qila is barely worth the Rs. 10/- that locals pay to enter. The façade of the ‘red’ fort has been whitewashed by some philistine bent on giving the place a ‘neater’ look. The building itself is unkempt, dirty and crumbly. Renovations, apparently under process, have undoubtedly been tasked to a two-bit contractor who thinks nothing of painting over ancient artwork and creating patterns where none existed in order to give this priceless historical monument a newer, gaudier look. Those parts of this building that have been given attention to and – somewhat – restored to a semblance of its former glory have only been done so because one or other of our political leaders has been hosting a ‘dinner’ in the fort and therefore commissions a much-needed touch-up.

The tour guide tells us fond tales of cobblestones being replaced when Nawaz Sharif hosted a grand event for Princess Diana where Emperor Jehangir once used to sleep. He tells of how the very air sparkled that night and in that instant he could imagine what it once must have been. Entering the sheesh mahal, the guide confessed that the last effort to restore the building had been when Bhutto (he didn't mention whether it was the father or the daughter) had a grand dinner here and commissioned people to 're-paint' the walls. Just like people re-paint the drawing rooms before guests come over. I suppose it means nothing to them that in doing so they compromised the historicity of a building that has been in existence since 4 BC.

The tour guides take you through the fort, show you the missing fountains, the broken pathways, the missing mirrors, destroyed artwork, walls etched with the names of hundreds of people and they look straight at you and glibly tell you that all of this was perfect until the Sikhs showed up and wreaked havoc. The Sikhs destroyed the fort, stole the semi-precious gems and took off the mirrors. They scratched the artwork from the walls. To top it all off, our guide confesses that them Sikhs actually even stole the dysfunctional fountains! What’s saddest, however, is that I can easily see how in another fifty years the fort will have disintegrated into nothingness, a mound of rubble where greatness once stood. And even then the blame will always reside with the Sikhs. But maybe also Baitullah Masood. And Osama Bin Laden, ofcourse.

16 comments:

A Wandering Soul! said...

=s
Ummm Well it's disturbing =s
It has been a long time since i went to any historical places in Lahore =s

7 said...

same is the case with Moen-jo-Daro..
Rs 20 for local and around 500 for foreigners...

Ubaid said...

yeah well this is true... but you know what i don't care about what they charge or what not but they should atleast work on the restoration of our landmarks :(

Xeb said...

AWS: Me either. And honestly, it's a long time before I'll go again. I can't deal with the horror I feel when I see something so gorgeous being desecrated.

7: And the Taj apparently charges 800 for foreigners and 10 for locals! It's a standard practice I'm told.

UB: They should. And somebody should tell the ignorant fools than whitewash does not equal restoration of a historical monument! Idiots the lot of them!

Desert Mystery said...

Thanks for the public service announcement regarding the variance in fees. Now I know that I got ripped off as I paid Rs 300 at the Qila 6 months ago. Apparently more then the firangi fee :(

Xeb said...

DM: How did you manage to do that? There are signs with the fees written around all the over the entrance to the place!

brok3n said...

Well Im guessing the different rates have something to do with giving our tourist industry something. 10 rupees is nothing. Neither is 200. The fact is when you mention you went to Pakistan for your holiday to your firangee friends..they dont neccessarily associate that with anything remotely good. As soon as someone mentions India, there's a conversation. This is telling something...... -shrug-
I know the state of Lahore fort and badshahi mosque isnt up to standard..not forgetting shalimar bagh considering these places are our assets, our history. What we also need to consider is that Pakistan is a developing country..infact one thats on the brink of falling apart. People don't have basic neccessaities there...roti, kapra, makaan..... you think the government's gonn' do anything about lifeless buildings when its nation is suffering from hunger?.... not anytime soon.

Xeb said...

B: I don't necessarily disagree with you, but I would like to throw in this conversation that India has more poor, starving people than Pakistan does...

brok3n said...

=p India also has a higher literacy rate and no Zardari as its president. It all makes a difference.

Desert Mystery said...

They told me the fee sign were old and they were meant to be replaced. At least I hope it went for a good cause. Then again with all the great ethical practices all to common in our beloved land, chances are little or none of the fees make it to where its needed (ie restoration, facilties, etc) the most.

Deepak Iyer said...

It was summed up best by a friend from Bulgaria whom I met in Ladakh last year. He was a mountain guide back home and quite miffed at the extra charges. As he said, "All foreigners are not rich !!"

Xeb said...

b: *sigh* Voldemort has much, much to answer for!

DM: I have only one work for you: *sucker* :P

Xeb said...

Deepak: *hehe* true, however the rate our current currency is depreciating I think we're justified in charging a little more from those-who-own-those-lovely-dollars! :P And before you argue let me remind you that international students pay way more than American or Canadian students (in these respective countries) and that is DESPITE their depreciating currencies!

Deepak Iyer said...

I never said anyone was justified in doing so.

brok3n said...

the voldemort reference had me in giggles for quiet a few. lol.

Xeb said...

b: :P

We, on this blog, have come to the conclusion that he-who-must-not-be-smsed-about is worthy of no other name! *hehe*