There is a famous Lahori saying that "he who has not yet seen Lahore has not been born". It is certainly true that the colours, sights, sounds and scents of this Pakistani city are not ones to be forgotten. However, this is thanks to more than merely the sensual appeal of this vibrant part of the Punjab because a visit here is a little like a tour through world history.
The city's known past begins 5,000 years ago with the Hindu Valley civilisation. It then takes in the famous Mughal Empire, the Persians, a short period of Sikh rule, the British colonial era, the partition of India and the coming of independence. Lahore is proud of its heritage, and the Lahore Museum is a superb place to gain a frame of reference for subsequent visits to landmarks such as the Lahore Fort or the Shalimar Gardens.
History aside, there can be few better places to eat well than Lahore. Although worth a visit at any time of year, the restaurants of Food Street come into their own during the festival of Eid-al-Fitr, at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
Lahore is also a city that believes in nourishing the mind as well as the soul and stomach. One of its newest festivals, the Literary Festival, is evidence of this. Attracting national and international writers, poets and literary enthusiasts, it is an event of growing importance.
Things to do
History, shopping and (arguably the most enjoyable cultural experience)food! Everyone will find more than enough to keep them entertained, happy and full in Lahore.
Take a walk through the past
The Old City is the part of Lahore that was fortified by the addition of a wall in the Mughal era. As well as landmarks such as Delhi Gate and the Wazir Ali Khan mosque, it also has many haveli. These mansions, or townhouses, are a traditional feature of the subcontinent and are distinguished by their courtyard gardens, frescoes and balconies. Most are no longer inhabited, although some have been converted into hotels.
The Old City also includes a traditional market. The wares sold include jute bags filled with spices and locally-grown sugar.
Just outside the Old City, Lahore Fort, or Shahi Qila, is testament to the mixed heritage of the area. Archaeological and historical records show that the site has been occupied for more than 1,000 years. The current structure was built largely by the Mughals, although subsequent Sikh and British colonial rulers have also left their marks on this massive fortress.
Visit a Mughal mosque
Built by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb in the seventeenth century, the Baadshahi mosque is Pakistan's second-largest mosque and one of the city's most famous landmarks. With its veneer of red sandstone, marble-topped minarets and beautiful frescos, it is a major draw for tourists as well as worshippers. As with any mosque, all visitors must remove their shoes, but, as the sandstone floors can get extremely hot, sightseers may prefer to visit during the cooler parts of the day or should remember to wear socks.
Shopping -- Lahori style
Lahore is famous for its bazaars. The Anarkali bazaar is one of the oldest and most visited. Food stalls offer traditional dishes, usually freshly cooked to order, while other vendors sell textiles, leather goods, handicrafts and much more besides. For those who prefer their shopping to be undercover and air-conditioned, the Emporium Mall is South Asia's largest.
Feast your eyes while filling your stomach
Food Street is a Lahori institution. With its outside roof terrace and fabulous views across to the Baadshahi mosque Cooco's (or Cuckoo's) Den is one of the street's most popular restaurants. Occupying the oldest building on the street, the restaurant is filled with artworks. The food is traditional Lahori cuisine and attracts both locals and tourists.
Explore the City of Gardens
It is for good reason that Lahore is known as the City of Gardens. The history of its famous gardens can be traced back beyond the start of the Mughal period, from which most of its gardens date. Today, the Shalimar Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage site, take pride of place as the city's most famous gardens. Situated just outside the old walled city, they are surrounded by an intricate wall and filled with terraces, water features and fruit trees. Guided tours in English are available.
Calendar of Events
Lahore is a city that appreciates a good party. Historically, its most famous festival was the kite flying celebration of Basunt. Currently banned, it is fortunate that Lahori residents and visitors have plenty of other opportunities to celebrate.
Eid-ul-Fitr. This festival is the culmination of the month of Ramadan, during which devout Muslims fast during daytime hours and say extra prayers. The timings are lunar-dependent and so vary from year to year. Although many people spend Eid-ul-Fitr with family, the first day is a public holiday and Lahore celebrates accordingly. Restaurants offer special meals, shops open late and a party atmosphere fills the city.
Mela Chiraghan. This three-day festival of lights, held in March, marks the anniversary of the death of Shah Hussain, a famous Punjabi poet and saint from the sixteenth century. Once held at the Shalimar Gardens, festivities now centre around Shah Hussain's shrine, situated in Baghanpura, on the edge of the city. Rose petals are thrown onto the shrine, candles and fire torches are lit, religious poetry is recited and drums beat out a rhythm for dancers of the dhamal to follow. More prosaically, many food stalls set up in business near the shrine, while fairground rides and puppet shows entertain the children.
The National Horse and Cattle Show. Although held in Lahore, this five-day show, held every November in the Fortress Stadium, is a celebration of Pakistan's agricultural success. It is popular, attracting foreign dignitaries and tourists as well as locals. Livestock shows feature prominently but visitors are also entertained with exhibitions of dancing horses and camels, dog shows, polo matches, military bands and vaudeville acts. At night, torch lights are used to great effect to illuminate the stadium and the acts.
Lahore Literary Festival. One of the newest events to the city's calendar of festivities, this literary festival has quickly become a popular and international affair. Intended to acknowledge Pakistan's rich and varied literary history, while also looking to the future, it features well-known writers in conversation with each other, as well as talks and question and answer sessions. It is usually held in February.