Gates of Lahore – The Flâneur Goes On

... continued from Part 1

Allama Iqbal penned a poem on Ravi, the beloved river of Lahore, and it’s one charming composition. In typical style of peer-o-murshid, dear reader, this is nothing short of a revelation. An excerpt from the poem follows:

سکوت شام میں محو سرود ہے راوی
نہ پوچھ مجھ سے جو ہے کیفیت مرے دل کی
پیام سجدے کا یہ زیر و بم ہوا مجھ کو
جہاں تمام سواد حرم ہوا مجھ کو
سر کنارہ آب رواں کھڑا ہوں میں
خبر نہیں مجھے لیکن کہاں کھڑا ہوں میں
شراب سرخ سے رنگیں ہوا ہے دامن شام
لیے ہے پیر فلک دست رعشہ دار میں جام

Lost in its own silent rhythm, the Ravi sings its song,
In its undulating flow I see the reflection in my heart.
The willows, the world,
in worship of God.
I stand at the edge of the flowing water,
I do not know how and where I stand.
In the wine-coloured dusk,
The Old Man shakily sprinkles crimson in the sky *

The ever enchanting Ravi coupled with the mystical and majestic thoughts of Iqbal is a priceless gem. The merging of day into night on the horizon, the soothing dance of the waves and waters of Ravi, and the majesty of full moon rising, all this is too much trouble for an innocent wanderer heart. Not these days though, as the river, unfortunately serves as the very sump of Lahore’s industrial waste and domestic refuse. If we head back to the past, a couple of hundred years into it, Ravi was very much a freshet as it embraced Lahore even after flowing for a little over five hundred miles. Ravi; the Iravati of ancient scriptures, a stream originating from the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, is immortalized upon its union with equally magnificent Lahore. The area where Ravi rubbed its shoulders with Lahore, has been a celebrated landscape, nourished by Mughals through lavish gardens and ornate pavilions. Just outside the walled city facing Shahdara, across Ravi were the furoodgahs of Noor Jehan, the Bagh-e-Dilkusha, where Jehangir and later on Noor Jehan were interred into their magnificent tombs. Further down the flow was the garden with a Pavilion built by Mirza Kamran, from the early Mughal days, that goes by the name Kamran Ki Baradari. The present course of the River Ravi has considerably shifted northwards from the city owing to a number of natural and man induced factors. Going back to the earlier times, by the same count of years, as we did a few lines above, we find Ravi flowing almost beside the Walled City towards it’s north eastern fringe, and it’s here, dear reader, we come across the Khizri Gate. In good old times, a ferry used to run across Ravi taking people of walled city to the other bank. The gate was thus named Khizri, after Hazrat Khwaja Khizr, the patron saint of sailors and boatmen. We shall come back to Khizri Gate in a while, as we cover our journey of the remaining gates of Lahore on that afternoon drift, we talked of in part 1 of this post, but first let’s take a look at the ‘wall’ itself. The wall that surrounded the city giving it the very name “The Walled City”.

The Wall of Walled City

Like the other walled cities in the world, Lahore was built as a fortress with the walls and gates comprising a system of fortifications. Lahore city and its citadel since their inception, had always had walls, made of mud. Through the years, and thousands of them, these walls saw invasions, destruction and rebuilding multiple times. The walls thus have hosted the intruders and the besieged alike, numerous times on the pages of history. It was during the times of Akbar, The Great Mughal Emperor, that a project was undertaken to replace the mud wall with the one made of fired bricks, and in doing so Akbar had his reasons. The land of Punjab levied under high taxes imposed in the Mughal regime was up for revolts. Then there was Dullah Bhatti of Sandal Bar and other tribal chieftains posing a direct threat to Lahore, that was to become the capital of Mughal Kingdom. The replacement of mud walls with fire bricks commenced in 1575. Having deteriorated through neglect during the reign of later Mughals, the walls were refurbished and rebuilt by  Maharaja Ranjit Singh around 1817, who reinforced the defence of Lahore by augmenting the wall with a moat. The British did more to damage the existing wall. Post 1857, guided by their experiences during the ‘Rebellion’ in general and the siege of Delhi in particular, they demolished a considerable portion of Lahore Wall. The major blow was taken by the boundary wall on the southern periphery of the city as well as major portions from eastern and western walls were taken down. An account from 1886 tells us of the city wall that was largely intact towards the western side of the city. 

The line of the still firm city wall of Lahore follows the curves of the hills with charming fidelity. The bastions are not frequent, but there is enough variety to render you intent and watchful for surprises. There is something singularly fascinating in going around the ancient walls of this old city of Lahore. You see where armies have come and battled for the possession of India.

Rev Dr Hurst, The Old Fortress of Lahore, Published in The Independent, New York, 1886

We are told by Majid Sheikh that the surviving patches of city wall of Lahore were very much intact till partition of the Sub-Continent in 1947. Then follows a greedy pursuit of expansion by the opportunist trading rackets patroned by the political elite of the country during varying times. This process of commercializing the Androon Shehr brought about an ugly change to the historic landscape and in doing so the wall of the ‘walled city’ was done away with in totality. Augmented by the natural obstacle of Ravi on north-eastern side, the wall was heavily fortified towards the western periphery. The river in changing its course abandoned the city, and the Ravi Road neighborhood encroached right up to the western shoulder of the old city. The walled city itself throbbing under the very pulse of ‘profitability’ expanded to demolish its heritage symbol, the wall. During my stroll that afternoon, the commercialized outlets dotted the outer periphery of walled city. The only exception to that, and in a way a refreshing surprise was a tiny portion of the wall rebuilt recently between Khizri and Kashmiri Gates on the north-eastern side of the city. Built with thin burnt bricks, a few bastions ornate the newly constructed city wall which offers some solace to the soaring eyes of a wanderer who comes out in pursuit of history.

Wall of Lahore

City Gardens

The outer periphery of walled city is dominated by the trade merchants through their commercial outlets, but some consolation is found in the shape of some finely laid out grassy parks. Most of these mini parks are found on the eastern side of the walled city, and a couple of these exist on the western and northern peripheries as well. This is a lingering effort by the Punjab Government to ‘beautify’ the outer boundary of the heritage rich androon. If we turn the leafs backwards, on the book of history, not very far back in the past, dear reader, the situation was entirely different. Historian Latif tells us of the gardens formed by the British. The defensive moat built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh around the walled city was filled up by the British, on the pretext of improving the sanitation around the city, and gardens were formed that extended upto two miles all along the boundary.

Alas, that picturesque surrounding can now only be virtually imagined, as in reality the area is reduced to scarcely found shady trees and the leisurely walks have considerably shrunk to a few yards. It was a luxury that very much existed when the British ruled us.

Subsequently, they (Municipal Committee) caused the ditch round the walled city, heretofore a standing source of dirt and unhealthiness, to be filled up. Gardens were then formed on the site, extending over a cricuit of two miles, planted with trees and flowers, and intersected with walks and drives. These are now, in the afternoon, the favourite resort of vast numbers of the people of Lahore, and afford in the most convenient position a park, or rather boulevard, the advantages of which are highly appreciated.

Historian Latif; Lahore: Its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities, 1892
City Gardens

From here we shall resume our journey as we had left it at the very gates of Shahi Guzargah, The Royal Trail. We were at Delhi Gate, a prominent edifice towards the south-eastern boundary. From here, dear reader, our path extends to the eastern gate of Walled City, the Yakki Gate.

Yakki Gate

The eastern gate is Yakki Gate. It’s believed to be a distorted form of Zaki, the name of the saint whose tomb exists right where once the gate stood. The gate is no more extant, but the tomb survives, as we are a nation of tombs and extraordinary beliefs.

Yakki is the distorted form of the Arabic word Zaki. Zaki was the name of a legendary martyr for the faith who defended the city from Genghis khan’s army. According to legend, although his head was chopped off in battle, his body continued to fight for some time.

Anna Suvorova, Lahore: Topophilia of Space and Place

The interesting thing about this tomb is that it has two graves, and as the story goes this is the site where the headless body and subsequently the chopped off head were interred. These body parts belong to a martyr that goes by the name of Zaki who is said to have fought gallantly while defending Lahore from the onslaught of Mongol army. Yakki Gate gives rise to Yakki Bazar, which passes through Kucha Khair Din on the right and goes on to meet Sheranwala Bazar, where dear reader, exists our next gate.

Yakki Gate

Khizri or Sheranwala Gate

My readers would recall that this post began with an excerpt from a poem on Ravi and shortly afterwards we talked of Khizri Gate that was named after Hazrat Khizr, the patron saints for the sailors and the professions linked to flowing water. Next to Yakki Gate, ahead on the north eastern side of the city, we come across Khizri Gate that once opened to the flowing waters of Ravi. The gate as it was in the old times is visualized in water color on a painting found here. The painting shows the ghats on Ravi just outside Khizri gate. An elephant showering through its trunk, a couple of people bathing and a boat populate the canvas. The gate as it survives today is quite different than the one found in the painting. A single story structure supported by two high pillars without any windows. The present day popular name of the gate is Sheranwala Gate.

Khizri or Sheranwala Gate

During the reign of Ranjit Singh, visitors of Lahore who entered the city from the gate on the River Ravi were greeted inside by the Emperor’s lions, caged on either side of the entrance. In their memory two bas-relief lion’s heads now gaze outward from beautiful Sheranwala Gate.

Samina Quraeshi, The Thirteen Gates

The wagon hawkers shout out Sheranwala as a popular stop where we have Nawaz Sharif Hospital in the vicinity. The term Sheranwala has nothing to do with the electoral symbol of Nawaz League though. The gate came to be known as Sheranwala Gate during the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who is said to have placed two caged lions on either sides of the gate with a guard posted, thus parading the city’s defence to on-looking potential attackers from the north. There are neither lions nor Ravi to be found at the gate now. Ravi flows way up north and the Circular Road with its traffic stream and the neighboring railway line with its locomotives populate the landscape out of Khizri a.k.a Sheranwala Gate.


Kashmiri Gate

Half pushed, half towed, we arrived at the high gate of Kashmiri Serai; that huge open square… surrounded with arched cloisters, where the camel and the horse caravans put up on their return from Central Asia… Most of them were rented to traders, as we rent the arches of a viaduct.

J.L.Kipling, 'Lahore As It Was, 1860'

Kashmir, the favorite vale of Jehangir was a usual summer time excursion for the Mughal Kings. A gate that faces Kashmir on the northern periphery of walled city is Kashmiri Gate. There was a grand caravanserai outside embracing the incoming and rearing the outgoing carvans from Lahore to the North and vice versa. Kipling mentions of the caravanserai and the Kashmiri Gate in his travelogue. The passageway from Kashmiri Gate leads inside the city to the busy commercial junction of Kashmiri Bazar and Kotowali Wala Bazar and further ahead to the famous Azam Cloth Market. The outer facade of Kashmiri Gate is shadowed by the bent branches of a seasoned tree providing a touch of antiquity. The high gate still stands but the caravans and the caravanserai are lost to the sands of time.

Kashmiri Gate

Masti Gate

Next gate on the north, is Masti Gate, for which no structure survives and all what remains is a narrow passageway. This gateway opened to one of the most ornate mosques in Lahore, Maryam Zamani Mosque, also called Begum Shahi Mosque, and thus was called Masjidi (or its Punjabi equivalent Maseeti) Gate, the literal translation being ‘the gate with the mosque’. ‘Masti’ is believed to be the ‘used up’ form of words Masjidi or Maseeti. Constructed by mother of Emperor Jehangir, carrying the title Maryam Zamani (Mary of the times), the mosque carries her title. It is possibly the earliest constructed mosque by the Mughals at Lahore. The mosque is opposite to yet another elegant gate of Lahore Fort called Akbari Gate, facing the present day Fort Road. The gate was built by Emperor Akbar and was a prominent landmark on the Royal Trail or Shahi Guzargah of walled city. The trail followed Begum Shahi Mosque – Haveli of Chuna Mandi – Chowk Wazir Khan – Delhi Gate and out of the city towards Delhi. The mosque that once carried an assorted architecture and elegant artwork is obscured by encroachments and is almost in ruins. The area of Masti Gate was once home to professionals linked with leather craft, but now is overcrowded by the auto related businesses, noisy streets and chaotic traffic.

Masti Gate

Roshnai Gate

Roshnai Darwaza (The Gate of Lights or Splendor) is the only gate that is believed to have survived in its original form escaping the reconstructions brought about during 18th and 19th centuries. It afforded the main entrance to walled city from the eastern side of The Badshahi Masjid. Reserved for the use by royalty, the gate held its significance and was reported to be lit at night as a guiding aid to boats afloat the waters of Ravi, for then the river touched the walls of Lahore Fort. The name of the gate is thus derived from the fact of being splendidly lit after hours. I remember from my visit to the Ranjit Singh’s Samadh that an official from there during a guided tour had indicated the gate and told me of the curse it had on Nau Nihal Singh, the grandson of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh. Nau Nihal Singh reportedly died being hit by the falling debris from the Roshnai Gate as he crossed it to head onto his coronation ceremony. I was told that the “curse” of Roshnai Darwaza was due to the fact that Nau Nihal Singh had issued proclamations aimed at demolishing Muslim Shrines at Lahore, hence committing blasphemy and himself met his untimely death.

Roshnai Gate

To the north of the Hazuri Bagh is the Roshnai Darwaza, or the gate of splendour, counted as one of the gateways of the town. It was near this entrance that Prince Nau Nihal Singh, son of Kharak Singh, and Mian Udham Singh, eldest son of Gulab Singh, were killed by the fall of a portion of an archway (since destroyed), as they emerged together from the passage, on return from the funeral pile of Kharak Singh to the place where Prince was to be crowned Maharaja of the Punjab.

Historian Latif, Lahore: Its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities, 1892

The story was found to be true for Nau Nihal Singh alongwith an accomplice was hit by the falling pieces from the gate archway that gave way suddenly as the duo was passing under it. Nau Nihal Singh was returning from the funeral pyre of his father Kharak Singh and was hurrying to the ceremony crowning him as the Maharaja of Punjab. Historian Latif tells us that it was probably the firing of gun salute in the distance that caused the fragments from the gate to fall off. Some sources claim that Nau Nihal Singh survived the incident with minor injuries, but died mysteriously in the immediate hours, presumably killed by one Raja Dhiyan Singh, a courtier  of Sikh darbar. Roshnai Gate thus played a key role in setting the culminating course to the Sikh Rule in Punjab that was already crumbling owing to the trachery and treason amongs the rank and file of Sikhs. From the city side, Roshnai Gate opens to an architectural ensemble of pure beauty; Hazuri Bagh with the marble pavilion constructed during the times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Earlier on this space, between the fort and the mosque, Emperor Aurangzeb had constructed an Abdar Khana square. Today this enclosed compound contains the main entrance to Lahore Fort, Samadh of Maharaja Ranjit Singh (as well as those of his son and grandson and the fifth Sikh Guru, Arjun Dev Ji), Badshahi Mosque, Allama Iqbal’s tomb and the Hazuri Bagh with its marble pavilion.


Taxali Gate

A graphite sketch on cream wove paper, dated 14 March 1860, by William Simpson, shows a couple of arched gateways with heavy fortifications leading to a gate of grand proportions. The sketch (found here) other than the date bears in manuscript ‘Tuxalee Gate Lahore’. The only entrance to the walled city from the western side, Taxali Gate was named as it had, in the neighborhood, the royal mint from the times of Shah Jehan. In earlier times, and that would be before the reign of Mughals, the gate carried the name ‘Lakhi Gate’. Lakhi being a term related to money matters, the gate had in the neighborhood, quarters of money lenders and trade icons. Our discussion, dear reader, carries the past tense, as Taxali Gate, unfortunately is no more. A humble street leading to a market of musical instruments and the infamous chaubaras is all what survives now. Notorious for being a red light district of Walled City, carrying a cliché cum name of Heera Mandi, the present state of Taxali Gate is no match to its grand past. The neighborhood of this gate has been rich in literature and culture. It had residences of the literary giants, Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, Allama Muhammad Iqbal, Shah Hussain, Ustad Daman and more. Maulana Muhammad Hussain Azad once resided in Kucha Tehsil and Gali Judge Latif in Tibbi Bazar is associated with Syed Muhammad Latif (Historian Latif), a distinguished scholar famous for having compiled a comprehensive history of Lahore.

Taxali Gate

Old Lahore was in ruinous condition when Mahmud invaded it. The city was then divided into two parts, one called Talwara, and the other Rara. The Talwara portion of the city existed about the Taxali gate quarters, now known as Tibbi…. The Rara was the part of the city where now stands the Mosque of Wazir Khan. In old deeds and documents, the Taxali gate quarters are styled the Guzar Talwara, and the Delhi gate quarters, the Rara.

Historian Latif, Lahore: Its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities, 1892

Taxali Gate was connected with Delhi Gate through an old route that extended from west to east. That route existed way before Mughals as Historian Latif tells us and it divided the walled city in two distinct portions; one referred to as Talwara and the other, Rara. The area of Taxali gate still contains heritage rich old havelis in true shape and splendor which is a treat to soaring eyes. The havelis in area neighboring Badshahi Mosque have been converted to form a food street. Cooco’s Den & Cafe, Andaz and other restaurants are shaping up a newer version of evening and night life in this area.


Having strolled the circumference of Walled City, a comforting corner at Cooco’s Den & Café was my abode of the evening. In those semi dark and cozy corners that once was an extension of Shahi Mohallah, a narrative came flooding back to me. It was a story that once was narrated  by Lieutenant Colonel Bhatti, our commanding officer of the time, during an open air camp dinner in the wilderness of Gujrat. During his days of ‘lieutenant-hood’, Colonel Sahab along with a friend decided to visit Heera Mandi. They boarded a bus, travelled all the way up-to Lahore and debussed near Badshahi Mosque in the ‘full noon tide’ of the day. Soon the dilemma at hand revealed itself unto them. They, for obvious reasons, were not in a position to ask the exact whereabouts of the place. To make matters more complicated, there were no signboards of the sort “Heera Mandi starts here” or others. Based on pure instincts, having unsuccessfully searched for the ‘visual reaffirmation’ of the stories at hand, in those silent streets around 2 – 3 PM of the day, our Lieut and his friend took the bus back home, in unanimous agreement that all the fuss about the ‘place’ was indeed pure nonsense. Contrary to Colonel Bhatti and his companion, I was there after dark, ideally in time for ‘business hours’ in an area that carried the title of red light district. Dear reader, I was to discover something entirely different, carrying a variety of flavors, above and beyond the restriction of a no-go area. Tania Qureshi quite justifiably debates the point in a beautiful article on Taxali Gate here. The area is indeed rich in heritage as some of the most ornate edifices of walled city survive here in the original form. This component of walled city carries a history that goes well beyond the taboo of the dancing girls and the associated profession. The name Heera Mandi itself refers to a grain market that was established during the reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh by one of his courtiers Heera Singh.

The culminating notes of my walk that afternoon, extending to the twilight hours, found me standing at the beautifully illuminated Trannum Chowk. On one side of which lies Pakistan Talkies, the first cinema and theatre in Pakistan. On the other side is the Lahnga Mandi, a seasoned market of musical instruments. I spent an evening among people who loved art, music and associated forms of the tradition. As night fell, I treated myself with the aroma of signature food delicacies from Taxali; Paey, Bong, Chaney, Lassi in the area between Tarannum Chowk and the shrine of Baba Naugaza Peer. From there I took my way to the area comprising havelis now designated as food street. The night and the trip, dear reader, got concluded with a feast of Tawa Chicken at Cooco’s Den & Café and a box of assorted memories.

The Mosquebottom_border

* Translation by Parizad N. Sidhwa
Books and Authors
Anna Suvorova; Lahore, Topophilia of Space and Place; Oxford University Press, 2011
Syad Muhammad Latif; Lahore: Its History, Architectural Remains and Antiquities; New Imperial Press Lahore, 1892
Bapsi Sidhwa; City of Sin and Splendor: Writings on Lahore; Penguin UK, 2006
The Library Magazine, May-Oct 1886, John B. Alden, Publisher, New York, 1886
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