For a city known for its controlled chaos, the ultimate place to delve deeper into Pakistan’s inner layers and experience its authentic culture is Lahore’s old city. There isn’t a shortage of ways to spend your time being captivated by what it has to offer. You will leave mesmerised by its unique Mughal architecture, satiated by the decadent Punjabi food, and overwhelmed by its vibrant, albeit it sober, nightlife.
Pakistan is increasingly famous for its landscapes and impressive mountains located in the northern areas. But Lahore is by all means its cultural hub. The Government’s efforts to encourage tourism with incentives such as e-visas has allowed visitors to get acquainted with the history, architecture, lifestyle, and community of old Lahore.
Also known as Lahore walled city, it dates back to 2000 BC and is famous for its ancient gates, delicate minarets, and exquisite mosques. It is still very much a lived-in city. You will enjoy the feeling of being lost in history walking through the ancient stone houses lined with narrow shutter streets that are typical of its medieval heritage. If you are in pursuit of local charm, the city comes to life in the mid-morning when the hustle and bustle of its vibrant food, spices, and clothing market begin. Note that Pakistanis are generally not early birds- most shops do not open before 11 a.m.
This photo essay highlights some of the landmarks of the charming old city as seen through the lense of Lahore-based photographer, Areesh Zubair, whose grandparents once resided in the old city.
The jewel in Lahore old city’s glittering crown is the magnificent Badshahi mosque. Popular with selfie-taking local and international tourists alike, Badshahi was designed in 1673 with royalty in mind. It is no wonder Princess Diana visited the mosque during her trip to Pakistan in the 1990s. Badshahi remains an elegant fixture that lives up to its hype, you would be remiss not to visit it on a trip to Lahore.
There is a saying that you have not lived if you have not seen the sun setting over the Badshahi mosque. We did not make the sunset that day, but the view of the mosque from its immense courtyard was well worth it. The only downside was walking barefoot across the cement on the courtyard in sweltering 40 degrees Lahore weather. It goes without saying that shoes are not allowed in the mosque and you would need a scarf while visiting the mosque. If you have not travelled to Pakistan, generally women do not have to cover up outside of religious places.
The mosque, the seventh-largest in the world and considered to be one of the largest Mughal architectures, is also a popular spot for wedding photoshoots. You are bound to bump into newlyweds elegantly clad Pakistani regalia.
The mosque welcomes worshipers (male and female) from all over the world and can hold up to 100,000 people. If you plan to visit on a Friday, it is best to go before 10:00 a.m. The workers start prepping tents and carpets for Jumma prayers ( usually held at 1 p.m.), so you might not be able to access it as you would normally.
The 17th century Wazir Khan mosque, although smaller in scale to Badshahi, is immense in atmosphere. Its stunning architecture has earned it a place on the top ten list of the most beautiful mosques as voted by Culture Trip. Its timeless textures and latticed windows give you the impression of a real historic fortress.
You would be wrong to think that the exterior is all this spectacular anomaly has to offer. The interior is even more impressive and feels richly textured but not overdone. The delicate patterns typical of Mughal architecture, resemble those of the magnificent Registan in Uzbekistan.
Carpets and cushions are laid out at the mosque on Fridays in preparation for Friday prayers. In addition to the worshippers, hordes of people make their way to the mosque to find some respite or to just chill.
Wandering through the old city’s Fort Road at night is a delight, in no small part thanks to the jostling crowds that come alive at night. Fort Road is a gastronomic hotspot, where mouth-watering cuisine boasting a distinct Punjabi flair is on offer. Local restaurants, as well as street food vendors, offer a wide range of decadent culinary options. Be sure to check out Cuckoo’s Den, a charming traditional restaurant with an interesting history and a delectable view of the Badshahi from its 5th-floor rooftop.