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Lahore, Pakistan

 

Wazir Khan Mosque, Lahore
Public DomainWazir Khan Mosque, Lahore - Credit: Sulaimandaud

The second largest city in Pakistan (after Karachi), Lahore is the capital of the province of Punjab. It is located on the Ravi River and incredibly close to India – only 16 miles from the border crossing at Wagah.

 

Nevertheless, Lahore is still known as The Heart of Pakistan. It has served as a regional capital since the 11th century, and its variety of culture represents a long and significant history. Current population estimates are around 10 million, making it one of the thirty largest cities in the world. 94% of the inhabitants are Muslims, although there are also a significant number of churches, such as the Sacred Heart Cathedral. The most widely spoken language is Punjabi, the regional dialect, followed by Urdu, with English gaining popularity in recent years and preferred for business transactions.

Lahore is the educational capital of Pakistan, with more colleges and universities than any other city in the country, including some of its oldest and best, like Government College University, established in 1864.

 

Climate and Geography

Lahore is situated on the Ravi River, one of the five rivers of the Punjab. It is bounded by Kasur District, Sheikhupura District and Wagah.

The climate is semi-arid: winters tend to be dry and warm, featuring fogs and hail. The weather is extreme in May, June and July, with dust storms and soaring temperatures of up to 48°C. The monsoon season lasts from late June until August, with heavy rain throughout the region.

 

‘The Paris of the East’: Cultural Highlights

It would be impossible to list all the cultural highlights of Lahore, so many and diverse are they. However, to name but a few…

 

The Entrance to the Badshahi Mosque
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Entrance to the Badshahi Mosque - Credit: Farooq

The Badshahi Mosque, built 1671-73 is the second largest mosque in Pakistan and South Asia. Built from red sandstone and marble, it has the largest mosque courtyard in the world, capable of holding 95,000 worshippers (with a further 5,000 inside the building), and its minarets tower over the city at a height of 176 feet (53.75m).

 

 

Inlay work at Lahore Fort
Creative Commons AttributionInlay work at Lahore Fort - Credit: amir taj

 The Lahore Fort stands in the northwest of the city, and was built as a defence for the city walls as far back as 800AD, developed under the various ruling Empires since, particularly the Mughals.

 

The Lahore Museum, previously curated by Rudyard Kipling’s father, is set in a Mughal-Gothic building and houses a fine collection of paintings, statues, jewellery, musical instruments and pottery spanning 500 years.

 

Samadhi of Ranjit Singh
GNU Free Documentation LicenseSamadhi of Ranjit Singh - Credit: Ali Imran

 The Samadhi of Ranjit Singh is the mausoleum of the Sikh ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh (ruled 1801-1839). A perfect example of Sikh architecture, the white marble tomb features cupolas, domes and ornate balustrades, and is gilded decoratively inside and out.

 

The Minar-e-Pakistan is a minaret completed in 1968 to mark the passing of the Pakistan Revolution in 1940 – the day when the Muslim League demanded the creation of Pakistan. Designed by Nasreddin Murat-Khan, the tower mixes Mughal and modern architecture.

 

The Minar-e-Pakistan
GNU Free Documentation LicenseThe Minar-e-Pakistan - Credit: Ali Imran

The Shalimar Gardens are a Persian Garden laid out in the 1600s by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The gardens contain 410 fountains over three terraces and have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Old Anarkali, the bazaar area where The Reluctant Fundamentalist opens. The area is famus for its narrow alleys and side streets filled with traditional wares – leather, beaten gold and silver jewellery, glass jewellery, embroidered garments, silks and artwork. Other markets and bazaars are scattered across the city.

 

'The Pearl of Punjab': Other Aspects of Life in Lahore

Cricket is the most popular sport in Lahore, held at the Gaddafi Stadium. The headquarters of the Pakistan Football Federation are in the city, as well as seven golf courses and the Punjab Stadium. Kabbadi, a South Asian sport, is also very popular.

 

The Minaret of the Badshahi Mosque, from a traditional rooftop cafe
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Minaret of the Badshahi Mosque, from a traditional rooftop cafe - Credit: Sikanderfayyaz

The inhabitants of Lahore are something of gourmands – the city is famed for its food, and whole streets are given over to the pleasure of eating. Trendy modern restaurants have sprung up across the city, as well as Western fast food chains, but cafes serving traditional delicacies still remain popular. Amongst the most famous was the Pak Tea House – an intellectual café which closed a few years ago, but was reinstated on the internet!

 

Lahoris love festivals and celebrate many religious and national festivals throughout the year. Basant is a traditional Punjabi celebration to mark the arrival of spring; The Festival of Lamps is celebrated at the same time outside the Shalimar Gardens; The National Horse and Cattle Show is another popular spring festivity; Independence Day is held in August; The World Performing Arts Festival in autumn. A huge number of concerts are held year-round, and Lahore is the centre of Pakistan’s arts industry, with both the prestigious National College of Arts and the film industry (Lollywood) based here.

 

And a brief note on Pakistan…

 

The Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe Baltoro Glacier in Pakistan - Credit: Guilhem Vellut

Established on 14th August 1947 from a Muslim-majority wing to the West of India, Pakistan became a Republic in its own right in 1956. Bordering India, China, Afghanistan and Iran, Pakistan’s landscape varies from the southern coastal plateau beside the Arabian Sea to the Karakoram mountains in the north. The capital city is Islamabad, although the last city is the port of Karchi. An estimated 170 million people live in Pakistan today.

 

Pakistan is currently experiencing a high level of political violence, with regular suicide bombings and violent attacks in all the principal cities.

Latest news and updates from Pakistan - including recent attacks in Karachi and nuclear power conflicts

Travel to Pakistan

 

A selection of books about Lahore and Pakistan:

A History of Pakistan and its Origins, Christophe Jaffrelot

India, Pakistan and the Kashmir Dispute, Robert G. Wirsing

Pakistan's Drift into Extremism, Hassan Abbas

City of Sin and Splendour: Writings on Lahore, Bapsi Sidhwa

The Wish Maker, Ali Sethi