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Lahore

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Minar-e-Pakistan
Lahore (لاةور) is Pakistan's second largest city, and the capital of the northeastern Punjab province. It is widely considered the country's cultural capital. The heart of Lahore is the Walled or Inner City, a very densely populated area of about one square kilometre. Founded in legendary times, and a cultural centre for over a thousand years, Lahore has many attractions to keep the tourist busy. The Mughal and Sikh legacy survives in the Lahore Fort, Badshahi Mosque and Gurdwara, the Mall is lined with colonial-gothic buildings from the British Raj, and the suburbs of Gulberg and Defence feature palatial mansions and trendy shopping districts.

Understand

With 6.5 million people, Lahore is Pakistan's second-largest city after Karachi. According to legend it was founded in mythical times by Lavva, the son of the epic hero Rama. After Islam came to South Asia, it became a centre of learning, and attracted some of the region's greatest mystics, writers and artists. It has been a capital for various regimes:

  • The Mughal emperors (Muslims who invaded from Persia but were descended from Mongols) lived and built here extensively.
  • Lahore was the capital of the Sikh-ruled state of Punjab until the British take-over in the late 19th century.
  • Under the British Lahore was the capital of Punjab.
  • When British India was partitioned in 1947, to create the modern states of India and Pakistan, the Punjab was also partioned. Lahore was the site of many bloody riots between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. Since 1947 the city has been predominantly Muslim.

A good place to pick up city guides is the Ferozesons book store on the Mall.

The Lahore is divided into 150 UCs. Each Union council is headed by a Union Nazim. Union Council is the basic tier of Local Government.

Brief History

Situated on the east bank of the Ravi River, Lahore is the capital of the Punjab and has a population of approximately 5 million. Lahore is the principle commercial and banking center of the Punjab Province. Although little industry is located in the city proper, Lahore serves as the distribution center for the heavily industrialized surrounding area.

Lahore, "the city of gardens", was a cultural and intellectual centre during both the Moghul and British eras, and it's an atmosphere which still pervades today. Legend traces its origin to Loh, the son of Rama Chandra, the hero of the Ramayana, but history records that it began as a dependency of the 8th century AD Hindu ruler, Lalitiditya. In the early 11th century it came under Muslim rule and evolved as a centre of Islamic culture and learning as well as trade and commerce. In the 13th century it was depopulated and razed to the ground by the Tartar-Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan. Timurlane and his Muslim Turks also arrived and destroyed the city.

In the 17th century, Lahore became one of the greatest Mughal cities in the subcontinent. A town near Lahore was the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the 15th century founder of the Sikh religion, and Lahore was the capital from which Maharaja Ranjit Singh ruled his 19th century Sikh Empire. The British coveted this fertile region, and overthrew the Sikhs in 1849, annexing Punjab to their Indian dominions, with Lahore as its provincial capital. Finally, it was in Lahore that the All India Muslim League passed, on 23 March 1940, its Resolution for the Creation of Pakistan.


Read

  • Guide to Lahore by Masudul Hasan (1978)
  • A Guide to Lahore Fort by Nazir Ahmad Chaudhry (2004)
  • Masterpieces of Lahore Museum by Lahore Museum (2006)
  • Amritsar to Lahore by Alter (2000)
  • Lahore by Amin (1998)

Get in

By plane

The Allama Iqbal International Airport is located about 20-30 minutes from the city centre. Taxis and shuttles are available to take passengers from the city to the airport -- with unmetred taxis it is advisable to set the rate beforehand. The new proposed Lahore Mass Rapid Transit System will be linked from different parts of the city to the airport.

The airport is a major hub by Pakistan standards, but not by international standards [Pakistan International Airlines with daily departures to the rest of Pakistan, connecting flights into nearby hub airports Qatar, Dubai, Bangkok for onward connections to the Middle East, Europe, North America, and South-East Asia.

Other airlines operating in and out of Lahore are Thai Airways, Emirates, Gulf Air, Qatar Airways, Kuwait Airways, Etihad Airways, Shaheen Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Air Blue, Aero Asia, Saudi Airlines, Indian Airlines, and many more.

By train

Lahore Train Station

The main railway station is located near the city centre. There are routes from all major Pakistani cities. The Samjhauta Express briefly ran between Lahore and Amritsar, across the border in India, but was suspended in 2002. It is scheduled to resume service in 2007.

By car

A modern motorway connects Lahore to Islamabad and Faisalabad. New Motorway link is being built to connect it to Peshawar (A western border city). Note: While Pakistani traffic is generally chaotic and highly dangerous, the motorway is very comfortable and one of the few places traffic laws are somewhat enforced.

Taxis are possible to/from the Indian border for ~Rs 400.

By bus

The Daewoo Bus Station.

From the Indian border, bus #4 runs to the Main train station for Rs 20.

Minibuses are the cheapest way to get between the larger cities, and the only way to get to some more remote destinations. They are uncomfortably crowded, so if possible opt for a more comfortable larger bus.

Skyways, Niazi Express and a couple others operate large, comfortable buses to Islamabad, Peshawar, Faisalabad and many other cities and towns from their own bus terminals near M2 Motorway Interchange. These services are rather affordable and convenient way of inter city travel.

Daewoo has it's own terminal away from the main bus station on Ferozpur Road near Kalma Chowk. This terminal is only minutes away from famous Liberty Market, Gaddafi Stadium & other popular shopping areas. Clean, comfortable, air-conditioned coaches run regularly between Lahore to all major cities of Punjab & NWFP and many smaller cities and towns. such as Islamabad, Multan, Faisalabad and Peshawar. Daewoo is bit expensive but it is only service that provide a good quality travelling experience. [1]

Get around

Generally getting around is a pretty horrifying experience, but take a deep breath. In addition, my experience is that women, particularly foreigners - unfortunately for best comfort and safety should be accompanied by male friends, as well as dress very conservatively.

Walking is possible, but only advisable in the Inner City or Walled City, that encompasses the Old Fort and Palace and Mosque -- try locating a guidebook on historical walks in the area. Due to the traffic, distances, extreme heat, and hordes of goggling locals, however, most tourists will prefer to use other means of transport.

Auto-rickshaws or 'Qingqi'(pronounced chingchi) are open rickshaws with (narrow) rear-facing seats, or with two seats facing forward and two backward. They are handy for moving around in the Inner City, since it's easier to see where you're going. Tourists used to average western road etiquette might be horrified by the chaos on the roads - but it almost seems to work. Qingqi drivers have an unbelievable sense of space, speed and angles and you may well learn to trust them (or not). Rickshaws are the cheapest and, for women, the safest individual forms of public transport. Haggle thoroughly with the driver; if you do not speak Punjabi or Urdu or are clearly a foreigner, try to get a Lahori friend to ensure you don't get ripped off. Try to find a rickshaw with a well-padded seat, otherwise you will come out bruised and aching.

Taxis are mostly unmetered and often privately operated. Most taxidrivers and, indeed, rickshaw drivers, carry mobile phones; it may be useful to take a number down if you find someone especially reliable. Do not take taxis in the Inner City, as the streets are narrow and very crowded. Either walk or take a qingqi.

Minivans are probably the most dangerous form of public transport, with very rash drivers. Women will find these especially uncomfortable, as they are very crowded. Often women must sit in an undersized cubicle or with the driver, to prevent harassment.

Buses are usually cleaner and more comfortable than minivans, and usually a have a separate seating area for women.

From the airport - When you arrive at the airport you will likely be besieged with touts offering you taxis and rooms. It's wise not to book anything through them and arrange a taxi yourself to the hotel of your choice. Some of the mid-range and most top-end hotels offer a courtesy shuttle from the airport.

Talk

The most common languages are Punjabi and Urdu. For the use of English there is a big diversity between different areas of Lahore. Education is generally high in posh areas of Lahore and a great many of residents understand and speak a form of English. It is rather hard to find somebody capable of speaking proper English in old city and other surrounding areas.

If you are visiting old city, fort, food street and other surrounding areas it will be hard to communicate with people around. If you are around the posh areas, including Mall Road, Gulberg, Defense etc you will find it easy to communicate in English.

See

Lahore Fort from the Elephant Gate. Some say it is named because an elephant can enter, others say the name came from the elephant foot shaped pillars.
The Badshahi Masjid is next to Lahore Fort.

Tour guides are available around town, but it's wise to use discretion and bargain hard.

  • The Lahore Fort is a huge mass of a structure where the Mughals built their imperial quarters, followed by the Sikhs. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. There is a small museum dedicated to the Sikh period of the 18th century. A friendly museum caretaker might agree to take you into the summer rooms underground. The tomb of Sikh ruler, Ranjit Singh, is also located in Lahore. Entrance fee for non-Pakistanis is Rs 200.
  • The Badshahi Mosque was built by the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb and was long the largest mosque in the world. Entrance is free, but you will be asked to pay about Rs 10 (Nov 2006) to the shoe keeper upon exit. Try going late at night, when there are few people there. Do not wear shorts to this or any mosque; women are advised to wear long or half-sleeved clothing, and to carry a shawl so they can cover their head. Remove shoes before entering.
  • The Inner City is full of little shrines and palaces, of which the most impressive are the Imperial Baths and the Asif Jah Haveli (recently restored). Try finding a guidebook detailing walks in the inner city.
  • The Daata Darbar is the shrine to Lahore's patron saint, Hazrat Daata Ganj Bakhsh. This vast modern structure is always filled with people praying, collecting or bestowing alms, or eating at the huge charity 'langar' or soup kitchen.
  • Right in front of is a park with Minar-e-Pakistan or the Tower of Pakistan (Pic on the top of the article). It was built on the site where in 1940 the creation of a seperate state for muslims was recognized.
  • The Mall has several historic buildings of the British Raj era including the Lahore Museum (which displays the Fasting Buddha of Gandhara), the General Post Office, University of Punjab (Old Campus), Government College Lahore and the National College of Arts of which Rudyard Kipling's father was the principal, and offers a thesis show every winter. Kim's Gun is outside the NCA.
  • Punjab Provincial Assembly Building along with the summit memorium are also located in the same locale more commonly known as Charing Cross. Few know the presence of a library / museum below the charing cross roundabout that is all about the OIC and Islamic Summit and is a treat to visit.
  • Lawrence Gardens, also known as the Bagh-e-Jinnah, is a lovely green patch on the Mall, lying adjacent to the larger, but less pleasant, Race-course Park, where there are polo grounds as well as a riding club where horse-back riding is taught. Lawrance Garden is the official botanical gardens for the Government College of Lahore, which is located on the Mall.
  • Following the canal side road to the east of the city is Jallo Park. It is a large drive-in park with drive in zoo and an man made lake. Sozo Water Park is another attraction this park.
  • On Lawrence Road is the huge mansion that has been converted into the Lahore Art Gallery. The Croweaters Gallery on The Mall has regular shows and art for sale. Further afield, in Garden Town, is the Shakir Ali Museum, which displays the paintings of Shakir Ali.

Do

  • On Thursdays there is a regular Sufi dance at the shrine of Shah Jamal. The renowned drummer Pappoo Saein and his disciples perform on the huge two-sided dhol, and devotees of the saint enter trances and dance wildly as hundreds of people watch. There is a separate seating area for women and foreigners; this is very comfortable and has the best view in the enclosure.
  • Catch a movie at Sozo World in fortress stadium. Fortress Stadium is also a shopping area if you are a die hard fan of inexpensive linens, clothes etc, and has the only Joyland (amusement park) within the city as well as Sindbad Amusement centre. Other amusement park is a part of Sozo Water Park.
  • Cricket - Pakistanis, like their Indian neighbours, love cricket passionately. The Gadaffi Stadium in Lahore often hosts international matches and is relatively comfortable. If you're brave enough try some of the colourful and appetising snacks brought into the stands by a myriad of sellers of all ages.
  • You can always shop in the old "anarkali" bazaar or the newer "liberty market". Both of these places are famous for womens' clothes and accesories.
  • You can also head for the museum on lower mall road.

Learn

The chief schools of Lahore include the English-style public school Aitchison College (for boys), Lahore Grammar School, Lahore American School, International School of Choueifat, the Convent of Jesus and Mary (for girls).

Lahore is the centre of Pakistani higher education. The University of the Punjab is the oldest such institution in the subcontinent, and the library has a fine, if rather faded, collection dating back to Raj times.

  • University of the Punjab, oldest university of punjab
  • The Government College also dates to the Raj, and is ensconced in a magnificent campus of that era. Other old institutions include Kinnaird College and Lahore College (both for women only).
  • King Edward Medical College is one of the two most presigious medical schools in the country. Other medical schools include Fatima Jinnah, and Allama Iqbal.
  • The National College of Arts teaches graphic design, fine arts (including the only programme in miniature painting), architecture and music.
  • The Lahore University of Management Sciences is the most prestigious university in the country. At present it offers courses in economics, computer sciences, social science and law.
  • The Lahore School of Economics offers an intense and very well-reputed business and economics programme in its cramped city quarters and its vast campus far outside the city.
  • The Beaconhouse National University is a new institution and offers a liberal arts education.
  • King Edward Medical College, which is ranked as best and top Medical College and Universtiy of Pakistan offering knowledge to not only the Pakistanis but also the forigners.
  • University College Lahore, located in outskirts of the city near the Motorway on Raiwind Road provides University of London External Programme degrees in a wide range of subjects including Economics, Management, Finance, Accounting and Law.

Work

Buy

The traditional bazaars of the inner city are roughly divided according to ware. Bargaining is de rigueur.

The Anarkali bazaar, named after a courtesan who was buried alive for loving a prince, is one of the chief shopping areas.

Trendy types congregate in the Gulberg and Defence suburbs. Liberty Market is a large circular market with hundreds of shops selling clothing, electronics, and so on. A basement shop in Liberty (tell the rickshaw driver it's near H Karim Bakhsh) has good handicrafts, and can be bargained with.

Nearby MM Alam Road is the hippest part of town, with all the most expensive designer shops, including fine furniture and clothing, both Western and Pakistani, and the best restaurants.

Raja Centre in Gulberg has a good selection of handloom 'khadi' fabric, both stitched and unstitched. Higher end khadi can be bought at the Khaadi shop in Mini Market.

Hafeez Centre is one of the continent's biggest computer markets, with inexpensive software, and hardware that can be bargained for.

Fortress Stadium has a huge variety of very inexpensive DVDs.

The Defence equivalent of MM Alam Road is the Sector Z market.

Eat

Lahoris are famed for their food and for their consumption thereof. This is reflected in the array of restaurants in town.

Budget

Every Lahori food item has an expert attached to it. For nihari, go to Mohammadi Nihari in Mozang, and in the winter, get a rooftop table; for chicken paratha rolls go to Karachi Silver Spoon in Liberty Market, and so on. In addition, the city of Lahore converted some of its most famous eating areas into pedestrian-only streets. The so-called 'Food Street' of Gowal Mandi is a must-visit for dinner - you'll find a streetful of shops selling fine Lahori fare, and the setting, amidst traditional jharoka architecture, is lovely.

Mid-range

  • Cuku's Cafe, (across from the Badshahi Mosque). For a truly amazing Lahore experience book yourself a table here on the top-most floor. This is in a converted house in the redlight area, owned by the artist Iqbal Hussain. It is separated from the Badshahi Mosque by a single street, and the view at night is staggering. The food is all brought from the neighbouring roadside restaurants, and is pulled up using the pulley system women in the Inner City use for their daily shopping. After dinner, take a walk in the starlit mosque.
  • Mirchi, MM Alam Road, Gulberg. Perhaps the best Lahori food in the city, and is of good hygienic quality. Try the tamatar paneer cut and the sheesh tauk.
  • Chakhara Mini Market, (near MM Alam Road), is also hygienic, and serves snack food like samosas, chaat and dahi bhallay.
  • Bandu Khan Restaurant, Liberty Market, Gulberg III, 575-6108. Offers good standard Pakistani food. The mutton karahi at Rs 510 was delicious and easily serves two people while most dishes are half that price. Salads are on offer, but see the Stay Healthy section below.

Other mid-range restaurants are concentrated in Defence and Gulberg.

  • Freddy's, on MM Alam Road, is a family-oriented restaurant which has a safe, vaguely continental menu. Freddy's offers an afternoon high tea buffet which offers a full variety foods and some drinks. for approximately Rs. 500.
  • Salt n Pepper is a good chain, with both Pakistani and continental food.

Lahore has seen the birth of several cafes recently; the best for cakes, desserts and coffee is Masoom's on MM Alam Road, while the best sandwiches can be had at Coffee, Tea and Company nearby. In Defence Hot Fuzon is a Masoom's franchise.

Chinese food is very popular in Lahore, but be warned that it is very strongly altered to local tastes.

  • Hsin Kuang, 9-C-K Gulberg II, 575-7200. A pagoda-like structure near Mini Market, is very popular, but the quality varies. It is renowned for its strong-flavoured 19-B soup. Dishes are typically in the Rs 200 - 300 range.

There are also several foreign chains, including Nando's, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and Dunkin' Donuts.

Splurge

  • Cafe Aylanto. Has the best non-Pakistani food in town. Try the shrimp and avocado salad.
  • Zouk, MM Alam Rd, Gulberg. One of Lahore's institutions, despite the distressing decor. It serves a mix of Continental and Thai food.
  • The Village, MM Alam Rd, Gulberg. A vast mud structure which has a popular all-you-can-eat Pakistani buffet. It's a popular joint to take visiting tourists, as it combines a variety of local foods with good hygiene, but it's not the tastiest. Instead try the Salt n Pepper Grill, owned by the same company, which has a fine ala carte menu. Try their sweet lassi.
  • Fujiyama, in the Avari Hotel. It's the only Japanese restaurant in town, and also the most expensive.
  • Pizzerio Uno Chicago Grill, MM Alam Rd, Gulberg, 576-3743. A good place for upscale Italian, including decent pizzas. For Rs. 236 they service a delicious steak and cheese sandwich with 1/2 pound of beef!

Drink

Alcohol is illegal for Pakistanis, but can be had at some of the top-end hotel restaurants, and is sold to non-muslim foreigners at the Holiday Inn until 6pm daily. Bring your passport.

Sleep

Hotels and guesthouses are the two main options in the city. Hotels are a bit more expensive but usually have western-style toilets and are a little cleaner.

Budget

There's really only one option for most travelers, but if you feel like breaking the mould, there are some fairly awful and over-priced options near the train station, which is in an overwhelmingly busy and chaotic part of the city - not for the faint-hearted.

  • Regale Internet Inn, Regal Chowk, The Mall. The owner, Malik, is a former journalist and a fascinating guy. He can show you some amazing off-the-wall stuff in the city, including weekly trips to Shah Jamal on Thursday nights. It's slightly expensive for what it is, but pretty much the best option in town and worth it for the security and to meet other travelers. There are a few fakes, so make sure you make it to the real one, which is down an alley and upstairs, behind H. Karim Busch & Sons supermarket. Rs 150 dorm beds, or the 2 double rooms cost Rs 350.

Mid-range

  • Best Western in Liberty Market.
  • The Sunfort Hotel in Liberty Market. Free shuttle from the airport.
  • Kashmir Palace Hotel, 14 Empress Road, (not far from the train station), 631-6700, hotelkashmir@brain.net.pk. Conveniently located in the center of the city although not much is within walking distance. The rooms are large, for the price, and relatively clean. The staff is very helpful and honest. Although services are limited, the hotel manager says there are plans for a business center, roof top cafe and other upgrades. Posted rates are Single Rs. 3,500; Double Rs. 4,500; and Suite Rs. 5,500. Rate paid was Single Rs. 2,500 plus Rs. 605 taxes.
  • Ambassador Hotel

Splurge

  • Pearl Continental Hotel, Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, +92 (42) 636-0210, fax: +92 (42) 636-2760 pchl@hashoogroup.com, [2]. The nicest hotel in Lahore - the new wing is recommended. Free shuttle from the airport.
  • Avari Hotel, Free shuttle from the airport.
  • The Holiday Inn, [3]. Free shuttle from the airport.

Contact

  • One Wikitravel contributor had a good experience with licensed tour guide Anjum Butt (Mobile: 300 425-0874) at Lahore Fort. He is polite, speaks good English and says he is available for guided tours of other parts of the city.

Stay safe

On the whole, visitors will find the locals very curious, very eager to help, and often eager to relieve tourists of their money, though certainly not of their lives. Even the biggest and most fearsome green-turbaned men will usually be friendly and helpful. The chances of being blown up are quite low. Being friendly and smiling at people goes a long way. If you're a woman, though, it's best to be sparing with smiles lest people get too friendly.

That said, it's wise to follow the norms of the place. Don't wear shorts, avoid striking up conversations with women if you're male. Unless they're much older, or you're in a social situation. If you're a woman, dress appropriately: wear trousers or a long skirt, and avoid sleeveless or very short-sleeved shirts. Try to wear shirts that are baggy -- you might want to go to Raja Centre in Gulberg, which has an excellent variety of inexpensive 'kurti' shirts in handloom fabrics. It's wise to have a dupatta, which is a scarf worn over your shoulders and which can be drawn to cover your head if you enter a mosque.

Avoid travelling at night, especially alone. Trusted friends will probably be very willing to drive you around. Rickshaws are generally considered safer than taxis.

Usually a very peaceful city, demonstrations aren't uncommon, and these should be avoided at all cost. The Mohammad cartoon protests in early 2006 quickly got out of hand and several businesses were torched along with scores of cars. Foreigners should try to remain at their hotels until the dust settles, especially if what they're protesting has anything to do with the West.

Beware of pickpockets when you are in crowded ares like Liberty market, the airport, bus stands, the railway station, Anarkali, Ichra shopping centre, or Mall road. There are also con-men looking out for foreigners. Beware of fake policemen or men claiming to belong to the intelligence agencies, even if they show you a business card. See also Common scams.

In an emergency you can call police help line 15.

Stay healthy

Lahore abounds with excellent street food, but unless you've been on the road for some time (and even then) it's wise to exercise some caution. Look for busier street stalls, especially those in Gowal Mandi (food street), and stick to food that's hot and has just been cooked. Salads can also cause problems - if you must, one of the fancier restaurants in Gulberg is probably a safer bet than eating a salad at a dhaba or street stall.

Bottled water is highly recommended. Some budget places offer free filtered water, but even that is suspect in Lahore.

Medical care is excellent for those who can afford it. Don't go to a public hospital if you can avoid it. The Fatima Memorial Hospital is usually a fair bet, with decent rates, good hygiene, and good care.

Cope

Get out

  • Across the Ravi is the town of Shahdara, where the tomb of the emperor Jehangir and his charismatic wife Nurjehan is located.

Visas & Permits

  • FedEx on the Mall is now handling visa applications, which is a major development! They charge Rs 600 for the service, have all of the forms you need, and send the application to Islamabad. They are handling at least applications for Iran and India... check with them about China, etc. Bring a couple of passport photos and the visa fees in cash.


This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!





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