Difference between revisions of "Lahore"
Revision as of 11:04, 13 February 2007Pakistan'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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 
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.
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.
Tour guides are available around town, but it's wise to use discretion and bargain hard.
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.
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.
Lahoris are famed for their food and for their consumption thereof. This is reflected in the array of restaurants in town.
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.
Other mid-range restaurants are concentrated in Defence and Gulberg.
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.
There are also several foreign chains, including Nando's, McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Subway and Dunkin' Donuts.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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