Pakistan's second most populous city is no stranger to Conquerors. For over two thousand years, they came, they saw, they conquered. The last of these were the Mughals, the Sikhs and the British.
In Lahore's 'Old City', also known as the 'Walled City' (although this heritage precinct is no longer surrounded by an actual wall), you can still see some fine examples of Mughal architecture.
If you're trying to source a travel guide on Pakistan then I can save you some trouble. Here's a quick look at the travel publishers that don't have a current guide: Rough Guide, Footprint, Bradt, Frommers, DK Eyewitness, Lonely Planet, Insight and Moon.
Fortunately, my travels are limited to Lahore and I did eventually source some information online. The Walled City of Lahore Authority has a great website. It runs free walking tours with four different routes and an online booking facility. They have some maps online as well, which is helpful.
I also understand that there is a government-run sightseeing bus. It is a red, double-decker bus that looks like a 'hop on hop off' bus but isn't; it runs on set routes. The TDCP or Tourism Develop Corporation of Punjab has more information about these tours on its website. I understand that tours must be booked 24 hours in advance and may be cancelled if there are insufficient numbers.
Anyway, while I had already planned to arrive at the Walled City and wander around, I had limited time and a few sights that I really wanted to see so I started looking for a tour guide.
Some travellers on TripAdvisor recommended Pakistan Travel and Tours and after exchanging a bunch of emails I was booked on a full day sightseeing tour with Shahid that cost USD110. This included all transport, guiding and entry fees.
Obviously, with more time and planning I could have covered many more sights for much less, but this was a compromise I could live with, particularly as my independent excursions thus far had covered only a few tourist sights and the extensive bazaars within the Walled City.
I recommend you do go shopping in the local bazaars, even if you don't want to buy souvenirs, as the people there are friendly and most are happy to have their photo taken, which is such a contrast from my recent experience in Africa!
My one day sightseeing tour with Shahid began at 9am. First stop on the itinerary was the Lahore Fort complex, which was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1981 and is still undergoing extensive renovations. It has been destroyed and re-built many times. The current Mughal buildings date from the reign of Akbar (1542-1605) through to the reign of Shah Jahan (1627-1658).
The Mughal Civilisation is a fusion of Islamic, Persian, Hindu and Mongol influences. It dominated the Indian subcontinent for several centuries. Each Mughal ruler brought a slightly different emphasis to the architecture. For example Emperor Jahangir favoured Persian decorative elements over Indian. Interestingly, each era of Mughal architecture is present in Lahore.
One of the most beautiful buildings in this Royal Complex is Sheesh Mahal with its sparkling mirrors, gilt and semi-precious stones. This palace was commissioned by Shah Jahan. He went on to commission the greatest Mughal building of all time, the Taj Mahal.
We walked over to the Badshahi Mosque, which is located right near the Fort. The Mosque is the second largest in Pakistan. It was commissioned by the sixth Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and completed in 1673. It is a grand, sprawling building and marks the zenith of this beautiful architectural tradition. For sadly, after the death of Emperor Aurangzeb in 1707 Mughal architecture began to decline.
We then drove over to the Walled City. Although some gates from the original Walled City remain, the 9 metre wall with rampart does not. It was destroyed by the British in 1849, shortly after they annexed the Punjab. You can still walk the original alleyways though; they are deliberately narrow, in olden times this made it difficult for armies to overrun the city. You can also see close to 2,000 historical buildings.
The Delhi Gate, one of the original gates of the Walled City, is your best entry point if you are short on time. Not far from here are the Shahi Hammam or Royal bathhouse and the Wazir Khan Mosque. Both are fine examples of Mughal Architecture, with beautiful tiled mosaics, and have undergone some recent renovations.
There are bazaars and a large cloth market close to the Delhi Gate, which present a great opportunity to shop and interact with locals. Yesterday, I managed to replace my sun hat, which I lost at the Louvre Abu Dhabi, for only 200PKR.
The Wagah Border ceremony was last on the itinerary and we left the Walled City in the early afternoon to guarantee we got good seats. Once at the border there were normal border security checks before we walked into the Pakistani stadium. Uhm, yes 'stadium'. Over the border was an even grander stadium!
There was a carnival atmosphere. Pop music blared from speakers. Popcorn, snacks, drinks, flags were for sale. Warm-up entertainment featured dancers dressed in the national colours of green and white; across the border I could just make out an energetic Bollywood dance routine.
And then, just before sundown, the main event. The Pakistani Rangers resplendent in black uniforms, elaborate black hats trimmed in white/red, the tops fanned out from front to back like the plumage of a bird. The Indian BSF (Border Security Force) equally resplendent in khaki uniforms, also wearing the 'plumage' hats but in red with gold trim.
In an elaborately choreographed routine, part Bollywood and part Monty Python, the soldiers march to the border, kicking their legs high, they shake hands and then in a protracted game of one-upmanship, slowly lower their flags.
Once the flags are down, handshakes are hastily exchanged before the border gates are slammed shut. Until tomorrow.
Where on earth....
Update: PIA in-flight magazine recommends a Pakistan guide book called 'Pakistan Traveller' by Tim Blight, an Australian.