What to see and do in Lahore Pakistan. Lahore has been at the crossroads of competing empires for centuries past. At times this region has been ruled by the Hindu Shahis, Ghurids, Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire, Sikh Empire, and the Brits. Pakistan became an independent nation in 1947, when the British Empire left the subcontinent, and India was partitioned into two countries.
Lahore is an ancient city, with an indeterminate founding date, anywhere from 4000 to 1000 years ago. Today, Lahore is a densely packed city of 12 million plus souls and is considered the cultural capital of Pakistan. Lahore houses some of Pakistan’s leading universities. The city is a major center for the publishing industry. It is also home to Pakistan’s film industry known as Lollywood.
Pakistan has wisely transitioned to an efficient and simple evisa system. Previously, Pakistan was known to have a challenging visa process. This change with a better security environment should help tourism growth in this undiscovered gem. I crossed the border from Amritsar to Lahore, two historic cities both from the state of Punjab. Today, the city is yours. There are very few tourists in the city, and often you will be at the most popular landmarks with only the locals.
There is a list of must-see places in the city that are readily listed on Tripadvisor. Make sure you visit the Badshahi Mosque, Lahore Fort, Masjid Wazier Khan, Tomb of Jahangir, among others. But, of course there are lesser known experiences that you should add to your list.
I mentioned that Lahore is considered the cultural heartland of Pakistan, and I am not sure if this new hairstyle trend is part of its heritage. I entered the cramped barbershop and locked eyes with a young man ensconced in his chair. The bearded barber was generously applying a heavy dose of flammable liquid to his head. After twisting and shaping his hair and eventually massaging in this combustible liquid, the barber produced a lighter. Flames darted from his hair. A faint smell of burnt hair wafted through the shop. The barber combed his hair and made a couple of snips. The fire was then promptly extinguished. Not really sure of the benefit or reasoning behind this fire haircut, but hey, when in Lahore …
The Lahore region has a tradition of wrestling which dates to the 16th century during the Mughal Empire. It is known as pehlwani but sadly its prominence has faded over recent generations. But some in Lahore are still fighting to keep this tradition alive in old city of Lahore.
Before breakfast I left my hotel and headed to the older part of the city. While still before 7 am, the air was thick and stifling with temperatures already exceeding 100 F. I hopped out of my car and stood in an open-air area containing a small dirt field. A handful of men, from young to old, scurried around, many close to being naked. This was the daily early morning wrestling practice. The school meets daily whether it is in the dead of winter or in the grip of the brutal heat of summer. Regardless of the temperature, all wrestlers wear the same de minimus loincloth.
The men at varying levels of intensity stretched and warmed up. Others laughed and conversed with their friends. One of the younger wrestlers who spoke good English brought me around. I overviewd a wall of pictures of wrestlers from the past. I then met the wrestling club’s cow. One of the wrestlers was crouched down milking the cow.
Moments later I was sitting with a group of wrestlers sipping fresh milk mixed with almonds. Every morning the wrestlers drank this concoction to load up on protein. Wrestlers began to gather on the dirt field. Many sat down in the dirt and gingerly applied dirt over their sweaty bodies. The wrestlers paired off and grappled with each other. The dirt allowed for the wrestlers to get a grip on their opponents. Let’s hope this tradition of sport and brotherhood continues.
One of the many charms in Pakistan is admire the trucks that whiz by you on the road. There is a robust culture of ornate painting and decorating of trucks. The tradition can be traced to the 1920s when British Bedford trucks were imported into Pakistan and some customization began with a wooden prow being installed on top of the truck bed. Later in the 1940s, truck companies started to include and design logos that were placed on the truck. This started a competition to design and showcase the most ornate logos. Overtime the designs and decorations for trucks became even more comprehensive and flamboyant. A trucker’s investment in decorating his truck is seen as a forward indicator of his success in business. I visited an area where trucks were being decorated.
As you pass through the gate of the walled city, I am transported back in time. Donkeys clop by passing the spice market. A group of men lounge in the shade smoking a water pipe. And then I spotted the street doctors. I stood in a compact open storefront. Two men are placed on stools facing each other. I watch the man clad in blue clasp the other man’s hand and examine it. This man is a bone setter. The bone setter crunches the man’s hand and he grimace in pain. After a moment, he applies plaster to the man’s broken hand. Next up was a crying toddler. I left not wanting to witness the child’s pain.
Next up was a street dentist. The dentist sat on a bench outside with his patient. This is a difficult situation for the patients. The hygiene seems to be nonexistent. No gloves, no sterilization. Apparently, this is the only option for the patient with limited funds. I watched two patients receive (I believe) new teeth implants.
Close to the dentist was the ear cleaner. I am always fascinated to watch these guys in action. I have seen them before in India, Bangladesh, and Burma.
And finally, there was the medicine man. He had a full arsenal of animals (some sort of lizards and leeches) in addition to some potions.