Pakistan: Rohtas Fort then Lahore time

3 October 2016

The day started early.

Road conditions were fine as we headed SE towards Lahore with a stop-over at Rohtas Fort.

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 11.02.12 AM We entered from the West of the Fort and headed straight for Kabuli Gate. A security chief took down our names and passport numbers and escorted us for part of the visit. “For your safety” he said.

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 11.06.46 AMConsidering that we were the only foreigners enjoying the fort with a few locals, security will and should not be of any concern.

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Kabuli Gate or Kabul Gate faces Afghanistan’s capital. As a double gate, it has two bastions on each side with 5 battlements on top and stairs. Left in a poor state, parts of the Gate has been reconstructed which can be seen by the new and fresher looking bricks. A mosque is nearby however we didn’t get a chance to see it.

The grounds of the fort is large and walking around from point A to point B gives you a sense of the scale.Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 11.01.52 AMAs a garrison fort, Rohtas was built to subdue tribes in Northern Punjab during the 16th Century. It took 8 years to complete and with some 5km in total circumference, it could hold up to 30,000 men. The fort was captured by various rulers and used as part of their respective military campaigns. Most of the fort was built with ashlar stones collected from its surrounding villages. Irregular in shape, it withers along the contours of the hill with walls that vary in thickness and standing at 10-18 m tall.

DSC03143The holes or more specifically the machicolations alongside the walls allow soldiers to pour molten lead or hot water onto the enemies. There are hundreds of these at the fort and each were decorated beautifully- however, much have faded with time.

Often overlooked, Rohtas is the only  surviving example of military architecture of this period. Interestingly, this fort was also built in an Afghan-Persian + Hindu style. It is Hindu due to the balconies, decorations and the Haveli. However, the use of stones instead of bricks for the walls, fewer decorations and absence of living quarters gives the fort that Afghan-Persian flavour. Nice fusion.

Serving military purposes, the masculine fort ( in my view) balances out a rather feminine structure- the only palace structure called the Haveli of Man Singh. Unmissable, this crumbling Haveli rests on the highest point of the citadel. The balcony and windows are the face of this once splendid Haveli.

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The truth is, the Haveli just looks feminine to me when in fact, it was named after a famous general who served Emperor Akbar. The real feminine touch is the Rani Mahal (Queens palace).

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 10.59.58 AMA one storey structure, it originally had four rooms but only one stands today. It was built around the same time as the Haveli and very Hindu in its architectural design.

Although this fort was not for living which explained its simple appearance, there are sunflower carvings and many more around the gates. Faint calligraphic inscriptions and high+low-relief carvings  along with glazed blue tiles are also present however, much preservation is needed since many are falling apart.

Speaking about preservation and history falling apart, Rothas back in 2005 saw heavy rain and neglect which caused a gate to collapse. Erosion and more rainwater will no doubt destroy the foundation of the fort in the future. Ok…I sense a huge rant coming up. I blabbered on and on about Bangladesh’s deteriorating cultural sites but at least I saw active signs of restoration. Pakistan offered a different story.

Take a look at the photo below:

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Absolutely ghastly! What is this? Who and why would anyone do this to their own country’s history? The interior of the Haveli is now left to our imagination and being assaulted from all sides by graffitis is visual pollution for any visitor. Whoever did this got one bit right- total DESTRUCTION

Preservation is needed in Pakistan.  I understand the argument that a) it is too costly b) what is the point since tourist numbers are down and c) we are too busy with political wars than to even give a toss about national heritage and cultural artefacts HOWEVER, if you boost tourism then think about the jobs that you can create and no doubt, there will be a noticeable economic push right?

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Apart from its devastating state, I did enjoy looking out  from the Haveli. I totally wouldn’t mind this chamber being my bedroom….just not with graffitis on the walls. Maybe this is the room where Emperor Akbar and his son Jahangir stayed for the night? Maybe Jahangir also held his court here due to the view before returning to Lahore? Whatever it is, the fort was not popular with the Mughals because of its military characteristics which explained why the Emperors only stayed for one short night before returning to their much more aesthetically pleasing buildings.

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Staring at Shah Chandwali Gate meant that it is time to leave. This double gate links the citadel to the main fort.  Although it’s not suppose to be cute, the bastion walls are actually like multiple little stunned faces ….surprised to see me.

Before entering Lahore, we stopped at a local restaurant.

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The baker makes great bread and it was a great opportunity to take a short walk around the local stores to take in the local sights of this random town. A fantastic example of local economy, the locals are friendly and curious. I did not felt unsafe in any way.Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 6.49.36 PM
There is nothing more fascinating than to quietly observe locals getting on with their everyday life. As our driver and guide ate their lunch, a very friendly man approached us and we had a chat. He speaks pretty good Chinese and shared with us his time spent in Beijing…such a lovely encounter. This is one of the many great things about travelling.Screen Shot 2016-10-24 at 6.49.17 PM

The afternoon drive to Jahangir Tomb took longer than expected and after receiving directions from a friendly local, we arrived at the entrance. An Islamic mausoleum built from marble and Indian redstone, it was dedicated to Jahangir (Akbar’s son) who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1605 to 1627. The location of the tomb was chosen because it was the ruler and his wife’s favourite spot. Jahangir died in 1627 and his son, Shah Jahan ( yes the Emperor who built the Taj Mahal) ordered the construction of the mausoleum with the tomb’s design inspirations coming from Jahangir’s wife: Nur Jahan.  Taking 10 years to construct and completed in 1637, two huge gateways stands opposite of each other indicating North and South.Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.06.25 PM

A short walk passing some dry fountains brought us to the mausoleum. Square in shape with octagonal towers, the red sandstone with white decorations and marble cupolas invited us into the resting place of the Emperor. The corridors were empty with only a few yellow tiles with pretty flowers giving us a clue to its former glory and splendour.Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.13.49 PMScreen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.14.19 PMThe guards opened the door for us and we quietly entered. It was pitch black then, they turned on the lights and a white marble cenotaph decorated with beautiful flowers made from precious gemstones revealed itself in front of us. Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.08.54 PM

Staring at the flower mosaic transported me back to the Taj Mahal. Knowing that many precious stones were stolen here, I thought about the ones ripped by the British troops when they stormed the Taj Mahal. The father of the Emperor who built the Taj Mahal was laid to rest here in Lahore. His own father spent time in Lahore. Back then, there was no Pakistan or India –  just the Mughal Empire. No one can ignore such historical links.

There are times when I look back and cringe at how clueless I am when it comes to certain facts about the world. It never occurred to me that the huge crowd of people who gathered at a mosque inside the Tomb were there to celebrate the Muḥarram or the Islamic New Year. For 2016, Muharram started on the 3rd of October. It was a bit tough to walk away from the excited crowds of locals.

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.16.08 PMA very kind lady pulled me out and ensured that all is fine. Again- I left with a good impression of the people. Traffic was horrendous …..totally exhausted and extremely late, it was embarrassing and extremely rude on my part to decline Rana’s invitation. Rana, a professor in Lahore is the cousin of lovely Qamar. We were suppose to dine with his family but….things didn’t go according to plan. Sigh…..I must apologise to Rana and his family when I see them tomorrow.

4 October 2016

One day to see Lahore  لاہور‎ , the second largest and most populous city in Pakistan (after Karachi). As a historical centre, it served as the capital of the mughal Empire for a number of years.  Lahore was central to the independence movements of both India and Pakistan with the city being site of both the declaration of Indian Independence and the resolution calling for the establishment of Pakistan. Sometimes, I wish that there was never an India and Pakistan but a country called United Mughal States or Kingdom of the Mughals….colonisation..the heartbreak!

Lahore with her gardens, mosques, forts and other architectural glories was at the height of its glory during Mughal rule from 1524 to 1752.  It was the headquarters of Mughal rule during Akbar (scream like a fan girl) between 1584 and 1598 and along with Agra and Delhi, it was “an alternate seat of imperial court”.

Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.18.21 PMLahore Fort which is directly opposite of Lahore mosque is just the place to be to get a taste of such Mughal flavour. As a citadel, Lahore Fort’s existing base structure was constructed during the reign of Akbar. Before Mughal construction, it was built and destroyed multiple times. Upgraded by other Mughal rulers after Akbar’s death, two gates always stood to guard Lahore mosque and the inner sites within the fort.

The fort is divided into two sections: first the administrative section and then a more private residential area.Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.21.45 PM

The Sheesh Mahal or the palace of mirrors with its spacious halls was the harem of the fort. Decorated with marbles and floral patterns, it is one of the prettiest places within the fort.

Although it is not as damaged as other cultural sites, further preservation is still needed especially when chambers within other palaces are left again…in a shocking state.
Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.21.28 PM Imagine back centuries ago, every roof has a bright and complete sun and the frescoes along the walls are painted in the most meticulous and colourful fashion. Now? The colours have faded, only a few remain and a 18th painting has been reduced to a child’s sketch book.Screen Shot 2016-10-14 at 5.18.11 PM A very short walk out from the fort took us to Lahore Mosque.  The second largest mosque in Pakistan after Faisal Mosque with the ability to accommodate over 100,000 worshipers, it was used as a military garrison during Sikh and British rule from 1799 to 1939. I am glad that religious energy has returned and areas has been repaired and restored. Walking inside the mosque provided much relief from the heat – always great to just sit there, chill and stare into blank space.

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After lunch at a local kebab place, a short drive and walk through a busy market took us to Wazir Khan Mosque. Wazir Khan, chief physician to the Mughal Court commissioned this mosque.

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Completed in 1642 C.E and taking a total of 8 years, this Mughal era mosque is simply stunning. With so many frescoes and intricate tile-work,  it is perhaps one of the most decorative mosque so far in the country.  While the markets that surrounds this mosque is always busy and chaotic, the grounds of this mosque is one of tranquility and silence apart from the sweeping of the broom and the prayers from the worshippers.

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Nicknamed the “City of Gardens”,  Shalimar Gardens which was quite a drive away from the fort area was said to mimic the Islamic paradise of the afterlife described in the Qur’an. The drive was a bumpy and dusty one – Lahore has much urban planning and development to do especially in areas such as infrastructure. No one can say that there are no signs of big projects, constructions and developments in the city …there is however, roads can be improved and of course transportation.

Screen Shot 2016-10-25 at 3.48.54 PMIt was somewhat funny to see a half finished metro line with hardly any workers on site. First proposed in 1991, it only started in May 2014 after receiving money from China.  The 27.1 km Orange Line is still under construction. Hmm…when will it be completed? How much will the fare cost and will it bring convenience for the people? We’ll have to wait and see.

Due to the tension with India, Wagas Border was halted so it was super disappointing to not have the chance to bear witness to this ceremony. This was the final setting of my all time favourite film: Veer Zaara…..I guess only beautiful things exist in movies.  The night ended rather late after finally meeting up with Rama (Qamar’s cousin) and his family. Rana took me to a local restaurant and we had some super chunky meat and bread. Portions in Pakistan are huge and probably 3 times the portion that I eat. Knowledgeable and with big hearts, Rana invited me to his home located in a very quiet neighbourhood in Lahore. I met two of his sisters and his brother who are just lovely people. His nephew Abdul also wanted to see me. This 7 years-old young man told me straight up that he wants to be a military doctor for his country/more specifically a cardiologist. Well- I’m safe, if my heart stops beating, I guess Abdul will help me out.

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We chatted about Pakistan, life and shared stories with one another. As human beings, we all like to feel connected and it is lovely to have the chance to drink tea and consume home-made sweets with a local family. Before leaving, I said goodbye to Abdul’s siblings who were sound asleep in their bedrooms…….time flies when you are having fun and most importantly, learning a lot from a local family. Time to go.

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The ride back to Best Western Lahore was a smooth and quick one. I remained quiet…..yep..I’m going through that super EMO phase again….it is how I always feel whenever it is time to say goodbye to people that I like. Childish really to feel so greatly attached to people whom you just met for a short pans of time but then I believe that time is never a factor in forming friendship.

“Have a safe trip tomorrow and good to meet you.”

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I smiled and waved back . “Thank you so much.”

Goodbye- not a particularly easy thing to say. Never easy for me but I am getting better at faking it in front of others. Don’t let them see you getting sad…..it might be awkward. Do it when you are alone…..then learn to get over it.