Wednesday, November 19

Pakistan, Day Six: Lahore

Since we were only staying the one night, we decided to catch the second flight to Lahore in order to maximize the time spent there. This was probably one of the rare chances that I would get to visit the city (I was going with my aunt; I doubt anyone else would have been bothered), so wanted to get the most out of it.

To make life easier, we had arranged a driver for the two days which we were there. After he received us at the airport, he took us to the Lahore Gymkhana where we were going to stay tonight.

Thanks to a particularly helpful itinerary provided to us by an illustrious colleague of my aunt, we didn't struggle for things to do, even though this whole trip was so last minute. Our first point of call this morning was Jahangir's Tomb to the north of Lahore. This was a sprawling complex across the River Rabi where the famous emperor was buried – not that I would have noticed it was a tomb otherwise. Still, it was a good reflection of the Mughals and their opulent times, and as such was quite impressive. It was also here that we got stung by the “foreigner ticket prices”: 200 PKR instead of a more regular 10, a further consequence of our indifference to having to behave like a native. We made sure we were more “authentic” when buying tickets at later sites.

Since it was still early, we decided to head back to the hotel for some rest. We had underestimated the toll such an early flight would have on us and the hour or so rest we took was much appreciated. It also set us up perfectly to visit the fabulous Badshai mosque and adjacent fort – something we were told to visit at dusk.

Since it was to close soon, we took on the fort first. Like the tomb this morning, it was a good indication of how the Mughals used to live – their palaces, gardens and taj's all impressive even in their ruin. In the background there was the yet to be visited mosque, a view of a thousand times more worth than a painting or the like.

Once the call to Maghrib (evening prayer) was heard, we made our way to it. The Badshai is an amazing place, even more so in its simplicity. I was a bit surprised at how small the enclosed space was; instead it had the massive courtyard it has become known for. So far this was the most romantic and poignant Mughal building I had seen – I could imagine being back in those times - and I wish I had the time to just stop there and chill. But since we were on the clock, we just paid our shoekeeping fee (!) and left.

The next two hours or so were spent shopping in the apparently famous Liberty shopping market. Perhaps we came at the wrong time, or perhaps it's because we had seen Karachi's Saddar and Tariq Road, but we weren't too impressed by the place – even a layman like myself could see the massive difference. The other Gulberg markets at City Towers and Rega Market were more relevant to the shopping experience, but if we're ever asked where in Pakistan to go for good shopping Lahore would definitely be somewhere in the middle of the list.

We then headed over to Heera Mandi, Lahore's red light district. Apparently it's been cleaned up a lot in the past couple of years, but according to our driver everything comes into the blatant open after midnight. Alas we were there for just dinner; Cooco's Den providing both awesome food and an immersive experience with wonderful views of the Badshai, even a live band was provided by the Fort View Hotel across the way. Owned by an artist who took it upon himself to save the local prostitutes, Cooco's Den is a must-eat and see.

We were still knackered, so we decided to end it there, passing by Anarkali on the way to the hotel. So far, so good; although I must admit that I am a little underwhelmed by Lahore at the moment – something seems missing somehow; I've yet to come across any amazing colonial or Hindu architecture for instance. But hey, there's always tomorrow.