The source of Lahore’s inviting warmth is not merely its monuments or gardens but also the lively and vibrant inhabitants.
Every city has its own appeal, be it aesthetic or culinary, but there are always some hidden pearls within the city that must be found to truly grasp its beauty. Lahore’s exquisite Shalimar Gardens, the stupendous yet tranquil Badshahi Masjid and, not to forget, the round-the-clock food street with its historic seating arrangement and tantalising delicacies are highly recommended tourist sites.
But all this could be found on any tourist website or travel blog. Everyone knows these revered landmarks and ‘wonders’ of Lahore but it is due to this very fame that these locations now showcase a more commercialised nuance of this great city. There is no doubt that these venues provide an indelibly unique experience but Lahore still has much more to offer.
Let us take a look at one of Lahore’s busiest markets, coincidentally named ‘Main Market’ (aka ‘Auriga’), located in the hub of the city, Gulberg. If you go beyond the grocery stores and medicine shops you’ll reach a quaint community which is the embodiment of the Lahori spirit. As the sun slips below the horizon, the barbeque grills roar at full flame and the air is full of exuberance and energy. The beguiling smoky smell of the tikkas and kebabs being cooked makes every pedestrian salivate. As one walks through the narrow streets, piles of samosas, jalebis and pakoras can be found all around. These heaps quickly finish as the seats are filled with hungry customers one after the other.
The only thing more enrapturing than the food itself is the smiles found on the faces of those who eat, cook and serve the food alike. After all, Lahore is known for its food. But more than that, it is the way the whole atmosphere accentuates the joyous experience of the food itself that makes the Lahori culinary experience so special.
After a few strides, there is a small vegetable shop that seemingly operates late into the night and beyond, without a salesman being present. Until dawn, people walk up to the shop, get the vegetables they want, weigh them, and leave money according to the rates stated on the board. This system is a manifestation of the unwavering trust that is present within the community.
Nearby, shops selling fine fabrics with a myriad of patterns and designs beam with activity. Further down the street some children play a game of cricket and attract an audience from all corners on the busy road. As the night progresses, majority of the shops close down but the halwa puri place is open with the chefs preparing the meal for the following hectic morning. In an almost robotic manner, the dough is kneaded and placed in large containers. Their rhythmic sound breaks through the silence and provides a mesmerising song known only to those who venture out at that hour in the night.
It is the sheer dedication of these men that work even at those late hours that adds to the sweetness of the halwa. Their efforts are rewarded by the elated faces of satisfied customers that flock to the shop as soon as the sun begins to rise. One thing I am confident about: You’re sure to find a lot of food everywhere you go, regardless of time.
Lahore truly has a great deal to offer to its visitors, but to fully take in the city one must venture beyond the tourist sites and see Lahore for what it truly is through even the most ordinary of places.