Lahore has always been quite dear to me. It is not just because of the fact that I grew up here. The historical structures, the urgency and the laziness of people, the signal-free corridors, and the atmosphere in general, are just few of the things I am attracted to.
As a student in Bloomington, Indiana, USA, I used to share a lot of my fond memories of the city with my friends at the university. Sometimes, because of the affection that I spoke with, the Americans would get curious and talk about how they’d want me one day to show them around, if they actually came over.
I probably made such plans with fifteen different people, and none of the plans have come through yet. However, one of my friends recently asked me to take his friend from Australia on a trip around Lahore. I told him, yes, instantly.
It is not a usual occurrence for a lot of us, to take a tourist around town. The prospect of showing someone from a foreign land a side of my city that is not entirely known to them, added a bit of extra excitement.
There were going to be four of us in total, including Hendrick, the Norwegian, studying in Australia. We decided we’ll start from Gulberg, drive across the city to androon shehr (interior), and have dinner at the new food street.
Hendrik, being a foreign tourist, was obviously more ecstatic. This was his first time in South East Asia, and he was intrigued to see the city his friends had bragged so much to him about. I arrived at my friend Aeras’s house, and was greeted by Hendrik and Esa, another Lahorite studying with them in Australia. We got into the car and commenced our tour.
We started from Gulberg which, I explained to Hendrik, as the downtown of Lahore. Although it was the same place that I drove by on a daily basis, it felt a touch different to move along that very day. We drove past MM Alam Road and Main Boulevard, boasting about the vibrancy and uniqueness that Lahore’s downtown has, compared to the city centres of Islamabad and Karachi, for instance.
We took a left from Main Boulevard, onto Jail Road, and drove past Canal Road, Kinnaird College, and Jilani Park, me explaining everything to Hendrik along the way. I sensed his excitement surge as we moved from the new part of Lahore to the old part. As we reached Mozang and continued along the Metro Bus route, towards Data Darbar, scenes started to change. Cars were joined by an increased number of bikes, rickshaws, and donkey carts on the road. I saw Hendrik reach out for his phone and take snaps of the donkey carts for his ‘exclusive’ Snapchat stories.
I took a little detour, to travel across Tollington Market, Anarkali, and Lahore Museum. It took us some extra time but I thought it was important for him to get the full tour of the city. It felt as if I was driving a tour bus, around town, briefly explaining significant landmarks and noteworthy buildings and markets, to our tourist friend.
By the time we reached Data Darbar, Hendrik was already in awe. He explained to us how much diversity he saw within the same city. As we reached the Walled City, he described it as a “city within the city.” He felt the atmosphere change exponentially.
His phone was no longer in his pocket; he had it in his hand, ready to take pictures, one after the other.
We parked outside Badshahi Mosque, and walked towards the new Food Street, close to Roshnai Gate. We reached the top floor of the Haveli restaurant, with a splendid view of the grand Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort.
Like a typical Lahori, we ordered more food than the four of us could eat. It was just to extend our hospitality and let Hendrik taste some of the best food in town. As we sat waiting for our food, Hendrik began to ask questions about the mosque and the fort. Being a history fanatic, I took the opportunity and briefed him about everything I knew about the city — from the Uzbeks coming to the Subcontinent, to the fall of the Mughal Empire in 1857; from Zahiruddin Babar to Bahadur Shah Zafar, I told him everything about the significant impact of the Mughal era on the culture of Lahore.
He listened to every word carefully. The restaurant management, by then, had figured out that we had a foreign friend with us. I saw an increased number of waiters around our table, serving us as if we were diplomats, having an official dinner. They wanted to show their hospitality. Hendrik was appreciative of that and continued to enjoy the cold night, with some freshly made barbeque and karrahi.
As I dropped them back at Aeras’s place, Hendrik thanked me for everything. He pointed out that he had especially liked Badshahi Mosque and Minar-e-Pakistan, which he called Pakistan’s Eiffel Tower. He also said that he had found Lahore to be much more exciting than expected. Obviously, he had based his expectations on the stories he had heard from Aeras and Esa in Australia, but it turned out to be a much “cooler” experience for him.
And, I felt like I had done a good job. For the first time, it was not about political uncertainty or lawlessness. It was not about religious intolerance or division between sects. It was not about security problems or traffic issues. It was just about the city, and the culture. It was about the diversity among people and their keenness to extend their best wishes to their foreign guest.
My pleonastic description of the night aside, it just felt great to have shown a different, positive side of the city.