Sunday, June 30, 2013

Lahore, Metro Bus and I

Last weekend I was in Lahore and I decided to travel the much touted Lahore Metro. However, when I 'expressed' my desire to friends around, they cautioned me that if I could afford to stand during its entire journey from Kalma Chowk to Shahdara amid sweaty crowd, I could take a chance.

But before my adventure, a friend came up with a plausible solution and advice - he asked me to go up to Gajju Matta, the start point of the Metro on its eastern end ahead of Model Town and from there board the bus as I was likely to get a seat. He also made arrangements for dropping me at Gajju Matta. 

So I along with my younger son Wahaab went to Gajju Matta station and climbed up the much advertised escalator, which as per reports and claims of the Punjab Chief Minister were to be functional round the clock even if there was no electricity. So finding these out of order, I could understand that there was no electricity and no fuel in the big generator installed nearby.

We bought the token for Rs. 20 each and went down on the platform and just bade farewell to a bus already at the platform since it had been boarded adequately. Soon another bus followed and we hopped in and were just in time to find two seats as the bus immediately had all its seats filled up.

And by a few stops ahead, the bus was packed to its capacity. The air conditioning which was good in the beginning, started to get warmer as sweaty passengers added humidity in the bus. But we still had some cold left to sit comfortably. The bus was snail pacing rather than running comfortably - upon inquiry a passenger, who said he was a regular commuter, told me that these buses are not new and cannot run faster. The crying engine of the bus supported his answer. When climbing bridges, the bus would slow down to an extent that one could get down and have a stroll along side the bus till it 'regained' its speed once reaching the top of the bridge.

The bus went along Ferozepur Road and then to Pakistan Secretariat and finally I could see the minaret like architecture of Government College Lahore - my college where I studied in early 70s, from behind the thick trees.

It was really thrilling to travel by the GC(U) with its full blown view right in front of me and its lush green Oval.

The next landmark was the Badshahi Mosque - but I could only have a glimpse of its minarets and domes from behind electric wires and old houses of Lahore.

 A passing by Metro
 A man watches the bus with his mouth open near a crossing
 Two lads listening to music on their mobile phones

Reaching the Ravi bridge, the Metro leaves its fenced track and gets on the main road to cross the bridge and then again get into its fenced route. Above a bus is seen amid ordinary traffic coming from Shahdara.

 The Ravi continues to flow down the Old Ravi Bridge inaugurated in the 60s 

We reached Shahdara in about one hour plus time, which I think was not bad in a partially air conditioned bus for just Rs.20. And I was impressed by the number of people travelling, mostly from end to to end. We got down the bus, halted at the exit machines, inserted the yellow coin and were 'graciously allowed' exit by the machine. We climbed up the metal stairs to buy tickets for our return journey - this time up to Kalma Chowk only.

The bus on the way back was more older and rusty than the previous one as its engine would  make large noises as it moved even on flat roads. And on bridges, it almost gave up - but thank God did not stop.

 Traffic warden himself without a helmet - or even his cap

  The famous Kalay Khan Hotel
 State of finish work of bus stations
 Government College once again on our return journey
 Journey along Ferozepur Road - being Sunday, all shops were closed

Qaddafi Stadium Entrance

Passing in front of the Qaddafi Stadium Lahore entrance, Kalma Chowk was not far. Nearing our destination, the two Metro Bus 'riders' got up and our seats were immediately filled up by those standing near us - for they must have taken a sigh of relief seeing two seats getting vacated. 

So at Kalma Chowk our two way journey in Lahore Metro came to an end - it was a good experience. But the condition of buses speak of their short lived life and I am afraid these will see the junk yard soon. But for regular commuters between Gajju Matta and Shahdara, it is something that ordinary travelers would have never imagined - air conditioned commuting for just twenty bucks.

All photos are property of the writer and may not be used elsewhere without prior permission
via Jaho Jalal

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lahore, Qaddafi Stadium Eateries and I

Whenever I visit Lahore, a place I was born and raised as a young man, I always want to walk over my footsteps and go place I had walked in my early childhood and youth. Not to mention the places where that 'special' food peculiar to Lahore is available. Recently while I was in Lahore and knowing my special appetite for the Lahori food, a few friends suggested me to go to Qaddafi Stadium eateries for a change.

Fazal Din Dera - scroll down to read more about it

Although, Qaddafi Stadium is the venue of many internal cricket matches, it is also famous now for many a eatery that have opened around it. I have known of these eateries but could never find time to go there. So I decided this time to give the place a try. Having met a few people and friends and finished with the 'sightseeing (which though was a nightmare due to excessive construction going on in Lahore),' I finally made it to Qaddafi Stadium eateries.

The first dish that was 'suggested' to me was the 'Desi Murgh cooked in Makhan (native chicken cooked in butter)' at the Butt (this word is in Urdu and not English as in in English the word may sound offensive). Well we waited for the delicacy anxiously, the taste was nto at all impressive. And while I was recommended by friend, I do not recommend to my readers. Though the taste of dishes in individual and many may not agree with me about mine disliking it. So have the dish at your own risk as I did not find any presence of butter in the dish, though the waiter insisted that they used butter really, which I doubted.

The next dish suggested to us was Balochi Sajji. So we left the Butts and went to the Balochi Sajji house. But since it was almost close to one at night, they had already been closed. So we moved on.

The next place was Fazal Haq Dera for 'Paye.' Well the place was exotically decorated with traditional colourful wooden 'peedha' ( a chair like thing with a low seat and specially carved wooden legs and back, pained in different hues), and 'charpoys' (beds made of specially carved legs supporting wooden frame bordering a set of knotted ropes).

The charpoy (near left with a rounded cushion) table and two peedhas like chairs

The decorated backs of the peedha

The charpoy with the round elongated cushion

We settled down in one of the set of two peedha and a charpoy and ordered the goats 'Paye' (ends of the goat legs). And while we waited and I took photos, there walked in Micky Mouse. Yeah a life sized Mickey Mouse in a bid to entertain us and divert our attention from waiting for our food.

So while we waited, I photographed the Micky Mouse with my family and Mickey in turn gave us some sweets as an appetizer. And then in the meantime the paye came. And the dish was extremely tasty, just like the way it was recommended, beside being sizzling hot and aromatic. And we really devoured on it till the lase drop of curry was artfully scooped away by the freshly baked naans

Paye dish with its sticky curry [Photo: Brainbank/Flickr]

I wish I had taken a photo of the dish. However, I am sharing a photo above to show how the dish looks like. Paye is highly delicious and nutritious like all other desi dishes, but carry uncountable calories. So those counting on calories should be careful in eating such rich foods.
Chicken Sajji being cooked by in-direct fire of burning wood

Beside Paye, Fazal Haq Dera is also famous for its Murgh Sajji (chicken stuffed with rice and cooked with indirect heat provided to it by from burning wood) and other delicacies like seekh kabab and chicken tikka etc. However, Fazal Haq Dera's specialty remains the paye dish which we devoured and enjoyed in the cold January morning, as it was almost 1:30 AM. 

But my description of Lahore's many eateries isn't over as yet. I will talk about Clint Eastwood's smoky guns in time.

All photos above, except paye, are taken by me and may not be used without prior permission
via Jaho Jalal

Friday, October 19, 2012

Lahore, Town Hall and I

The Shahrahe Quaid-e-Azam, or the famous Mall Road of Lahore is studded with Victorian style buildings almost throughout its length. Starting from the Mian Mir Cantonment Bridge, the first one to appear is the Aitchison College on the right and then it continues till it ends near the building of the General Post Office Lahore.

The Town Hall, Lahore - 1890 [Photo courtesy Tahir Iqbal / Flickr ]
The major portion comes from the Lahore High Curt building, followed by the GPO, Tollington Market, Lahore Museum, the Punjab University, the National College of Arts and finally the Town Hall building. All buildings are unique in their Victorian architecture, specially the Town Hall building. It is this last building, that this post is about.

I saw this monumental building right from my younger age as the Double Decker buses of the Lahore Omnibus Service which I traveled on from my home to my school and later the Government College, turned right in front of the Town Hall building and this used to be the last glimpse of the Mall and buildings on it.

Lahore Town Hall
A beautiful painting by an unknown artist of Town Hall, Lahore in a pre-partition mood set displayed in Garrison Mess, Lahore ( I shot this with my cell phone camera while staying in the mess)

The building is presently under use by main government offices of the City District Government Lahore (CDGL) and Fire Brigade.

Town Hall building with two flags [Photo courtesy: Global Clock Time]

The importance of the Town Hall multiplied manifold after the 1965 Indo-Pak war. The Indian thrust of attack was two pronged aimed at the cities of Lahore and Sialkot. The people of the two cities fought side by side their brethren in uniform and supported the armed forces in every way they could. It was their support that enabled Pakistan Army from letting the Indian Army realize its aims and objectives and halted their forces far away from Lahore. 

Postage stamp showing the special Pakistan flag 'Hilal-e-Istaqlal' issued May 15, 1967
For the resilience shown by the people of Lahore and the support afforded to the armed forces, the government of Pakistan announced special flags, known as Hilal-e-Istaqlal, to the people of Lahore, Sialkot and Sargodha (Sargodha is a major Pakistan air force base from where successful air missions were flown both inside and outside Pakistan in support of the ground forces).

Citation for Lahore on the eve of award of Hilal-e-Istaqlal reads:
In the early hours of Monday, the 6th September, 1965, the enemy launched his treacherous attack without declaring war and advanced towards LAHORE from three directions. The enemy’s advance was stopped dead near the border on the very first day of the battle by our gallant Army, but he went on trying for a break-through until the end, which he could never achieve against the steel wall of our heroic forces. Throughout this period the enemy planes raided Lahore; and the outskirts of the city were subjected to shelling day and night. This bomb-ing and shelling of unarmed civil population brought death to many, including women and children. The enemy exercised intense savagery with complete lack of scruples. But the people of Lahore remained undaunted and unperturbed and faced the challenge with cool and un-waver-ing determination. People of all walks of life stuck to their jobs and went about their normal business without any signs of tension. They forgot all their incon-veniences and tried to help the country’s war effort to the best of their ability. Every day in their thousands they stood on the roads leading to the front. Every day hundreds of them headed towards the front line to join their gallant soldiers fighting the enemy and had to be restrained with great difficulty. The attitude of the people of Lahore during this period raised the already high morale of our troops to new heights and they answered their call by not only preventing the treacherous enemy from coming anywhere near their town but also by throwing him back and pursuing him into his own territory. Throughout this period the people of Lahore displayed their traditional cour-age and defeated the evil designs of the enemy to demoralize them. Their determination and devotion to the country will be re-called with pride by the generations to come. It will become an epic of our history that the enemy attacked “the heart of Pakistan”, for that is how Quaid-i-Azam described Lahore, but failed to hurt it; “the heart” throbbed on with health and vigor.

Hilal-e-Istaqlal [right] at Town Hall, Lahore
Now the Hilal-e-Istaqlal flies side by side the flag of Pakistan at the Town Hall building since the day it was first conferred upon the citizens of Lahore and is replaced every year on September 6, the day of the commencement of the war, now celebrated as the Defence Day each year.

Originally posted at Jaho Jalal

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Lahore, Lakshmi Chowk and I

Originally posted at Jaho Jalal

Lahore has always been known as a warm, hospitable and entertaining city for centuries. Although, Lahore thrives and throbs in its every nook and corner, Lakshmi Chowk, situated on the cross roads of McLeod Road, Nisbat Road and Abbott Road, is one such place in Lahore which has not one but many facets that make it the heart of Lahore.
Lakshmi Chowk Map [Map: Google earth]
The place draws its name from the presence of the doubled storied Lakshmi Building [photo below], which is situated right on the cross roads as seen on the map above.

Lakshmi Building - watch its renovated look at the end of the post
I know Lakshmi Chowk very intimately, as for years I rode past the place in the double deckers of the Lahore Omnibus Service (LOS) during my school days. Since my house was located nearby on the McLeod Road, I also footed the place when going to watch a film as Abbott Road, an off shoot of McLeod Road from Lakshmi Chowk housed almost a dozen cinemas of Lahore.

Royal Park
In the early 20th century, when the films as entertaining media came to the then British India, Lahore became to be associated with the making of films as early as 1929 with the opening of the United Players' Studios on Ravi Road. And from then on, Lahore became an important film making centre with its many cinemas and film making studios, which were located in and around Lakshmi Chowk. Royal Park (pictured above and below) houses offices of major film distributors and producers of Lahore film industry.

Lakshmi Chowk has always been the focal point of Lahore’s film industry crowd. Even befoe the partition of British India in 1947, Lakshmi Chowk and Royal Park would throng with tongas and cars carrying film stars, film directors and producers in the evenings.

Indian superstars Pran, Muhammad Rafi, Om Parkash, Balraj Sani, Dev Anand and many less known artistes started their film careers from Lahore. Lakshmi Chowk was the hot spot for formal and informal film gatherings.All these actors later migrated to India in 1947.

Om Parkash who lived at Matti Chowk, Lohari Gate, always rented out a decorated tonga to Lakshmi Chowk every day. Pran lived in Qilla Gujjar Singh, half a kilometre away from Lakshmi Chowk. One day while standing at a pan shop in Lakshmi Chowk, he was picked up by Wali, a leading film director of the time, and offered him a role in his films. Wali wrote the address of Pancholi Studios (one of the most famous film studios of Lahore in Muslim Town) on the back of a cigarette pack, which brought Pran to the film industry.

There also was a hotel called King Circle at Lakshmi Chowk where film stars gathered. A bank has taken its place these days. 

I also have a long association with one once famous Aznic Studio, located just off the Lakshmi Chowk in the Royal Park on Abbott Road as seen in the photo above, which was our family photographer and many of our family portraits were shot by Aznic Studio.

Rattan Cinema located just off the Lakshmi Chowk was once a thriving cinema of the area. Initially named Balwanti Rai Theater in the pre-partition days as seen below, the cinema screened some of the best films of the time. However, the almost demise of Lollywood has forced the closure of the cinema and now it awaits some buyer to convert into a commercial centre or to be used as stage shows.
Balwanti Rai Theater (Rattan Cinema) - 1940 [Photo: Project Lahore]

As I said before, almost a dozen cinemas were once located in the vicinity of the Lakshmi Chowk, mainly on the Abbott Road. I saw these cinemas mushrooming from my childhood. Some of the pre-partition cinemas included Rattan, Odeon, Nishat and one more (I have forgotten the name). 

Odeon cinema screened some of the best English films of the time, but later it started screening local films before being turned into a hotel.

Gulistan Cinema
The place where Gulistan cinema stands today housed a dilapidated building with lot of wild growth around it. In fact turning left from the intersection of Abbott and Montgomery Roads, it was a Dracula's place before Gulistan cinema ushered in a line of new cinemas. We five brothers when passing through the place would walk a little faster en route to watch a movie at Plaza cinema, lest Dracula came out of the haunted building and grab one of us.

However, this once busy road with many cinemas like the Metroploe, Mehfil and Mubarak is losing its charm. Mehfil and Mubarak cinemas have since long bid farewell to movies and have become venues for cheap stage shows.

Pre Partition Ishwar Das building, now known as Newage building, located on McLeod Road just short of Lakshmi Chowk
Besides film makers' offices and the cinema houses, Lakshmi Chowk is a hub of traditional eateries of Lahore. In front of ex-Odeon cinema, there is a line of eateries offering skewered chicken, Harisa, Murgh Chanay and Tuka Tuk. Many are of the view that the term 'Tuka Tuk' originated from these eateries of Lakshmi Chowk. 

Baghdadi Haleem
However, the best thing to eat here is the Shahi Murgh Chanay (a heavily oiled and spiced curry of chick peas and chicken), which one can only enjoy if eaten fresh at the eatery with oven fresh bread. Whenever I go to Lahore, I try my best to visit the place at least once to eat Shahi Murgh Chanay. As for Baghdadi Haleem, pictured above, I wonder if the people of Baghdad ate Haleem - but this eatery surely attracts crowds interested in Haleem.
Beside traditional eateries, air conditioned restaurants like Lasani (above)and Tabaq(below) provide a pleasing sitting environment even in scorching heat of Lahore. Tabaq was the first eatery of Lahore that came up with the idea of broast chicken in special broast machines. From then on, the name Tabaq has become synonymous with broast chicken all over.
Dry fruits seller at Abbott Road
 Renovated Lakshmi Building as of today Photo: One Pakistan
Lakshmi Chowk houses old buildings dating pre-partion days and needed to be preserved in their original form. However, lately there has been an effort to 'renovate' and face uplift these buildings, as seen above, with gaudy colours and with complete disregard to the age of these building. The so called uplift seems completely out of place and the facade of buildings, specially that of the Lakshmi and Newage buildings has become an eye sour rather than the once elegance these buildings had.

There has also been attempts to demolish these buildings by their owners and erect new plazas. It was after strong public reaction that such attempts were blocked for buildings which have been placed under the conservation rules to preserve the historical heritage of Lahore.
Another landmark just off the Lakshmi Chowk on Nisbat Road is the famous Dyal Singh College (above) and Dyal Singh Library (below). The college and library were established as two separate trusts in 1898 according to Sardar Dyal Singh Majitha's will, who was a great humanitarian and lover of education and donated all his assets for the propagation of education.

Although, even today Lakshmi Chowk is a major centre of Lahore film industry, it is losing its glamour with the almost demise of the Lollywood. Now a few offices of film producers and distributors remain and it is seldom that actors and actresses visit the area to meet producers and directors. However, sometimes they are seen eating at some eatery around Lakshmi Chowk.

Photos Attribution: All photos above, except where explicitly attributed, are the property of Tahir Iqbal. Tahir is an avid photographer with keen eye to capture the street scenes and life of ordinary people. I have already shared his photos in a number of posts earlier posted at Jaho Jalal.

Google Earth 
Posts composed of Tahir's Photos: