Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Old Town Lahore

After my morning meeting Monday, I conned my driver and my male escort (I’ve come to think of him that way, if only to feel less like I’m being “chaperoned” and more that he must do my bidding) into taking me to see Old Town Lahore.

Of course, this being Pakistan, we couldn’t just “slip away”. I had to get the approval of our team leader, who is a reasonable Pakistani man, but it still makes me feel helpless. To his credit, he gave me only two stipulations: 1) that I wear a headscarf at all times and 2) that I wear my trenchcoat. Keep in mind, I’ve been wearing long, loose clothing the whole time I’ve been here. So, when I asked him about the reasoning for the trenchcoat issue, his embarrassed response (immediately making me feel bad) was “To protect you from prying eyes.”

Not only did this make me feel like kind of like a dirty prostitute, but I also wanted to tell him that it was completely useless. I could be wearing a paper sack and people still stare. I might as well be naked. And yet….I’m in no position to argue. (Also, in three days I’ll be back to “normal people clothes”).

So no matter, I had my freedom, if only for an hour. I must ask for permission, but at least he’s a benevolent despot.

So after the meeting, I was whisked away to the Lahore Fort, Hazuri Bagh and Badshahi Mosque. Until I get a chance to download my photos, the ones on Wiki certainly give you and idea of the scope and size. Both are enormous!

As we entered through the unassuming gate, I wasn’t sure what to expect. We don’t get a lot of details here, and asking doesn’t always help. Part of traveling, I think, is trusting those you’re with and just going with the flow. So, I was totally amazed to walk into the park. In typical Mughal fashion, everything is symmetrical. As such, the garden gives off an orderly and stately peace. It took my breath away.

On either side of the garden are these enormous gates. On the east side, there is the enormous and foreboding white gate. Across the immense lawn, to the west, was the red sandstone entrance to the Badshahi Mosque, of which you could only see the three Alladin (you know what I’m talking about) domes peaking out majestically behind.

A tour guide quickly found me, and my chaperone approved of him, so he took us around both sites. Although we only had an hour, we saw the Hall of Mirrors, the Roshani Gate and played with the acoustics within the enormous mosque. (It was once the largest in the world, before the Faisal Mosque in Islamabad was built). All too soon, the hour was up and I felt like I’d only seen a fraction of what was there.

For me, the absolute best part was visiting a gurudwara, a Sikh temple, next door. This particular temple, next door to the Mosque, is the tomb of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, one of the rulers of Pakistan before it was. Sikh’s are near and dear to my heart for a number of reasons, so I was honored to view the Guru Granith Sahib and be allowed to see inside their hallowed walls. Again, it took my breath away.

Our car arrived back at the office breathless, but safe and sound (the traffic here is like none I’ve ever seen; smoggy, dirty, filled with people AND donkeys AND horses AND motorbikes AND the kitchen sink…).

Yes, we’ve been working easily 12 hour days (we were stuck at a Pakistan Sam’s Club (called METRO) over an hour on Sunday night, when all we wanted to do was go to bed), but it’s opportunities like these that truly make it worth while. It’s hard, and been uncomfortable in a lot of ways, but I am so lucky to get to do this. I am truly grateful.

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