Shabila Chaudhry, recommends Lahore, Pakistan
Despite having lived in Oman for the past three decades, Lahore is my city, my home. I can’t help but feel exhilarated when I return and meet my excited family and smell the aroma of freshly cooked samosas is in the air. Due to the current political problems, people can sometimes get the wrong view of Pakistan. So here I’d like to share with you the beauty and magic hidden in this tumultuous city.
Lahore is the capital of the province of Punjab, and the second largest city in Pakistan. While Islamabad is the actual capital of the country and Karachi the financial hub, Lahore wins hands down as the cultural centre, making it the perfect place to visit. The vibrant character of the city is accentuated by its evocative mix of Mughal monuments and faded reminders of British rule. With 12.5 million inhabitants, Lahore is also one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
Lahoris like to celebrate, and every day is a celebration in the Pakistani city that never sleeps. One of the few places to see seasonal changes quite clearly, the summers are hot and humid with highs of 40•C and lows of 27•C, much like Omani summers. The winters however, usher in shiver-inducing lows of -1•C and pleasant highs of 20•C.
Every year there’s a kite flying festival – Basant – to mark the coming of Spring. Rich, multi-coloured kites fill the skies as children run around and families gather to enjoy some hot chai and a few pakoras.
And for those who love sports, Lahoris are wildly ecstatic supporters of the game of cricket. Coincidentally, the city is home to former cricketer turned politician, Imran Khan. It’s easy to get to Lahore, with multiple flights from Muscat International Airport to Allama Iqbal International Airport. Commuting within Lahore itself is quite easy thanks to an array of public transport including buses and railways. For adrenaline junkies, there’s always the ubiquitous rickshaws for a ride you’ll never forget. However, it’s usually the cheap and numerous taxis that prove to be the preferred mode of transport for those visiting the city.
My favourite place If you want a piece of shopping heaven, the Anarkali Bazaar is the place to go. Lahore’s answer to the Omani Souk, ladies flock to this open market for traditional Pakistani clothes, intricate pashmina shawls, and dazzling jewels. If you don’t mind a bit of hustle and bustle, this market is the best place to release your inner shopaholic.
Food, glorious food. Lahoris are known for their love of cuisine, and every meal is treated with respect, patience and indulgence. One of the city’s most coveted dining spots – The Cuckoo’s Den – allows a spectacular view of the Badshahi Mosque and the densely populated old city. Every dining experience is accompanied by enthusiastic storytelling and infectious laughter. They’re the perfect accompaniments to a delectable meal of buttery naan, kebabs and mouth-watering chicken tikka.
Despite the beautiful gardens and charming monuments, pollution has long plagued the residents of Lahore. Dust has a tendency to collect on the viciously busy streets and the heavy traffic combined with the summer humidity can be hard to bear at times.
Pakistan is renowned for its handmade goods, so a beautiful wooden jewellery box and a well-crafted leather wallet would be the perfect gifts for your mum and dad. You could go the traditional route and get a ‘Pugri’, which is a Lahori turban, or stick to a fashionable Kurti.
Where to stay
The Pearl Continental Hotel is not only a high end stay, it’s also smack in the centre of the city, allowing easy access to all bazaars, restaurants and tourist sites. For those who want somewhere a bit quieter, Lahore has gorgeous guesthouses surrounded by exquisite gardens.