Gujjar Singh da Qila

January 7, 2024

Dr Ajaz Anwar recounts his visit to Gujjar Singh’s fort which has survived to this day, “albeit in form only”

— Image: Supplied
— Image: Supplied


edged between Nicholson, Empress and Montgomery Roads, there is a settlement, perhaps one of the oldest in Lahore.

It is said that during the later half of the 18th Century the city was ruled by the Sikh trio of Sobha Singh, Lehna Singh and Gujjar Singh while Ahmad Shah Abdali was away from his Indian possessions. Every time he came to the plains of the Punjab, the Sikhs would disappear, leaving the territories they ruled in his absence. It was on one such occasion that they said, “Sobhe di Sobha gayee/ Lehney nun daina pae gia;/ Gujjar da gia maal/ Ho gia kangaal.” This became a part of the folklore.

Gujjar Singh’s fort survives to this day, albeit in form only. Its massive, 200 years old wooden gate is still there. However, the ancient small bricks have been covered with ugly gutka. (Its other gate opened on Abdul Karim Road.)

Old-timers say that this fort was built over a hillock. That must have given it a commanding position to watch out for any approaching danger, man-made or natural. Just outside its main gate, there used to be a huge banyan tree and another one to its north. These trees provided shade to the people, before one saw organic shops come up around the place.

Under the banyan tree, there was the clinic of a haziq hakeem. The bazaar was cool during the summers. As a child I used to roam this place, shopping only occasionally. In my later years, I found that the massive green umbrellas had been sadly cut to build (the encroaching) shops. The same tragedy befell the Bhorwala Chowk.

The gate was central to the character of this place. Under the massive tree there was a huge water trough for the horses to quench their thirst at. It was built by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to the Animals founded by a young German lady who spent a part of her life in Lahore frequenting the animal husbandry hospital as well as the zoo.

It was here that the main Eid melas were enjoyed by the children. Live cooking was among their favourite activities. Inside, beside the large water well, a giant merry-go-round/ roller coaster had been installed riding which the children would shout, “Bhai, zor di.

The road leading to the fort in front of Lahore Hotel was home to an old shop that sold fried fish and a large eatery that carried milk products.

Once inside the bazaar, three general merchant shops, namely, Shaheen, Clifton and Shafi catered to the moneyed elite. Further on, around the corner, water taps for the public and water carriers (or behishtis) were installed by the municipal committee. The brass taps shone like gold. Nearby there was a fire hydrant. A few steps away, you could hit the northern side of the fort.

Surprisingly, all the shops and houses in this bazaar and the fort belonged to the Muslims from pre-partition days.

In the Gujjar Singh’s fort, there were no water buffaloes. Inside the main gate, there were absolutely no shops, because it was a mainly residential area. There was a large mosque, whose prayer leader had initially objected to the installation of a loud speaker. Eventually, he opted for one.

There were big and small houses inside the converging streets. At the summit of the hillock, there were four very large havelis belonging to the Malik family, one of the richest since the 19th Century. They had installed for themselves the first electricity generating unit. Their businesses included Light House on The Mall, facing the Commercial Building. Sadly, an electric pole that they had installed for the public at the corner of the YMCA, was pulled down during a recent road widening.

A few broad stairs descended into the bazaar where the motor garages had been built to accommodate the Maliks’ big limousines. Adjacent to these were quadrangles that enclosed smaller houses where people were allowed to live for nominal rent. Later these were given to them for free.


This bazaar has an interesting motley of businesses. You still find the seven famous milk shops, Phajja’s milk cauldron being the largest.

Many deal in raw tobacco for the nargile or hookah. Barber shops make good places for men to indulge a bit of gossip.

Munir was a true chronicler. He knew the pedigrees of many old-time families. Grocery and vegetable shops had a particular clientele. Mutton shops could display meat openly while beef butchers had to cover their merchandise behind wire gauzes.

Beef was forbidden during the Sikh period. Since the British were ardent beef eaters, they brought beef merchants from other parts of India, after the Punjab was annexed by them in 1849. Hence, all the beef sellers are Urdu-speaking while those dealing in mutton are Punjabis.

Some cloth merchants have found their niche, here. Some shoe merchants deal only in local stuff and not the franchised wares.

The main bazaar terminates right in front of the main gate (described above). Beyond that, the road is wide but the ambience of the Qila is nowhere to be found. It curves to accommodate the outer boundary of the largest police lines in Lahore.

A man looking for alms used to sit at a corner of this curvature, singing some sad film song in his melodious voice. It terminated at Don Basco High School.

A channel from the Upper Bari Doab Canal irrigated this side of the Empress Road. One could even see tadpoles in the clear water. Occasionally some small fish somersaulted.

Beyond this there was the North Western Railway headquarters, which was out of bounds for us. We returned to our neighbourhood — i.e. Nicholson Road, or more precisely the Muzaffar Mansions — where Tariq Ali was looking for us delinquents.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Tariq Ali, the activist son of our benevolent landlord.)

The writer is a painter, a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at

Gujjar Singh da Qila