A city of 12 gates; the 13th is for sewerage

October 18, 2020

Dr Ajaz Anwar sees the city of Lahore as “a conglomeration of cul-de-sacs” where many a lane has dead ends that too have been punctured

A vintage photo of Akbari Gate, clicked by FE Chaudhary. — Image: Supplied

As has been mentioned previously in these columns, Lahore was founded over a high plinth or man-made mound. It was thus safe from invaders who traditionally came from the north, because of its location on the left bank of the river Ravi. Moreover, in Lahore, cool breeze filtered from the north.

Lahore was always a city of the pedestrians. It was surrounded by a defensive wall punctured by 12 gates and an additional one for sewerage, besides a moat fed by the water from the river.

Geographically speaking, Lahore was located on the very route of the invaders. These invaders would plunder it and march on to capture Delhi. It was for this very reason that Shershah Suri ordered it to be razed to the ground. But he himself died in a gun-powder blast.

Lahore was destroyed innumerable times. It was last rebuilt by Malik Ayaz, a governor of Mahmud Ghaznavi, over a thousand years ago. His grave is located near Rang Mahal.

The oldest monument of Lahore in its original shape is the tomb of Sheikh Ahangar on McLeod Road, near the City Railway Station. It dates back to 1520. Built in finely baked bricks, it is decorated with turquoise-blue tiles in Multani tradition.

Lahore has no stone quarried locally. Mughal ruler Babur invaded Lahore in 1525. The following year he came back with more troops to take on Ibrahim Lodhi whom he defeated in the first battle of Panipat.

With the Mughals, there started a tradition of building monuments with landscaping. Babur had criticised all aspects of the country and its people. He expressed his surprise as to why these people were loyal to the throne and not to the person occupying it — a trait that has survived to this day. The people were ugly, he said, and ate grain with lintels. The climate is hot and dusty, with no gardens, no fruit trees and no waterfalls. He even willed that he be buried in Kabul. The only thing he liked here was horse riding during monsoons. He recorded all this in his memoir, Tuzuke Babari.

It seems that his descendants, in order to justify their stay in Lahore, built many gardens with fruit trees and waterfalls. Kamran’s was the earliest of the Mughal gardens in the sub-continent. Built across the Ravi, it suffered seasonal ravages of floods and only a central pavilion of it has survived.

Kamran, it must be mentioned, was a half-brother of Humayun’s. His mother was not a Timurid. (A businessman turned politician had the bright idea of ‘restoring’ it despite strong opposition from the Lahore Conservation Society (LCS) and, in the process, mutilated it. Now it lies greatly neglected.)

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Akbar stayed in Lahore during the years 1584-98 to quell the uprising in northern areas as well as the peasant protests led by Dulla Bhatti. He rebuilt the Lahore Fort and reinforced its defences.

Akbar also rebuilt the 12 gates, while keeping the 13th for the city’s sewerage. One of its gates was named after him. Close to it, a large stable was built for elephants, which later came to be known as Paathi.

The Akbari Gate was like the rest of the gates. It was rebuilt and realigned during the British period. Sadly, it was demolished in the early 1950s. Only a photograph of it, clicked by FE Chaudhary, survives for the record.

Another gate, built in memory of Shah Alam, a kind and literate king who was much loved by the people of Lahore, was called Shahalami. It was demolished after the deliberate inferno of the Partition riots. Old photographs show that it was quite like the Lohari Gate except that it was much smaller.

The rebuilding of Shahalami Market which included a double-road cut across the charred ruins of the old city was a first, fatal intrusion into the fabric of the built environment of the Walled City. A few years later, Azam Cloth Market was set up inside the Delhi Gate; it continues to expand to this day, devouring the old houses and havelis.

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The Delhi Gate was built facing Delhi. There is a gate named after Lahore in Delhi. This was an old tradition. Similarly, the Kashmiri Gate faced Kashmir. The other gates included Texali which was near the mint; the Masti Gate is a distortion of the Masjidi Gate, near the Maryam Zamani Mosque which was the principal mosque in Lahore at that time with five domes.

Sheranwala, as the oral tradition would have it, had encaged lions outside it. The Roshnai Gate, according to some accounts, was besides the Badshahi Masjid where steps descended into the river and lamps were placed for the boatmen.

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Lahore was designed as a pedestrian city. All its gates were closed at dusk except for emergency situations. Many gates had draw-bridges. The gates were fortified and had guards residing there, more like police stations. Each gate was like an entrance to their locality to the citizens returning after the day’s toil.

No animals from any other city were allowed to enter, for quarantine reasons. The caravans too would stay outside the city walls. They were allowed to sell their merchandise only in the markets organically set up in the open.

Inside the city, too, markets had sprung up that catered to the needs of the locals. Kasera Bazaar, Dabbi Bazaar, Sutar Mandi, Moti Bazaar and so on. Commercial activities were limited to specified zones. The city’s main arteries had shops with merchants generally residing in houses built on top. Bigger havelis surrounded by smaller houses ensured the survival of the lower-class households who had the blessings and protection of those with means.

It all changed when the cottage industry and commercial markets started devouring the residential areas. At dusk, some areas are dangerously under populated so that the crime rate has swelled. Drug addicts and gamblers reign supreme. In other words, the city is dying.

Since very few of the original citizens had property papers, most transactions are carried out with the help of the land grab mafia.

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The city of Lahore is a conglomeration of cul-de-sacs. Many lanes have dead ends where any stranger would be questioned. Now that the city has taken the shape of a commercial hub, these dead ends that generally faced the ancient city wall, have been punctured giving access to the outside surrounding circular garden.

Thus, the wall has become non-existent. Instead of the fabled 12 gates, there are numerous arteries and thoroughfares all around it. (The charm of city life and the plight of its citizens who have refused to move out against all odds shall be discussed in later columns.)

The concept of a defensive wall for the cities changed with the coming of big guns. The era of open battlefields shifted focus on cantonments. Just like the railways, automobile too impacted city planning. Wider, straighter roads were built in front of the city gates.

Note: Masud Hayat Butt’s chehlum will be held on Sunday (today) at SOP, House No 5, Street 13, Farooq Ganj

(This dispatch is dedicated to the legendary press photographer FE Chaudhary)


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 [email protected]

Lahore: A city of 12 gates; the 13th is for sewerage