Explore with ease

May 9, 2021

The freshly launched mobile app, Lahori Khoji is the perfect tool to navigate the maze-like Walled City at one’s own pace

By laying out the walking trails, the app has done away with the restricted mobility and exploration that are part and parcel of guided tours with pre-determined itineraries. (Seen here is the Purani Kotwali Chowk.) — Images courtesy: Lahori Khoji

Intricately carved wooden jharokas, grand Mughal architecture, bustling bazaars… These are a few of the treats that visitors to the ancient Walled City of Lahore expect. Lately, these oldest neighbourhoods of Lahore appear to have shrunk in the public imagination to the Shahi Guzargah.

The royal trail includes the 17th Century Shahi Hamam and the frescoed Masjid Wazir Khan. These historical buildings are, without a doubt, some of the most iconic structures of the Mughal era. But as the truck-art adorned Rangeela rickshaw takes tourists on a quick loop to point out the perimeters of the city that was once contained within the bounds of 13 gates, one is left wondering about the treasures guarded by the rest of the 12 gates.

The Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) has been working to position androon shehr at the centre of Lahore’s cultural identity. With the support of various international donors, the authority has so far restored numerous sites of historical interest along the Royal Trail, and can be credited with having introduced an increasing number of both local and foreign tourists to the area’s diverse legacy. But the cogs of governmental organisations are tied to bureaucratic red-tape. Proposed restoration projects for other parts of the Walled City have progressed at snail’s pace, while the ravages of time and commercialisation threaten to hasten irreparable damage to markers of the city’s multicultural history.

The absence of public knowledge about the Walled City is compounded by the very characteristic that fascinates the modern city-dweller — its narrow streets. The network of interconnected lanes teems with residences and shops alike, and can be a daunting labyrinth to navigate without a knowledgeable local guide. A group of enterprising history students at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) has come up with the perfect solution to explore the area with ease.

As part of a course on the history of Lahore, taught by Prof Dr Ali Usman Qasmi, 32 undergraduate students were tasked with conceiving a walking trail for some of the gates. Working in groups, the students conducted research about their assigned gates, their neighborhoods, historical sites, and the lived experiences of the current residents. The result is a mobile app, called Lahori Khoji, which not only provides a brief history of various places of interest spread across the Walled City, but also pins them to Google maps in order to facilitate the intrepid explorer.

Prof Qasmi says that the project passed through three stages since its inception during the fall of 2019, and owes much to its collaboration with historian Faizan Naqvi and the LUMS’s Computer Science Department. Naqvi, a young, largely self-taught historian, has authored seven books in Urdu on the history of Lahore, the most recent one having been published in Gurmukhi in India also. Over the past decade, he has conducted extensive research to authenticate the history of many sites across the city, and has earned the title of “Lahore ka khoji.”

A view of the Siraye Sultan Thekadar inside Akbari Gate.


While the location mapping in itself will significantly assist and encourage those seeking to revisit Lahore’s past in person, it is the app’s stated purpose of moving beyond the usual ‘museulisation’ of the city that has the potential to inspire a more immersive approach to history and tourism in the country.

Qasmi credits Naqvi’s zeal for unravelling the city’s multifaceted history as instrumental to his students’ goal to identify, locate, and highlight historical sites through the app. Senior-year students Azan bin Zahid and Taimoor Ali, under the supervision of Prof Suleman Shahid, transformed the data collected through site visits and interviews into a sleek app that is brilliant in its simplicity.

Lahori Khoji opens with the tagline: “Exploring the same old city.” Click on any of the gates’ icons and you’ll be introduced to the main sites of cultural and historical significance in its precincts. The map view pinpoints the locations, with more prominent landmarks providing a frame of reference.

While the location mapping in itself will significantly assist and encourage those seeking to revisit Lahore’s past in person, it is the app’s stated purpose of moving beyond the usual ‘museulisation’ of the city that has the potential to inspire a more immersive approach to history and tourism in the country.

By laying out the walking trails, the app has done away with the restricted mobility and exploration that are part and parcel of guided tours with pre-determined itineraries.

The creators aim to encourage interaction between visitors and residents for deeper insights about lived realities within contexts of built environments. For those seeking to learn more about Lahore, past and present, this opens up the possibility of a better understanding through oral histories shared by the residents.

While community-immersive tourism is a popular and expanding niche in the global tourism market, it has not yet found a foothold in Pakistan. With the exception of a handful of villages in Gilgit-Baltistan encouraging homestays and interactions with local communities, tourism practices within the country maintain a distance between visitors and locals. Given Pakistanis’ cultural inclination towards gregarious hospitality and swapping stories, it is about time that people-to-people interaction was encouraged.

As an example of citizens’ ownership of historical and cultural legacies, Lahori Khoji is the perfect tool to explore the maze-like Walled City at one’s own pace. The pandemic might have forced everyone to stay home, but this app will let you take a virtual walk.

(The app is currently available for android users only)


The writer is a policy consultant and social anthropologist based in Lahore. She can be reached at [email protected]; Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cancook.musttravel

Explore with ease