Pakistan aims to revive glory of ancient Mughal city Lahore

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A worker cleans a golf cart for tourists to visit the historic Mughal-era Lahore Fort in the Pakistani city of Lahore. (AFP)
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A Pakistani conservationist works on the 1,450-foot long and 50-foot high picture wall at the historic Mughal-era Lahore Fort. (AFP)
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Above, the historic Mughal-era Lahore Fort in the Pakistani city of Lahore. (AFP)
Updated 01 March 2018
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Pakistan aims to revive glory of ancient Mughal city Lahore

LAHORE, Pakistan: Perched on scaffolding, restoration experts chip away at decades of grime and repair broken mosaic tiles in a bid to save the colossal murals depicting historic battles and regal ceremonies on the walls of Lahore fort.
The painstaking work is part of efforts to preserve Lahore’s crumbling architectural history as officials juggle conserving its diverse heritage with building modern infrastructure in Pakistan’s chaotic second city.
The metropolis, which once served as the capital of the Mughal empire that stretched across much of the subcontinent, has been subsumed into a myriad of civilizations across the centuries.
This rich past is most visible in the milieu of architecture salted across the Walled City of Lahore — from Hindu temples and Mughal forts to Sikh gurdwaras and administrative office built during the Raj.
“You get a history of a thousand years, 500 year-old houses and monuments and mosques, shrines and a very peaceful atmosphere,” says Kamran Lashari, director general of the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA).
Prime among them, and dating back to the 11th century, the Lahore fort was first built of mud and was then later reinforced with stone over the centuries by a long cast of Mughal emperors who oversaw its expansion and the accompanying artwork.
But periods of conflict along with searing heat, monsoon rains and years of neglect have taken a toll on the fort.
Despite the onset of decay, experts suggest the city’s vast Islamic architectural heritage could make it a contender to rival more established Silk Road travel destinations.
“Lahore can easily compete with Samarkand. It nearly matches Ispahan,” says Sophie Makariou, president of the Parisian-based National Museum of Asian Arts.
Makariou adds that its failure to shine is more to do with safety concerns that have plagued the nation after multiple attacks.
“Due to the bad reputation of Pakistan, it remains unknown,” she explains.
But as security across Pakistan continues to improve, officials are hoping to revive Lahore’s lost glory.
More than 40 conservationists with the WCLA — including engineers, architects and ceramists from across the globe — are currently working on restoring the mosaic mural on the fort’s exterior.
“It’s one of the largest murals in the world. It contains over 600 tile mosaic panels and frescos,” says Emaan Sheikh from the Agha Khan Trust for Culture.
Restoration of the mural is just part of a larger project to refurbish the fort, which includes conservation projects in the royal kitchen, the summer palace and a basement, according to WCLA’s director general Kamran Lashari.
Similar work by the WCLA has already been done to revamp the artwork at the historic Wazir Khan mosque and the Shahi Hammam — one of the only surviving Turkish Baths in the subcontinent that is approximately 400 years old.
The city’s famed Delhi Gate, which once hosted extravagant Mughal processions arriving in Lahore from the east, has also been fully restored along with dozens of homes in the Walled City.
Many of those involved in the project are optimistic.
“The cities which are most famous for tourism, you can take London, Madrid, Istanbul, Rome, all the prerequisites which are available in those cities, are available in Lahore,” claims Ahmer Malik, head of Punjab’s tourism corporation, referring to Lahore’s architectural and cultural attractions.
But not all are convinced.
Kamil Khan Mumtaz, President of Lahore Conservation Society (LCS), an advocacy organization promoting preservation projects, says the efforts run the risk of transforming the old city into a “Disneyland” to attract tourists.
“This was a pedestrian’s city. A pre-Industrial revolution modelled city. This should be conserved into that original state instead of remodeling buildings,” said Mumtaz, who is pushing for the use of traditional construction materials in restoration projects.
The calls run into fresh conflict with infrastructure plans aimed at easing the city’s traffic congestion as Lahore adds high-rise buildings, malls, flyovers and amusement parks to its cityscape.
Lahore was the first Pakistani city to unveil a metro bus service, and is now constructing an inaugural metro train that Mumtaz and fellow civil society groups say will diminish the architectural history.
The city also faces fresh challenges as it opens up to tourism.
Canadian visitor Usama Bilal complains: “There are gorgeous old colonial buildings, British era buildings but they are not well taken care of. There is no infrastructure built for tourists.”


Tantalizing Tokyo: The unique charms of Japan’s capital city

Updated 3 min 3 sec ago
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Tantalizing Tokyo: The unique charms of Japan’s capital city

DUBAI: Before my trip to Tokyo, I’d been told how terribly expensive Japan was; how, without some basic knowledge of the language I would struggle; but, on the flipside, how it was leaps and bounds ahead of the world with technology.
What I found was quite different: from the affordability (shop around and you’ll find some brilliant deals), the welcoming nature of its people, and the fluently spoken English (with signage to match), but, weirdly, the least-accessible Wi-Fi I have ever experienced. (Tip: If you’re staying in Japan for any length of time and don’t have data roaming and the hotel hasn’t provided a complimentary smartphone, buy a SIM at the airport — you really will need access to Google Maps.)
For my week in Tokyo I was staying at Daiwa Roynet, a modern, spacious hotel in the top-notch upmarket shopping district of Ginza. It’s a great area to get over the jetlag — bustling enough to make it fun, but not too crazy.
Following the advice of the concierge (more useful than any travel guide) I headed to the Ameyoko market, close to Ueno Park. The narrow walkways are filled with shops and stalls selling everything you’d expect to find and more — from raw fish and meat, to shoes, bags and clothes. It was an assault on the senses. The air filled with the noise of traders shouting out their offers in Japanese, and the varied smells of what they were offering.
You can pass hours wandering here — taking photos and admiring the organized chaos — but you’ll need to find some lunch eventually. Thankfully it’s easy to grab a hearty bowl of ramen at one of the scores of doorway noodle bars in the district. All seemed worth trying.
From the cacophony of noise at Ameyoko, it’s a short trip across the street to the much-calmer Ueno Park, which boasts a selection of galleries, museums and Tokyo’s famous zoo. During my visit, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum had a varied free exhibition of high-quality work by up-and-coming local artists, but the majority of its other exhibitions required individual entry fees.
Ueno Park itself was like a scene from a movie: Busy with weekend crowds enjoying the afternoon sun, and distractions including arm wrestlers and small congregations of people dancing to various genres of music. A passer-by stopped and asked one of a group of Rockabillies if they were dancing for money. “No,” came the response. “We do it because we like to dance.”
If you visit, as I did, during the sumo-wrestling season (it’s complicated — Google can explain) and want to check out Japan’s national sport, head to the Ryogoku arena. But make sure you book in advance — sumo is a major draw. The wrestling starts early — about 8 a.m. — but the majority of people show up from about 2 p.m. onwards and stay until the end. Expect to spend around $90. It’s worth it. Sumo is fun. The build-up can take several minutes before these enormous men finally collide like locomotives, grappling at one another, before seconds later the bout is over and one is declared the winner. You don’t need to be an expert to figure out what is happening and you don’t need to be a sports fan to enjoy it.
To appreciate just how vast this sprawling megacity is, head for the Tokyo Skytree tower, which takes you up to 450 meters above the busy streets. On a clear day you can reportedly see Mount Fuji in the distance. I did not visit on a clear day. Even so, the sights that were visible, in all directions, were stunning.
After a week traveling across Japan, I returned to Tokyo, and booked into the cozy boutique Shibuya Hotel EN, a short walk from the world-famous pedestrian crossing where, as the traffic stops, the street becomes a sea of people. This crossing is such a draw that even the Starbucks overlooking the road has become a tourist destination. This is next-level people-watching.
The surrounding area, too, is well worth a look — whether in the shops selling cards and figurines from various Japanese manga comics, or in the more generic stores selling every bargain you could possibly want.
Prior to my trip, some had said that Tokyo had little to offer and it was better not to spend too much time there. I suspect those people had never been. One week barely scratches the surface of this fascinating city. Next time, I’ll stay longer.