Pakistan aims to revive glory of ancient Mughal city Lahore

1 / 3
A worker cleans a golf cart for tourists to visit the historic Mughal-era Lahore Fort in the Pakistani city of Lahore. (AFP)
2 / 3
A Pakistani conservationist works on the 1,450-foot long and 50-foot high picture wall at the historic Mughal-era Lahore Fort. (AFP)
3 / 3
Above, the historic Mughal-era Lahore Fort in the Pakistani city of Lahore. (AFP)
Updated 01 March 2018
0

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.”


Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

A two bedroom villa at the Six Senses in Zighy Bay. (Supplied)
Updated 13 December 2018
0

Zighy Stardust: A-list luxury living at Six Senses in Oman

  • The luxurious resort Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village
  • The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical

DUBAI: After a two-hour drive from Dubai, crossing the border at Dibba into Musandam, Oman, we found ourselves, alone, surrounded by mountainous rocks only made visible by the full moon. The headlights of the car showed a long stretch of endless rough road ahead to us, and no sign of the highly exclusive, luxury resort to which we were headed.

But this is just one of many ways to enter Six Senses Zighy Bay, the holiday resort that has hosted the likes of Bill Gates and Arab royals. You can make a James Bond-style entrance by speedboat from Dibba Marina or, if you’re feeling extra-adventurous, by paraglide tandem.

On our more prosaic road trip, we finally reached the resort, where we were welcomed by Six Senses’ friendly staff, and a 4x4, into which we climbed for the drive up the steep mountain to the resort.
Six Senses Zighy Bay is located on a bay near a small village, shielded by Al-Hajjar mountain range, giving it the privacy most VIPs look for. The story goes that, before the owners were able to build the resort, they had to strike a deal with the villagers, building them new homes and a school, and offering them employment at the resort.
The aesthetics of Six Senses are simple and practical, using stones, wood, and cool desert tones, blending into the natural surroundings. It has the feel of an authentic Omani village — fitted with modern-day luxuries. There are 82 spacious beach villas with their own private pools — fashioned to resemble stone huts — and high walls for privacy.

Inside the open-plan villas, there is a lounge area with glass doors that open out to the infinity pool area, complete with loungers and a majlis. In the bathroom there is a large stone bath and a shower (there’s also a shower outdoors).
For anyone caught-up in the hustle-and-bustle of city life, the first thing you notice is the deafening silence. The distant sound of waves crashing ashore and background birdsong only add to the peaceful tranquility.

The brand’s identity is based on a stripped-back, organic lifestyle in tune with nature and the outdoors. And the whole operation seems effortless. This, in fact, is far from the reality as the resort has a staff of just over 400 to keep things running smoothly.
When it comes to food, the resort is committed to the brand’s philosophy of making food “healthy by default.” They do this by growing as much of the produce as possible in their organic garden or sourcing from local farms.

During our stay we had a taste of their newly launched menus, created by celebrity chef James Knight-Pacheco, in the mountain-top restaurant, Sense on the Edge, which offers breathtaking views. The menu uses French and Japanese techniques with regional flavors for a fine-dining experience. The principle idea behind the menu stems from the concept of “land and sea.” It consists of five- and seven-course “journeys” of meats and poultry (a personal favorite), “voyages” of seafood, or “expeditions” for vegetarians. There’s also a fresh tapas menu at the Zighy Bar, the shining stars of which are their chorizo empanadas.

But the real feast is at the “Spiced Market” breakfast buffet: All types of seasonal fruits, a selection of cheeses, eggs cooked to your taste, or Middle Eastern favorites shakshouka and foul medames.
Aside from its traditionally themed luxury and the variety of food on offer, the real highlight of a stay at Six Senses is the range of activities available. After paragliding over the resort, we went scuba diving (spotting Nemo the clown fish three times). We didn’t have time for rock climbing, mountain biking, or — sadly — a treatment at the resort’s signature spa.

Overall a stay at Six Senses is bound to be unforgettable, with a laid-back luxury that makes it stand out from the high-end competition. Along with its dramatic mountain setting, calming sea views and accommodating staff, it makes for a perfect romantic getaway or an ideal holiday for a young family. But it doesn’t come cheap: Expect a bill to match the exclusive luxury.