Pakistan aims to revive glory of ancient Mughal city Lahore

Tourists ride on a horse buggy as they look at the historic Badshahi Mosque in Lahore. (AFP)
Updated 02 March 2018
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Pakistan aims to revive glory of ancient Mughal city Lahore

LAHORE: 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 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.
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 remodelling buildings,” said Mumtaz, who is pushing for the use of traditional construction materials in restoration projects.
The calls runs 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 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.”


India’s ruling BJP loses three crucial states in regional elections

Updated 1 min 53 sec ago
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India’s ruling BJP loses three crucial states in regional elections

Sanjay Kumar NEW DELHI: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered a big political blow in the regional elections results on Tuesday, losing three major states previously under its belt.
In a surprise performance, the main opposition Congress party defeated the BJP in the northern and central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
The party also performed poorly in the southern Indian state of Telangana and the north-east state of Mizoram, which also went to polls.
The ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) retained its hold over the state, widely defeating the opposition Congress.
The tiny, hillside state of Mizoram went with the regional Mizo National Front (MNF), giving a thumping defeat to the ruling Congress party there.
However, the main contest was in the Hindi heartland, where the BJP and the Congress were pitted against each other.
In Rajasthan and Chhatisgarh, the Congress enjoyed a decisive victory. However, the party remains in a neck-to-neck battle overall with the BJP, which has been ruling the state for the last 15 years.
“It was incredible odds against which these elections were fought, where the Congress was outspent by a large margin by the BJP’s incredible resources,” Congress leader Shashi Tharoor told reporters after the victory.
“The result is a very strong expression of the popular will,” added the senior Congress leader.
The BJP says that “the result is a setback, but it is more to do with anti-incumbency factor.”
“We have been ruling Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh for the last 15 years. Naturally, there was some anti-incumbency against us. But we are performing quite well in Rajasthan despite losing,” says Amit Malviya, chief of the BJP’s Information Technology cell.
Political analyst Dr. Satish Mishra of New Delhi-based think tank, Observer Research Foundation, says that “with the victory of the Congress in the regional elections, the invincibility of Prime Minister Modi has now been shattered.”
“For the Congress leader, the result has come as a blessing. He is becoming acceptable to the opposition parties now. With the results on Tuesday, he has managed to shed considerable baggage that has been labeled on him by his political opponent,” said Mishra.
New Delhi-based political analyst, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, said that “for the Congress, the good news is its return not just as a credible alternative, but also to be considered once again a party of governance in the crucial Hindi heartland.”
“After this round of elections, Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a main challenger to Modi because it is under Gandhi’s leadership that Congress has performed well in all the three states,” Mukhopadhyay told Arab News. “His stock is high. He will be a serious challenger to Modi next year.”
“The results will speed up the process of alliance formation that can take on Modi next year. The Indian prime minister will have to cover a lot of ground now. I am sure he is not taking the 2019 elections for granted.”
However, Malviya doubts the results will impact the general elections in 2019. “The next elections would be fought around Modi’s achievement; his leadership and his vision. I don’t think any opposition alliance can defeat us,” he said.
Mukhopadhyay, meanwhile, underlines that “it would be paramount for the BJP to evaluate the ways in which it can recover lost ground in barely four months when it faces the electorate in 2019. The BJP had won 62 of the 65 parliamentary seats from the three states in 2014 and unless the present swing away is reversed, the results could be disappointing and impact its overall tally considerably.”