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.”


Poverty-stricken Albania new migrant gateway into EU

Updated 21 June 2018
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Poverty-stricken Albania new migrant gateway into EU

  • With the so-called western Balkan migrant trail now shut, the number of Syrians arriving in Albania is on the rise.
  • The route through Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia before reaching EU member Croatia is rather treacherous, steep and mountainous.

TIRANA: Until recently, few refugees chose poverty-stricken Albania as a pit stop on their perilous trek toward wealthy EU countries. But with the so-called western Balkan migrant trail now shut, the number of Syrians arriving in Albania is on the rise.
Migrants are “trying to find new paths to get to European Union countries” after nations along the route up from Turkey and Greece significantly increased their border security, interior ministry spokesman Ardi Bide told AFP.
Instead of going through Macedonia and Serbia, people attempt to reach the EU via some of the poorest member states including Bulgaria and Albania.
Although authorities have not released official data on asylum requests, police said they have blocked 2,300 people at the Albanian border since the start of the year.
For many, “Albania is now the only solution for refugees to move on,” said Syrian Guwan Belei.
The 28-year-old arrived in mid-June in Albania’s only migrant reception center, located in the capital Tirana.
Some 200 migrants currently stay at the 180-bed facility.
Belei has applied for asylum here but does not hide that for him “like for others, Albania is now a gateway in contrast to Serbia and Macedonia, which have closed their borders.”
“Many prefer to seek political asylum in Albania because during the proceedings it leaves them time to find solutions to move to Montenegro and Bosnia, and from there get to Germany, Denmark or another country,” the 28-year-old told AFP.
Germany has become one of asylum-seekers’ favored destinations since Chancellor Angela Merkel threw open the border in 2015 in the face of the continent’s worst migration crisis since World War II.
However, the decision to allow in more than a million migrants has cost Merkel politically and put her current coalition under threat.
Migrants, meanwhile, are largely oblivious to the political storm their arrival is causing in the EU.
At Tirana’s camp, newly-arrived migrants wait in front of the small brick building while others are stepping out with backpacks, possibly hoping to try to cross the border into Montenegro, 100 kilometers (60 miles) further north.
The route through Turkey, Greece, Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia before reaching EU member Croatia is rather treacherous, steep and mountainous.
But that is not enough to deter 26-year-old Berivan Alus and her husband Asmar from trying to reach western Europe.
The couple from Afrin, in northwestern Syria, said they were forced to leave behind their three-year-old twin girls with the grandparents because the journey was too dangerous.
Showing photos of their children, the couple told AFP they had already crossed “fields, mountains and rivers” on foot or in small boats, “in the mud and in the rain.”
They reached Albania’s border from Syria with the help of traffickers who charged them €10,000 ($11,000).
Their stay here is “just to save time” while they find a way to move on, the couple said.
Fearing smugglers’ violence, others “prefer to get away just with GPS,” said Syrian Kasim Yaakoum, 29.
Either way, “nobody wants to stay in Albania, a poor country,” said his fellow countryman Yasser Alnablis, 22.
Balkans interior ministers met in Brussels over the issue Monday.
Bosnia, the last country on this new route via Albania before the EU, is particularly confronted with an increasing influx.
Montenegro has also voiced concerns over its porous border with Albania.
But Tirana, which hopes to open EU membership talks, insists it manages “to cope ... despite the growing number of those who have arrived on its territory.”
The government also rejected recent rumors that was planning to open a larger refugee camp with EU aid.
“Albania has taken all the measures to strengthen its border and cooperate with other Balkan countries and EU authorities, including Frontex (to) better control the situation,” deputy interior minister Rovena Voda told AFP.