Rekindling lost glory
My love for Lahore has always driven me to unknown routes in search of more and more ancient remains. Almost fifteen years ago I visited Delhi Gate Lahore for the first time with my brother, who then had started architectural photography as a hobby. I was awe struck at the grandness of the gate at first glance and thought as if I am into another city, and yes I was. It was then when I wrote my first feature in a newspaper on the walled city. That was the inspiration I took from my first trip to Delhi Gate.
You can reach Delhi gate via Railway Station Lahore, crossing the old Domoria Pul (a bridge with two tunnel-like openings) and taking a left turn; now the signages are there for fortunate tourists. The majestic gate is a welcome sign to the city of wonders, the walled city which has an aura found nowhere in the world. This is my remark after visiting more than ten heritage sites of the world.
This gate is one of the thirteen gates of Lahore. The gates around the city of Lahore were built by the third Mughal Emperor Akbar in the mid 1600s. These thirteen gates provided access to the city of Lahore which was once enclosed within a thirty feet high fortified wall, built by the same Mughal emperor. The wall is no more today, but still I can visualise the grandeur and you too can feel it, only if you visit the Old City.
Delhi Gate, situated on the east of Walled City was named so because it faces Delhi, which was the capital of the Mughal Empire. During the Mughal era, and even some time later, this gate remained the main entrance to the city of Lahore. The royal entourages and the common people used this gate which leads into the city. All the gates of the Walled City of Lahore were demolished during the British era. A circular road and circular garden, which still exist today, was built after the grand demolition. Other facts affirm that the bricks of the wall were used in constructing the Railway Station of Lahore by Mian Sultan, a contractor of the British era. Somehow, only the gates were reconstructed in early 1900’s by the British.
Like many other monuments and buildings inside the walled city Delhi Gate witnessed seasons of harmony, serenity and commotion. Once it enjoyed the status of the reception gate to the Royal City with the soldiers and guards welcoming people. Later during the Sikh British rule it functioned as the court of a magistrate, jails, and local police station. As per history books the gate had wooden doors similar to the ones fixed in Lohari Gate. The doors were probably destroyed during the independence riots. During the Mughal era, the doors in these gates were closed after sunset when the city would go to sleep, thus disallowing access into the city. After partition a girl’s school was housed inside the gate building which is still there. Recent governments have tried to relocate the school but all efforts failed. The locals of the area also use the upper storey of the gate for marriages and religious ceremonies. I wish the gate was a museum or a cultural centre!
The building of the gate is double storey and almost ten to twelve rooms are serving as class rooms. The most interesting part of the building is the staircase leading to the roof top of the gate. The stair cases in most of the huge mansions and monuments were made at 90 degree angles in order to protect the buildings from sudden attacks. While going up the stairs, one looses the momentum and speed to climb. This shows the cleverness and techniques of defence in those days. Going to the upper storey one can see the roof of the Royal Bath “Shahi Hamam” on the right side. The roof of the gate is even, which gives a marvellous view of the old city and Delhi Gate’s vibrant bazaar. In history books we find that once the Wazir Khan Mosque could be seen from the roof top of the gate. Next to the gate was once the “Sarai” (guest house) of Wazir Khan which was demolished during a flood that struck the city during the Sikh era. After that the streets were made and the locals started settling there.
The ground floor of the gate, which is the entrance into the Delhi Gate bazaar, has six rooms which are now converted into tourism offices and crafts centre. These rooms were used by the chobdars in Mughal times, magistrate and police in later eras. For some time after 1947, the rooms served as dispensary and health centres for the local community.
Outside Delhi Gate we see many tea, spices and grain shops. These are actually the part of Akbari Mandi, the Spice Market. This is a nice tourist spot; the gate is illuminated at night for the tourists. It’s a must visit place. Local vendors selling interesting traditional items like bangles, shoes, toys and cloth are also located there. One stall is the local enticing food “Laddu Pethi Walay”. They seller opens the shop at sunset and remains there for a few hours only. I guess these are the best in the town. You will find the Afghani Pulao as well near Delhi Gate. This is available now because of the Afghans settlement in old Lahore.
This is our culture and unfortunately many of us are unaware of it.