Taxali Gate — Afar the red light!

No no-go area

 

We observe sites with associated assumptions and do not try to look beyond them. As I mention Taxali Gate to anyone, the first question put to me is about the red light area. It is irritating at times that history is distorted or information and awareness is lacking among the masses. Here I am trying to shed some misconceptions about Taxali Gate, which is one of the thirteen gates of the Walled City of Lahore.

This gate was called Taxali because of a Royal Mint (known as Taxal in Urdu) situated there during the Mughal era. That mint no longer exists there but the old Taxali mosque still survives. As we enter the gate from the Lady Wallington Hospital, we see the famous Food Street of Lahore, the colours and illumination on the Food Street and Andaaz Restaurant have given another life to this gate which was dead because of the taboos related to it. The area inside the gate presents a vibrant and dazzling life with colours and tempting food aroma. The gate has historical importance in terms of personalities residing there, markets, food and music.

Taxali Gate was not always famous for its brothel houses or the dancing girls. It was once the nucleus of literature, art, music and many noble and prominent personalities lived there

 

Taxali gate was not always famous for its brothel houses or the dancing girls. It was once the nucleus of literature, art, music and many noble and prominent personalities lived there. This past of the gate cannot be disregarded. Ustad Daman, a well known Punjabi poet, lived there and his academy is still seen today. Interestingly, in the times of Akbar one of the greats of Punjabi poet “Shah Hussein” used to live in the same one room house. Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali and Allama Muhammad Iqbal were some eminent residents. Some noble people still live here like Mian Yousuf Salahuddin, a renowned socialite and the grandson of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, in a beautiful and well preserved haveli, one of the finest examples of the architecture of the Mughal Dynasty. The entire area till now is high heritage in terms of havelis and heritage homes. Haveli Dhiyan Singh, Haveli of Khush’hal Singh, Haveli Awais Meer and many more are intact today. You take your way into any street and you will be mesmerised by the architecture.

Besides the living of eminent personalities, the same gate has the biggest Khussa (a traditional shoe) market called the ‘Sheikhupurian Bazaar”. It is one of the biggest shoe markets of Pakistan and supplies shoes in wholesale to all the modern markets. These shops sell traditional embroidered and fancy shoes and sandals. This bazaar is the part of the “Heera Mandi”. The buildings above the shops are housed by dancing girls who are very few in number now as most of them have moved out. A little further from the bazaar there is the “Pakistan Talkies Cinema” and the building of “Aziz Theatre”, which was the first cinema and theatre in Pakistan. The cinema is not functional and the building of the theatre is left abandoned, but we can see some inscriptions on the wall. Next to the theatre are the remains of the house of well known Sir Ganga Ram and little ahead are the houses of Malika-e-Tarannum Noor Jehan and the actress Nadra. So now, who says that Taxali has no other history than the red light area?

Initially the Red Light Area was located inside Lohari Gate near Chowk Chakla. With the passage of time it moved to Taxali Gate and Heera Mandi was established. The name Heera Mandi came from the man who established it. A Sikh courtier and relative of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh named Heera Singh was given land to establish a grain market similar to Akbari Mandi. It was this grain market which became popular as Heera Mandi, and later on the red light area shifted there. Again, I want to clarify here that the name Heera Mandi has no connection with the dancing girls or red light business there.

Now coming to a new side of the gate, the main Heera Mandi Chowk serves the finest quality typical Lahori breakfast and food that includes Phajja Paye and Halwa Puri of Taj Mehal. We find enticing food on the famous shops which include Fazl-e-Haq Paye, Bhola Lassi Wala, Baba Naugaza Peer Chanay Wala, Baba Chanay Wala and Phakko Bong Wala. In the evenings one is surely carried away by the aroma of these enticing food items. The tawa chicken and paratha are the popular dishes. We cannot imagine how economic lives of people living in this gate have been affected because of the strange abominations linked with it. Most of the people are moving out of this place because of downfall in businesses and abhorrence associated with the area.

 

The gate or even its foundations do not exist anymore as the gate was pulled down during the British era, but the name still exists

Another interesting feature of this gate is little away from these restaurants, the Lahnga Mandi. This is the oldest market of music instruments. In almost hundred shops you will find all types of traditional and modern musical instruments. Once there were rows of musicians, music bands and music players, but our own assumptions and revulsions have made everything disappear. Yes, the gate is associated with music and art lovers, but I request not to consider it a taboo going there.

The gate or even its foundations do not exist anymore as the gate was pulled down during the British era, but the name still exists. One cannot establish the exact location of the gate at present because of several encroachments and changes in the land use but the old bazaar along it still survives. The gate is the only opening of the Walled City to the west. Behind this gate is the single arterial route of the Walled City which runs from east to west and connects Taxali Gate with Delhi Gate. As we head east it connects with Kashmiri Bazaar which ends at Akbari Mandi.

This gate like all other gates of the Walled City of Lahore has stories, history, characters and a culture too. Let’s not take this place as a no go area, it is our very own heritage, and I suggest it’s a must visit site for food and music lovers!

Tania Qureshi

The writer is a media professional and can be reached at [email protected]



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