Losing relics one by one
I asked my friend why Bhatti Gate is associated with the Chelsea of London? I was told that Bhatti Gate inside the walled city of Lahore had always been renowned as the centre of literature, wisdom and performing arts, just like the Chelsea in London. Chelsea once had a reputation as London’s hub of artists, radicals, painters and poets and so had the Bhatti Gate. My friend gave me a book on the same “The Chelsea of Lahore” by Hakeem Ahmed Shuja. Reading that book I decided to visit Bhatti Gate. Entering the giant Bhatti gate, much occupied by the local police station, I started walking in the slanting and sloping streets coming across feeble houses, balconies and doors with classic carved wooden motifs. All these remains were surely the narrator of the past but as far as literature was concerned I was still in search of it as I wanted to see all those places I had read about. The teachers of Oriental College like Dr Muhammad Shafi, Molana Rohi and many others had lived inside Bhatti Gate at the time when Oriental College was located inside the Haveli Dhyan Sigh (Taxali Gate). I went into the street of Molana Rohi, but the houses had changed into plazas. That was the first setback. Maybe people had no idea of that great personality and so the place vanished. For my readers, let me tell you that Molana Rohi was a known teacher of linguistics especially Farsi. It is said that the teachers of Oriental College and even Allama Iqbal would go to him for classes. To my surprise not a single plaque describing the street or the personality was placed there. The mosque on the name of Molana Rohi still stands there. I moved on and missed my way. By the way, I have found Bhatti Gate very complex to walk in, one can easily be lost in the labyrinth.
The spiritual mentor of Baba Bulleh Shah, Shah Inayat Qadri, was the Imam of this mosque. However, there is no detail about when and who built this mosque but it is surely ages old
I saw a small board on the wall “Mohallah Chomala” and there was the “Oonchi Masjid” (A Mosque at Height). As per books, the spiritual mentor of Baba Bulleh Shah, Shah Inayat Qadri, was the Imam of this mosque. However, there is no detail about when and who built this mosque but it is surely ages old. The locals claimed that it was built in Mughal Emperor Akbar’s reign. A local man sitting on a thara outside a shop pointed me towards a shop and told me that there it is where the singer Muhammad Rafi had worked. I was surprised and looked inside, but there was not a single photograph of Rafi in the shop.
On the road we see the house of Dr Muhammad Allama Iqbal, Poet of the East, who lived there from 1901 till 1905. The house is now under the possession of a local music band. This is the honour we give our heroes; we could not preserve his footprints. The barber shop opposite the house was where Allama Iqbal got his hair cut. A few steps ahead is the thara of Dr Muhammad Allama Iqbal. Tharra sittings were common in old times. It was basically a gathering on a small platform outside the house where people would sit in the evenings and have literary or political discussions.
The famous Faqir Khana museum is also located inside this Gate. The Faqir family was one of the high-ranking families during the reign of Maharaja Ranjeet Singh and it remained a part of the Sikh Court as well. This is one reason that the family still has many antique pieces of the Sikh era which are a displayed in the museum.
Next to Faqir Khana Museum is the Haveli of Begum Wajid Ali Shah which is still a residential property and intact. Near the Faqir Khana is also the Imambargah of Sayida Mubarik Begam (wife of Syed Mratab Ali). The mansion of Faqeer Syed Iftikhar Uddin shares walls with this imambargah. Today a part of this haveli is used as Naqsh School of Arts. Here local students are trained, free of cost, in painting, calligraphy, fresco, and sculpture. Near these Havelis, Hakeem Abdullah Ansari built a mosque and the bazaar was also named after the same person. Bazaar-e-Hakeeman was famous for the poetic and literary sittings in those days, famous intellectuals, scholars, poets, and politicians of Lahore such as Molana Muhammad Hassan Jalandhri, Sir Abdul Qadir, Allama Iqbal, Sir Shahab Udin, Sir Muhammad Shah Din, Sir Muhammad Shafi, and Faqeer Iftikhar Udin were regular part of those sittings.
The best place I liked was the Moti Tibba; a slanting slope like street with steps. It is an amazing site. The wall next to the steps can be very well related with the picture wall of the Lahore Fort.
The mansion of Sessions Judge Syed Muhammad Latif, who is more famous because of his book “Tareekh e Lahore” (History of Lahore), is also inside Bhatti gate and that is why that part of Bhatti is called Judge Muhammad Latif Bazaar.
Next to Faqir Khana Museum is the Haveli of Begum Wajid Ali Shah which is still a residential property and intact. Near the Faqir Khana is also the Imambargah of Sayida Mubarik Begam (wife of Syed Mratab Ali)
Most of the famous kabbadi players of those days were from Bhatti. The great wrestlers of those times such as Rustam-e-Zaman Gama Pehalwaan and Rustam-e-Hind Imam Bux were from Bhatti Gate. The great Skipper Abdul Hafiz Kardar, Pakistan’s celebrated cricket captain, also belonged to Bhatti Gate.
This gate is situated at the north of the old city with Taxali Gate on the left and Mori gate on the right. Outside Bhatti Gate is Data Durbar, the mausoleum of the Sufi Saint Ali Hajweri (also known as Data Sahib Ganj baksh). The structure of Bhatti Gate is based on Gothic styled double arches. There are rooms on the both sides of the gate. This gate was re-built during the British rule.
I roamed around for more than three hours and gave up as I could not find anything related to the personalities I had read about. No remains. Most of the buildings had been converted into cemented blocks; few heritage homes were left which was distressing.
Things have totally changed and I guess we have lost the Chelsea of Lahore. The historical bazaars and streets are prey of mismanagement and negligence as they are being ruined to accommodate the increasing population of the city as well as the fast growing commercialisation. This part of the city desperately needs attention. The entire street should be converted into a tourist trail with history plaques and small museums. If this is not done now, we will lose the relics of the past.