Another treasure from the vaults of Lahore’s history
It’s been seventy years since the biggest partition and human migration but amidst the hustle and bustle of Shah Almi and Rang Mehal majestically stands the building of Gobind Ram Kahan Chand — Hindustan Commercial Bank 1805
The Walled City Lahore has never ending stories. Every brick of any foundation or structure would narrate a tale of the past to you. Looking at these ages old bricks, balconies and jharokas –in any part of the walled city of Lahore — you will feel them still breathing and talking to you about the secrets of the past glories and turbulence. In short each building and its elements have crossed a journey where they have met with chaos, commotion, havoc, magnificence, grandeur, fame, victory and merriment. That’s the secret of the Walled City of Lahore. Once you step in any of the gates of this wondrous city you will explore stories and tales and the one I am telling you today is of the Gobind Ram and the Hindustan Commercial Bank established in 1805.
It’s been seventy years since the biggest partition and human migration but amidst the hustle and bustle of Shah Almi and Rang Mehal majestically stands the building of Gobind Ram Kahan Chand — Hindustan Commercial Bank 1805. Despite several changes in the fabric of the buildings of the Walled City, this building remained intact – it’s surprising! Once a building that was meant to be the magnificent and influential of all is today surrounded by garment shops, gold market and crockery shops. Nobody visiting this area of Rang Mehal and Shah Almi would have ever noticed or thought of what this building was and who was Gobind Ram. So here is another story from the Partition.
History narrates that this man Gobind Ram was a local resident and owned a shop at the ground floor of the same building I have mentioned earlier. He was a trader of achaar (pickles), chatni and sharbat (very famous and traditional food items of sub continent). It is also said that Gobind Ram’s sharbat (juices) was very famous in the Walled City of Lahore. He was one of the richest men, influential as well as was among the most respected traders of Shah Almi and Walled City. Gobind Ram focused on spreading Ayurveda and its benefits. The company moved to Delhi after partition and is still in business today as GK Herbals.
Coming back to the story, the partition riots began and Gobind Ram had to leave Lahore. The pressure of public detestation conquered the centuries old traditions of tolerance inside the Walled City of Lahore. It was a time when a neighbor was killing and looting another neighbour. Such scenes were never seen in the Walled City of Lahore which was considered to be a hub of tolerance and peace. The area where this building is located is the junction of Shah Almi and Rang Mehal Chowk. This was a Hindu populated area and most of the trade and businesses were owned by the Hindus. Here comes an interesting story. When Gobind Ram, with his family, left Lahore for India he had put some currency and expensive jewels in the basement of this same building, and no one could ever know about that. Some years after the partition Gobind Ram came to Lahore with Army officials from both India and Pakistan and took away all the treasure that he had kept protected in the basement. Well at this sight the people around the area were shocked and bewildered at not knowing about the hidden treasure in the basement of the building.
Most Hindu businessmen traded in gold, food grains and textiles inside the Shah Almi Gate. Their monetary strength gave them the ability to become moneylenders. From this emerged Lahore`s first major bank which was Gobind Ram Kahan Chand`s Hindustan Commercial Bank, established in 1805. As Gobind Ram was a very influential man he became a partner of the Hindustan Commercial Bank and decided to open one branch in this building. This branch never became operational because the Partition Riots started and the Shah Almi Market and nearby Hindu populated areas were set on fire. From Shah Almi to Rang Mahal, this was the only building that survived because it was newly built. Some myths follow the existence of a trench in the basement that goes to the Lahore Fort, well I never found any inside Lahore Fort but excavation of the building’s foundations might prove it. All the gates of Lahore survived the violence of partition except the Shah Almi Gate which was destroyed along with other buildings in this area. This building has a simple grey facade as it was basically a commercial building and till today stands there but now hidden behind many other buildings and shops.
History says that this gate was mostly was used by elite class and special troops to move in and out of the city and trading hub
Coming towards the history of the gate, Shah Almi Gate was named after the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam (1707 to 1712), a generous emperor and successor of Emperor Aurangzeb. He was one of the most popular emperors in Punjab. Before his death, the gate was called the “Bherwala Gate” and later it became Shah Alam gate and then Shah Almi. This gate is situated between Mochi and Lohari Gates of Walled City of Lahore. There are several markets joining with this gate and it is no doubt a wonder.
If the gate was not burnt then it would have been standing majestically like Delhi, Lohari, Bhatti, Kashmiri and Sheranwala gates. Unfortunately the gate was burnt into ashes during the partition riots.
History says that this gate was mostly was used by elite class and special troops to move in and out of the city and trading hub. Outside this gate were very beautiful gardens owned by prominent elites of the walled city. The streets inside the gate had shops, godowns and residential properties of the rich traders – in short it was hub of the elites. Now the traces of the past cannot be seen there. The gate is the biggest trading hub today and very few residential streets and properties are seen there.