World Bulletin / News Desk
It has rightly earned its motto “Lahore Lahore hay” or Lahore is only Lahore,” honoring the city’s uniqueness.
Home to 11 million people, today Lahore is a vista of glitzy towers, bumper-to-bumper traffic, huge roadside restaurants, bridges, and the much-hyped Orange Line train project, but it also features spectacular mosques, temples, shrines, and towers from its Mughal and colonial past.
But in the shadow of accelerating infrastructure development, the city is losing some of its celestial architectural treasures.
According to Mian Mohammad Nadeem, a Lahore-based blogger who frequently writes on culture and heritage, almost 50 percent of the old architecture of the Walled City (meaning the old or southern Lahore sprawled over 4-5 square kilometers) has been replaced by shopping centers and markets.
“Wandering along the Akbari Mandi [market] or Shah Aalmi [two major business centers], an outsider can’t believe that these glassy buildings and shops have replaced a bunch of Edwardian- and Victorian-style buildings over the last few decades,” Nadeem told Anadolu Agency.
Scores of Victorian-style houses -- dating back to the late 19th and early 20th century -- at Mason Road, which once were gems of Lahore, have been converted into glossy multi-story buildings -- an evident result of the city’s ever-growing population.
“Similarly, so-called development and new construction are steadily eating up heritage sites in Kashmiri Bazar, Lohari Gate, Mochi [cobbler] Gate, and Lakshmi Chowk,” Nadeem added.
Not only local architects and heritage lovers, but UNESCO too has expressed concern over the possible damage to several heritage sites due to the Orange Line project, especially Shalamar Gardens, which date back to the Mughal era and is a protected site on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
Other heritage sites facing the threat of damage due to the train project include the Gulabi Bagh Gateway, Buddhu ka Awa, Chauburji, Zeb-un-Nisa’s Tomb, Lakshmi building, the Supreme Court’s Lahore registry, the St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, and the shrine of Baba Mauj Darya Bukhari.
Lahore’s historical Chauburji, a 17th century Mughal-era monument which once acted as a gateway to a large garden, has been overshadowed by a newly constructed bridge in connection with the train project, angering architects who believe the site’s beauty could have been protected if a tunnel had been constructed instead of a bridge. The vast garden, for which the Chauburji had served as a gateway, is currently encircled by shops and multi-story buildings, apart from thousands of honking vehicles passing by every day.
Surrounded by heaps of dirt and construction material, the monument, according to experts, is not only reeling from air and noise pollution but huge vibrations caused by ferocious drilling and other machine work also pose a threat to the existence of this monument.
Taking into account heritage lovers’ concerns, last year the country’s top court initially stopped the government from carrying out the much-hyped project, which many see as essential to cope with the city’s transport needs, but later allowed continuation of the project so long as there is no physical damage to heritage sites located along its routes. But the threat is still lurking.
“This [Orange Line train project] is going to damage the heritage value of Lahore,” professor Raheem-ul-Haq, one of the petitioners opposed to the project, told Anadolu Agency.
“The 10-km area from Zeb-un-Nisa’s [eldest child of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir] Tomb to Shalamar Gardens [a metro train route] is full of heritage sites -- 11 listed and scores unlisted. This entire strip has already lost its aesthetic value due to this project,” said Haq, who teaches public policy at Lahore’s prestigious Foreman Christian College.
This problem, he argued, is also evident at Mcleod Road, which once was festooned with dozens of old buildings constructed between 1900 and 1950. “Several buildings which could be listed as historic have either been demolished or damaged to carry out the project,” he maintained.
A few hundred meters away is the tomb of Zaib-un-Nisa -- another picture of apathy. Riddled with holes, the walls, and arches -- an integral part of Mughal-era buildings -- are crumbling. Once a splendid tomb, now it is surrounded by haphazard construction, including a portion of the train bridge, making it difficult for even a native to spot the site.