Early morning, I said farewell to Shahid and headed for the airport to fly to Lahore. Shahid told me that it should cost no more than 100 Rupees to get to the airport by rickshaw, since it was only 3km away. I bargained hard with a few of the rickshaw drivers and they were not going for anything less than 250! I was definitely not going to pay 2.5 times more than the locals. I started talking to the store clerk and some random guy overheard my conversation and he told me to hop on his motorbike, since he was going that way. I hopped on and we breezed to the airport in five minutes. What a nice guy, trying to help a traveller out. He did not ask for money and told me to have a great trip in Pakistan. Now, that’s Pakistani hospitality.
So the day started well and I arrived in Lahore without any problems. There was nothing unusual with the airport checkin, flight, etc. I was picked up by Talha, who was Olea’s boyfriend. I met Olea from Moldova in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic over the summer and she had just moved to Lahore to live with him. Hence, I squatted at their house for four nights. Like all expats, they were living in the affluent Defense section of the city, which meant everything was in order and very little traffic. Besides, to get into the city center, it took roughly 45 to 60 minutes. The distance itself was only around 15-20 km, but the traffic was horrendous, just like Karachi.
I based myself at their house and pretty much visited Lahore city center a few times. The main means of transportation was via Uber or Grab, which worked pretty well and more economical compared to flagging a taxi down on the street.
Introduction on Lahore
Lahore is the capital city of the province of Punjab and the second largest, but most populous city. The Indian border is around an hour by car, but I did not make it to see the changing of guards. I heard that this ceremony is splendid and takes place almost every day. Lahore is one of the main cities that tourists visit, with famous sites such as Badshashi Mosque, Wazir Khan Mosque, the old Walled City, Food Street, Lahore Fort, and more.
I visited most of the important sites during my visit and here are my reflections.
Badshahi Mosque – free entrance
It is one of the most iconic sites in Pakistan and the second largest mosque in the country. I visited around 5pm in the afternoon and it was a fantastic site. It was free to enter and there were loads of locals taking pictures and there was one party that was celebrating their marriage. The mosque was delightfully decorated with marble and lots of elaborate plasterwork. The courtyard was very big, almost the size of a football field. The monumental gateway faces one of the entrances of the Lahore Fort, just across the fountain and gardens. I took some awesome pictures when the sun was going down, but still the sky was a bit hazy.
Food Street – free entrance
Once it got dark after visiting the Badshahi Mosque, I met up with Talha, Olea and Yanni (A Chinese intern) at Food Street, which was just around the corner. Food Street, as the name clearly tells, was a street full of restaurants and tea houses on Fort Road, which was only open for pedestrians. There were numerous international restaurants from Chinese and Italian, but we stuck with the traditional cousine. Why eat international cousine when in Pakistan? The buildings on this road reflected the Mughal architectural design, since it was located right next to the Badshahi Mosque and Lahore Fort. We opted for Pakistani food with a wonderful view of the mosque. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but it had a balcony at the very top and the view was impressive, but so was the food. I had my usual dose of Karahi and all the other dishes that my friends ordered were very good as well. I definitely recommend visiting this street, but expect price range between $10 to $15 USD for a meal. It was expensive for Pakistan, but so worth it.
Lahore Fort – 500 Rupees for foreigners and 20 Rupees for locals
It is a UNESCO World Hertiage Site since 1981 for its outstanding repertoire of Mughal monuments from their empire. It’s a large complex of fortifications, palaces, and mosques built by Mughal Emperor Akbar, right in the middle of the city center, amassing more than 20 hectares of land. You can imagine how big this place is now. The fort felt like a little city within a city, with various gates, temples, and quarters.
I had to go visit the place on a separate day, since the fort closes at 5pm and I was unable to get in the day before (I went to the Badshahi Mosque). I visited on a Saturday alone and it was really busy. First and foremost, you need to buy your entrance ticket at the rather small and single booth. There was a separate line for women and men, but I lined up on the female line, since it was shorter. A shock of the day was the entrance free. For locals, the price was 20 Rupees, while for foreigners, it was 500 Rupees. I checked the ticket area and there were several people checking tickets and there was no chance I was going to pass as a local here. I thought of asking one of the kids to get me the local ticket, but the ticket color was completely different so I went on and bought the full fare one for 500 Rupees.
Upon entering the fort, it took around one to two hours to see the place. There were a few random dudes asking for a tour, but I opted to go solo. I think it made sense to go with a proper tour operator or tour guide, but not a random dude that approached me. The fort was very big, so big that it did take a long time to go around. You could spend an entire day there. I saw a lot of families having picnics and relaxing on the grass. There were several little eateries, ice cream parlors, and small museums nested in some of the buildings.
As always, I had to do my usual 20 minutes of photo shoot. I had a group of kids, families and the brave young girls asking for selfies. The reason why I say brave young girls was that the girls normally do not approach men. After doing my time at one of the monuments, I walked along the fort. I was really surprised to see a group of tourists, don’t expect Caucasian and get excited, but rather, they were the usual Chinese tourists, most likely working in Islamabad. I was expecting a “Nihao” as I walked past them, but I figured they noticed that I was not Chinese by my attire. In all, it was a nice change to see some tourists for the first time.
I was craving something sweet and saw a family ordering soft serve. I decided to get one as well. I stood in line behind a couple and saw them pay 20 Rupees each. When I got my soft serve and asked him how much, he told me 30 Rupees. I was not going to fall for this trap, even though it was only 10 Rupees more. I told him that I will only pay 20 Rupees and he gladly nodded in two seconds. What the hell? My rule of thumb when you have no idea about the price. Just ask someone around you about the price or if they don’t know, stand behind someone that is ordering and find out how much it is. If the price is different, then question. The best way is to have the exact change so you don’t have to worry about being ripped off. If the vendor is not willing to give you the local price, walk way. They will blurt something out in two seconds.
Lahore Museum – 500 Rupees for foreigners and 20 Rupees for locals plus an additional fee for cameras
It is the biggest museum in the country and contains some fine specimens of Mughal and Sikh doors, paintings, musical instruments, textiles, crafts, weapons, pottery, jewelry and more. Although, a number of rooms were still under construction and some of the things had Urdu captions only (this means, no English).
On Sunday, Yanni decided to organize a trip to Lahore Museum with her Pakistani friends, Rida and Sami, so I tagged along. The entrance to the compound was rather obscure and small, just a small inlet at the corner. Once we got to the entrance building, we were slammed with the foreigner price of 500 Rupees per person, but once again, there was no way we could avoid that. In addition, phones were not allowed in the museum, and thus, we kept them in the car and did not bother leaving them at the ticket booth. Who knows what happens in Pakistan… While waiting to enter the museum, there were almost a hundred school girls that had just come out. Once again, we were bombarded by them for pictures. Yanni was a super star for a short period, but I noticed that she was not comfortable after two minutes or so. Hence, I jumped right in for a couple of minutes to take selfies with the school girls, since I was well experienced by now. We did our time and proceeded into the museum.
The museum can be very interesting or very boring, but there were lots of things to see. It took us around one to one and a half hour to visit the place, but I was a bit annoyed that many of the explanations were in Urdu only. It was like any big museum with lots of different rooms with different things showcased. It was worth a visit to learn about Pakistani history and it helped in my preceding conversations with locals.
We finished off that day eating a nice Pakistani meal and spent time at Rida’s house. The tea that was prepared at her place was the best one in Pakistan I had so far. Her parents offered us snacks and it was the first time to see pine nuts in a shell. I had no idea it looked like that. Thanks a million to Rida, Sami and Yani for their company during my visit to Lahore.
The next day, Talha had an interview at the embassy in Islamabad, so we decided to drive from Lahore together. The journey took around five hours, but it was not that bad at all. There were a few rest stops on the way and we stopped at one of them for dinner and we had a pretty good barbeque chicken dinner. The thing about Pakistan was that you can rarely go wrong with food. The food was always excellent and so tasty.
We arrived in Islamabad around 11pm that evening and stayed with Talha’s uncle. It was a nice surprise to be woken up by Talha’s cousins. There were so cute. His aunt cooked us a delicious breakfast and we were ready for some sightseeing while Talha went to the embassy.
You can find my next blog on Islamabad.