By Farooq Soomro | February 13, 2015
The people are not wary of being photographed in the streets and love to add bits of information to a casual conversation. However, they have a sense of direction with which I have struggled much during my time in Lahore. Lahoris have a commendable sense of helping out, almost like a boy scout, even if they don’t have the means for the favour, they continue to offer their help in every little way possible.
In my case it was with directions. A clueless expression was instantly followed by a fleeting conviction and pointing of hand in some direction. It only added to my confusion. After struggling for a bit I called a Lahori friend for help.
“Where exactly is Wazir Khan”, I asked.
“It’s in Lahore”, he replied. This latest revelation did not help me much obviously!
“And Maryam Zamani?”
“Maryam who? Someone that I know?”
I reverted to the people in the street and with few hits and misses I succeeded in reaching both landmarks.
The Maryam Zamani Mosque is one of the oldest Mughal mosques in Lahore. It is named after Akbar’s wife Manmati, a Rajput who was known by the title of Maryam-i-Zamani; Mary of age.
The mosque was built in 1611 opposite Masjidi Gate (populary known as Masti Gate) of Lahore Fort.
Therefore don’t look for it near the parking/entrance of Lahore Fort. Drive around the fort and go to the opposite side and ask for Masti Gate instead of the mosque.
Park your car near the gate. You would find the mosque tucked between auto repair shops and the houses which have encroached around its compound.
The mosque is in deep contrast to Badshahi mosque, which has been preserved well. It is much smaller, but has all the characteristics of Mughal grandeur which make them a lasting part of our heritage.
We had been out on the road for a while and reached there when people were offering Asar prayers.
We waited patiently near one of three gates of the mosque. I asked a guy who appeared to be the resident of one of the quarters surrounding the mosque if women could visit.
He allowed us graciously and we stepped in. There was an ablution pond in the middle with a rectangular canopy which was evidently added later. There used to be a fountain in the middle which has been removed now.
We stepped inside the prayer chambers. The arches and the roof were heavily decorated with colorful floral frescos and calligraphy.
There were three domes and the central one was heavily decorated with floral patterns and God’s attributes painted in a circular manner.
On the either side of the chamber were staircases which led to the roof. We took the one on the left which was in better condition. The view from the rooftop was breathtaking.
On one end we could get the view of ablution pond along with the surrounding bazaar and houses which seem to have encroached upon its compound; the compound itself being few meters below the adjacent road level already.
The mosque was desecrated in Ranjit Singh’s era when it was used as gunpowder factory. Its status was restored in 1850 but mosque is still known as Barudkhana Wali Masjid.
Finding Wazir Khan Mosque was relatively easier but the roads leading to the Delhi Gate were among the busiest in Lahore.
There were shops on both sides of the road and encroachments left only a little space for vehicles to maneuver. I left my car way before Delhi Gate and walked towards the mosque.
It had been raining in Lahore and the weather was getting chilly with the sun setting in the west. I tried making room through a sea of people, motorbikes and rickshaws.
The sunlight had left crimson lining on the scattered clouds and the shops inside Kashmiri Bazar had lit the bulbs by then. I reached the mosque little before the maghrib prayers.
Wazir Khan Mosque was constructed during 1634-1641. Known as a testimony of Mughal affinity to finesse in frescos and architecture, it still remains one of the most important landmarks in the city.
Constructed in the heart of city, it was named after Hakim Shaikh Ilm-ud-din Ansari, the court physician and trusted aide of Shah Jahan.
He later was entrusted with Governorship of Lahore and was given the title of Wazir Khan by Shah Jehan. He constructed many serais, baths, mosques and other memorials but Masjid Wazir Khan remained emblem of his reign over Lahore.
The mosque was used by the emperor and the plenipotentiary, long before Badshahi Mosque was built much closer to the Lahore fort.
I entered the mosque from the main gate and handed over my shoes to the caretaker. I stepped in the main courtyard and performed wazoo at the central ablution pond.
A little further to the pond is the tomb of Syed Muhammed Ishaq (popularly known as Miran Badshah), a saint who had migrated to Lahore in the 13th century to preach Islam. His tomb predates the mosque and was reconstructed to go with the mosque’s exterior.
To the left and right were stretched galleries which probably serve as housing for the staff of the mosque.
I entered the prayer chambers and climbed to the top of one of four minarets which were a distinguishing feature of the mosque at the time of its construction.
The view from the top was breathtaking looking into Kashmiri Bazar and beyond. I sat there in silence listening to moazan’s call for prayers.
The bazar was bustling with various activities and the movement of people and vehicles left a trail of motion on the sensor of my camera. I could see tiny people making their way to the chambers. I climbed down making a brief pause on the roof above the prayer chambers. A loud speaker had been installed there.
I climbed down and offered prayers with the jamat. Some people stayed back after the prayers and did not mind a photographer amidst them. The chambers roof is impeccably decorated with inscriptions and frescos which are a visual treat for photographers and history enthusiasts.
It was cold and dark by the time I stepped out. Few remaining people were making their way to the outer gate. I took my shoes back from the caretaker and asked him what was there at the top of entrance gallery.
He told me that there were four rooms which were used for various purposes. He noticed the curiosity rising in my eyes but told me to come back later some time.