LAHORE, A SURVIVOR WITH A BITTERSWEET HISTORY
By BARBARA CROSSETTE; BARBARA CROSSETTE is an assistant news editor of The New York Times.
Published: June 14, 1981
History has dealt the lovers of Lahore more than their share of broken hearts. This graceful and cultured city, with a history that stretches by some accounts back into the days of the epic Ramayana, passed through many conquering hands - Hindu, Mogul, Persian, Afghan, Sikh and British -on the way to becoming an intellectual center of the Indian subcontinent, only to be relegated with the partition of British India to the status of a provincial Pakistani capital.
Over the years monuments rose, monuments fell and charges flew: Sikhs decried Muslim damage to their shrines, Muslims pointed to desecrations perpetrated by Sikhs. A generation of Hindu and Sikh Punjabis, forced in l947 to flee bloody religious violence, still mourns the loss of a city they can longer visit but can never forget, and to which they will always belong.
''Lahore,'' the elderly Sikh photographer in Chandigarh said in a low, choked voice as he held up to the light the negatives I had brought to him for printing. ''My god, you have been in Lahore. Tell me, how is it now?''
Lahore is fine. Lahore is a survivor, and all of its bittersweet history is here for the tourist to see, in the tombs and mosques, palaces and fortresses, museums, gardens and parks that make this one of the most fascinating and pleasurable of the subcontinent's attractions. Pakistan - Lahore is its second-largest city - has restored and preserved historical buildings while developing a clean, modern town around them.
Lahore is quiet now: The reputation for carousing that Rudyard Kipling touched on in his brief autobiography, ''Something of Myself,'' has been obliterated by the martial-law government's Islamization program. There is no more public drinking in Lahore (or anywhere in Pakistan), and there are fewer women in public places. The Soviet presence in Afghanistan has closed the overland route from Kabul to Delhi and Calcutta, reducing the number of foreign travelers. The war between Iran and Iraq has further deterred tourists. So lovers of Kipling, admirers of Shah Jehan's architecture or followers of Guru Arjan Dev may find they will not be elbowed out of the places they came to see.
I went to Lahore after several months in India's Punjab, where it seemed no one over the age of 40 was without stories to tell and reminiscences to share about this city. Resisting the blandishments of the new international hotels advertising on billboards along the road into town from the border crossing at Wagah, my husband, David, and I settled in at Faletti's, Lahore's once-grand hotel where pre-independence society congregated. It was at Faletti's that much of the rump of British colonial society in the Punjab danced partition away to the music of a genteel orchestra while neighborhoods burned around them.
Faletti's, now run by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation, is still a comfortable, rambling place separated from busy Egerton Road by a quiet lawn. Its rooms, arrayed along verandas, are large, though the furnishings are worn with the kind of age that lacks interest. The large dining room - the proverbial palm court - was never open during our stay in January, and all guests were sent to the small and fairly dismal coffee shop for meals. Breakfast there was fine, but for other meals we frequently walked around the corner to the Lahore Hilton, where the menus in both coffee shop and dining room were more varied and the ambience a good deal cheerier.
Still, Faletti's was an experience we would happily repeat. Like Flashmann's in Rawalpindi and Dean's in Peshawar, Faletti's has a feeling all its own: life is lazy among the potted plants; the roomservice staff seemed more like retainers than employees. There was always a cup of tea or coffee within minutes of asking. Faletti's was also handy to airline offices, shopping and restaurants. We did much of our exploring of the city on foot, supplemented by three-wheeled, scooter-powered rickshaws when it rained or horse-drawn tongas - two-wheeled carriages in which passengers sit facing backwards - when we were tired but not in a hurry.