Heera Mandi and the Fort

Trip Start Nov 15, 2006
Trip End Jul 15, 2008

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

September 20, 2007
Lahore, Pakistan
We leave early this morning by taxi again to the border; this time to cross over to Pakistan. Our taxi from Amritsar to the border costs 400R. We were the only tourist passing through customs on either side but it still took a bit of time because nothing runs efficiently in this part of the world. After we got through Pakistan immigration we found a taxi to take us on to Lahore. Unlike other border crossings there is no pack of taxi drivers trying to grab your luggage. In fact we had to hunt around to find one. Our taxi to Lahore costs 550 Pakistani Rupees. The exchange rate at the border was 55PR to the dollar. We had our driver take us to the Shah Taj Hotel, where we got an A/C room with bath for 1200PR/nite. This place was listed in our Lonely Planet but it sucked. We could have gotten a non-A/C room with squat toilet for 700PR but everyone one of those room were so moldy we couldn't breathe the air. So we finally told them to just give us an A/C room with what they called a commode. Even that room made us cringe, but we stayed for one night. We had arrived early enough in the day so that we had time to take a tour of old Lahore. The main sights we are interested in seeing are the Badshahi Mosque and the adjacent Lahore Fort which was built by Akbar the same Mughal emperor who built the Agara Fort. We also wanted to see the Heera Mandi district adjacent to the Fort. The Heera Mandi is as old as Lahore which was here long before the first Muslim conqueror in 1021. And the Mandi was serving up the same diversion for caravans and conquerors as it does today. We learned about the Heera Mandi in the book "The Dancing Girls of Lahore: Selling Love and Saving Dreams in Pakistan's Ancient Pleasure District" by Louise Brown. The women call themselves 'dancers' because prostitution is illegal in Muslim Pakistan. The book follows the lives of members of a matriarchal family living in the Heera Mandi over a period of years. Besides the narrative of the titillating and tragic lives of the subjects the book has some vivid physical descriptions of the streets and homes of the Heera Mandi. We wanted to see if the place met our expectations from reading the book. We didn't really expect to see any girls dancing. We took a short walk through a few streets on the edge of the district; that was enough to give us a feel for the place. We could tell it was not like the rest of Pakistan or even the rest of Lahore. We only wish we'd have had time to visit the Golden Mosque further in the Heera Mandi. We also did not get to see the great canon that Kim used to play on in Kipling's novel. Pakistan is much cleaner than India, as far as we've seen so far, but the part of Lahore we are staying seems rather bleak. If we were brave enough to stay in the Heera Mandi it might be more exciting.
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