Tania Qureshi

Lahore’s Taxali Gate — more than just a red light area

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Some much-needed myth busting

There is a common perception about Lahore’s Taxali Gate area that it only comprises the red light district. There are several taboos associated with this gate which has a unique world hidden inside it. It is unfortunate that people have built up assumptions without getting an in-depth knowledge of the localities linked with heritage and culture.

Let me take you to this marvelous gate which has been neglected since long just because of the meaningless taboo of red light area. There are numerous treasures hidden in the bricks, balconies, streets and houses. This gate holds within itself an unrevealed history of the phases it went through. Starting from Taxali Gate, it was named so because of a royal mint (known as Taxal in local language) situated there during the Mughal era. That mint no longer exists there but the old Taxali Mosque still survives which is said to be built in the Shah Jahan’s era. This gate was one of the thirteen gates which the Mughal emperor Akbar built around the city. Like other gates, this gate was also demolished and rebuilt during the British rule.

This gate is far different from other gates of the old Lahore. The life, businesses, trades and culture is very unique. The area inside the gate has a vibrant and dazzling life with colours and tempting food aroma to enthrall you at every stride. The gate has historical importance in terms of personalities residing there, markets and food and music. It was once the heart of literature, art, music and many nobles and prominent personalities lived there. As you enter from the location where the gate existed you will come across the Buggy Market. The buggy riders and makers still assemble at this point and you will see a line of horses and colorful buggies there. A little ahead, Ustaad Daman a well known Punjabi poet lived and his academy is still seen today, which is now occupied by a local lawyer. During the times of emperor Akbar, one of the greatest Punjabi poets named Shah Hussein used to live in the same one-room house where Ustaad Daman settled. Mualana Altaf Hussain Haali and Allama Muhammad Iqbal were also the residents of this side. Some noble people still live here like Mian Yousaf Salah ud Din, a renowned socialite and the grandson of Allama Muhammad Iqbal, in a beautiful and well preserved haveli. The entire area till date holds value in terms of havelis and heritage homes. Every nook and corner has a heritage home or a haveli. Haveli Dhiyan Singh, Haveli of Khush’hal Singh, Haveli Awais Meer and many more are intact today. You take your way into any street and you will be mesmerised by the architecture. The grave of Chaitram is also seen in a small enclosed place. This man was Hindu and historians say he converted to Islam before his death and that was the reason a small grave was made there.

Here you will come across the biggest Khusa (a traditional Shoe) market called the ‘Sheikhupurian Bazaar’. It is one of the biggest shoe markets of Pakistan and supplies shoes in wholesales to all the modern markets. These shops sell traditional embroidered and fancy shoes and sandals. This bazaar is the part of the famous but much disliked ‘Heera Mandi’. The buildings above the shops house the dancing girls who are very few in number now as most of them have moved out. Nearby you will start locating the music instrument shops as well. A little further down the lane there is something awe stunning for you all. That is ‘Pakistan Talkies’ and ‘Aziz Theatre’. Yes, the first ever cinema and theatre of Pakistan built during British Raj are still seen there. The building of Aziz theatre is to some extent collapsed but Pakistan Talkies Cinema is still there, I hope it is also revived one day for the public. At Aziz theatre we can see some inscriptions on the wall.

Did you know that the house of famous Madam Noor Jehan is located near this place. Yes, she spent some part of her life here but now a local family lives there. Now let’s come to the house of Sir Ganga Ram. This builder of Lahore lived inside the Taxali Gate and a yellow house with a plate on it is there which says that the property is not for sale.  Residence of famous actress Zumrad is also located inside Mandir Kali Bari which is a small Mohallah. The oldest Presbyterian Church is located near the famous food points. This was built during the British Raj and is still functioning. This place also gives the best picture of religious harmony among the people who lived there. A gurdawara, mosque and church are located in the same vicinity.

This gate has several food points and all the Lahori food lovers make their way to these spots for tempting food items. This place serves the finest Lahori breakfast and Phajja Paye and Halwa Puri of Taj Mehal are one of the most sought after dishes. Other food spots are Fazl-e-Haq Paye, Bhola Lassi wala , Babar Nou Gaza Peer Chanay Wala, Baba Chanay wala and Phakko Bong Wala. Anytime you visit this place and you will be carried away by these aromatic enticing cuisines. All these food points are right here in Chowk Heera Mandi. This should bust the myth that Taxali Gate is just red light area.

Go ahead from this Chowk and passing through the shrine of Peer Nogaza you will start seeing the music instrument shops. This is the largest musical instrument market, Lahnga Mandi and in almost hundred shops you will find all types of traditional and modern musical instruments. This bazaar once had rows of musicians, music bands and music players, but our revulsion made it all go away. With the death of musical activities, these shops also met an ill fate.

The mind blowing Fort Road Food Street is also inside Taxali and every evening you can view the illuminated historic complex of Huzoori Bagh from the roof tops of the restaurants at this street.

Taxali Gate a world of art, music, cuisines, traditions and culture. Let’s not associate it with just one thing. We need to visit this place to believe and see the hidden jewels of the past.

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