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In Focus: Chauburji Chowk, Lahore

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Chauburji Gate was constructed in 1646

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Chaubrji Gate at night

The Chauburji Gate, a square-shaped structure that resembles a fort, was built in 1646. It stands at the intersection ofBahawalpur RoadandMultan Road, two ofLahore’s busiest commercial arteries. The intersection and the surrounding commercial area are known as Chauburji Chowk, while the nearby residential area is simply called Chauburji.

The Gate has four minarets at each corner and its name means ‘four towers’ in Persian. A fine example of Mughal architecture, it has fallen to disrepair and only shows a hint of the colourful and intricate tile work that once covered the entire façade.

There were once four lines in Persian inscribed over the central arch of this structure; only three remain and state: “This garden, in the pattern of the garden of Paradise, has been founded… The garden has been bestowed on Mian Bai, by the bounty of Zebinda Begum, the Lady of the Age.”

If these inscriptions and their associated folklore are to be believed, the Gate once served as a portal to the Garden of Zeb-un-Nisa, the daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb; she was also known as Zebinda Begum. Fashioned along the lines ofEden, the garden was landscaped under the Princess’s supervision for Mian Bai Fakhrunnisa, her favourite attendant.

Alas, instead of blooming flowers and trees, the Gate is now surrounded by congested office buildings, shops and eateries. And instead of the fragrant waft of roses, clouds of grey smog surround the monument. Needless to say, that if Princess Zeb-un-Nisa were to see the state of her precious gateway today, she would not be pleased.

Still, there is solace to be found in the fact that Chauburji Gate remains one of Lahore’s well-known landmarks. And while people may not flock to a garden that no longer exists, they still visit the area regularly due to the fact that there are hundreds of food stalls, bakeries and ‘restaurants’ located nearby.

The breakfast stalls serving chai with sizzling parathay are particularly popular, while Big Bite, a street-side restaurant, sells some finger licking good barbeque. Aamir Juice Corner’s ‘special’ khoya milkshake is also a favourite.Lahore’s ‘best nihari’ is available nearby at Muhammadi Nihari; Phajje Kay Paaye also has a branch there. Both these eateries are open well after midnight, attracting even Lahore’s well-heeled. The nearby seafood market is also a major attraction, and is frequented regularly by foodies from across the city thanks to its fresh fare.

Meanwhile, the commercial area surrounding the Gate primarily caters to lower-income groups; shops there sell everything under the sun, including car parts, dry fruit, fabric, handicrafts and even sports goods.

Yet, despite the chaos, Chauburji Gate stands proud at the centre of it all, a dignified sentinel watching time and traffic flow by.

– Maheen Hassan

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First published on January 8, 2012 in the Real Estate Section of the DAWN National Advertiser.

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