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Can spring be far behind?
When trees start wearing new leaves, Lahore begins to change. Spring has arrived, the most romantic of times. I first became familiar with city of Lahore during the 70s and after wandering about in different parts of the world for over three decades, I have come once again, to be part of it this time.

Away from Lahore, I used to wonder if all the rhetoric about the magic city has any substance to it. Land of superlatives, Lahore is Pakistan's second biggest and one of the most prosperous cosmopolitan cities, home to universities and colleges, spiritual centres and historic, cultural, commercial and political centre. It has been a land of plenty since centuries. "Lahore is one of the greatest cities of the East," wrote William Finch, a traveller from the west, in his journal back in 1610." I found new answers every day.

With over 1500 years of recorded history, Lahore has surpassed those days when saint Hazrat Data Gang Bakhsh said, "It is one of the hamlets in suburbs of Multan". It has been an empire, a kingdom, a state capital and now cultural capital of a young nation forged in the crucible of one of the world's oldest civilizations. Lahore is constantly reinventing itself. Now it is changing into a city of fun, festivities, fun and flowers.
The city is known for its beautiful gardens, exquisite fountains, delicious cuisines, and rich heritage of architecture, art and music. Mughal rulers introduced the concept of green places, gardens and baradraries in the city. In 1849, there were 164 gardens in and around Lahore and most were in tact till partition in 1947. Traveller John Foster Fraser wrote in 1899, in his book Round the World on a Wheel, "Lahore is a sort of glorified Gardens." The axiom seems true in spring when all roads are lavishly lined with flowers beds, flower baskets hanging with poles and bougainvillea blooming from the outer walls of private houses.
Officially Spring Festival may open at the lush green lawns of Racecourse Park - once actual racecourse turned into showcase of city gardens in the mid eighties, but the whole city becomes a venue for spring celebrations. In addition to eleven Mughal gardens - including Shalimar that was built by Emperor Shahjehan in 1642 and is on UNESCO Heritage List - a few new that have come up become site for flower exhibitions, flower arrangement and landscape competitions and dog and birds show. In addition, flocks of folk entertainers dressed in colourful attires performing for no particular audience and women vendors selling bright red Strawberries fresh from Sharq Pur farms on the roadsides add new touch to the cityscape.
Someone once put it that the streets of (old) Lahore are not only paved with bricks, but with history. The old and compact part of the city - neighbourhood where much links of the city with the past are in tact - is not at all easy to navigate. But by wandering aimlessly not only you will get less heated up but you will see more too, and it will eventually get you where you started. Enter through any of the thirteen surviving gateways around once walled city and you can make it around without so much as glancing at a map. What you need to do is make a conscious decision to see Lahore, as it is required to be seen: on a long leisurely stroll into the life of the city. A diplomat once said, "Lahore should be seen on your own. No protocols, no guides and no time limits." Another thing you will need is a starting point.
The best place to stat is at the Food Street in Gowalmandi, a good mixture of past architectural glories and present culinary delights. I could not recognize the old Gowalmandi I was familiar with during my stay in 1970s. It has changed so much after commissioning in 2000. Gowalmandi Food Street gained popularity as a food centre after independence when Kashmiri immigrants settled here. With them came a new types and traditions of food. A trader of the street says, "apart from variety of cuisine, Gowalmandi Food and Heritage Street has come up as a singularity in Lahore."
"We want to show real Lahore in Food and Heritage Street," says a shopkeeper in the Food Street. It is a wonder what collective efforts on renovation of built heritage with balconies and angular projections lining the street have resulted in. Lahorites already (and justifiably) compare the ambiance in the Food Street with lanes in Rome, Paris and Athens.
Sizzling spicy foods on display in street is very mouth-watering. Unfazed by noisy crowd and the bustle, people do not look at each other. At night, the tables are full. One of the shopkeepers told that on the average he sells 200 kilograms of meat and chicken every day. Every body is lead by aroma and looks at the food in front of him or on the fire. Variety of languages greets your ear. The waiters will get the orders though mine was changed once. I was served Butter Chicken Karahi when I ordered chicken breast piece. Foreign tourists look at the food being prepared with amazement and keep clicking their cameras.
Foreign dignitaries, guests of the state or the provincial governments, who visit Lahore, may get more than what is happening in the city, as their reward. They also may get some vibrant performance at Alhamra Cultural Complex, a traditional Mushaera in Lahore Fort (on UNESCO List of world heritage), visit to Hiran Minar at nearby Shekhupura, visit to Wagha on Pakistan-India boarder to watch unique Flag Lowering Ceremony at Joint Check Post and or a front row seat in prestigious National Horse and Tattoo Show.
Since 1954, when the show was first staged, many foreign dignitaries now time their visits to Pakistan according to dates of the show that has become a part of Spring Festivals in Lahore. Aside Mash'al Parade (torch parade) and fire work at night, parading of animal, and Band Display during day; every year new dimensions are added into this show.
Earlier, only World Cricket Cup had attracted visitors acceding to the limit that was recorded in Spring Festival in 2001 Lahore. Number of foreigners who visit Lahore is increasing every year. Punjab Economic Research Institute is conducting a study to ascertain the impact of this exiting season for retail sector as well as shoppers. But no body says that you have to wait for spring to visit magical Lahore.

 

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