Lahore and Roses

I spent the past three weeks in Pakistan. I started my trip in Karachi and traveled along the Indus before crossing into Punjab and continuing to Islamabad, and finally, Lahore. I had many reasons that drove me to undertake the journey– an interest in ancient history and my personal need to understand the modern era, a desire to see places I’ve read about and to discover a country that’s often misunderstood and talked about in geopolitical terms. Above all, I wanted to see Lahore.

Lahore Lahore hai, say the locals. Lahore is Lahore. There is no other city like it, they add. I agree. It’s the place where Mughal empresses rest in the rose gardens and the new train lines edge Shah Jahan’s palaces. It’s the place where one can get lost in the old city and find oneself in a quiet courtyard full of fluttering dove wings and silvery streamers. It’s the place where ancient shrines are drowning in the clutter of shops and hawker stalls, and where the marble steps of Badshahi Mosque are so polished that they reflect the moonlight. Lahore is Lahore.

Lahore is not perfect. There were times I was suffocated by it and frustrated. And yet, it thrilled and enchanted me. The first morning back home I woke full of such profound sadness, as if I had parted from someone I loved. Lahore took a part of my heart.

I was fortunate to explore Lahore in the company of Amina Ali, an artist, social activist, and the creator of gorgeous cakes for her own patisserie line, Delish. Amina made me discover many layers to Lahore and talking with her about art, history and scents remains of one of my highlights of the trip. So, expect to read more about it on these pages in the coming weeks.

If I had to sum up my Lahore impressions, it would be the cooing of doves in the domes of old, ruined mosques, the soft glow of Mughal flower frescoes, and the scent of roses. Desi gulab, a small red rose from the subcontinent, has one of the most potent fragrances I’ve experienced. I took a handful of petals back home. Now as I write, they wilt on my desk in the Belgian winter light and smell of honey, spices and sun.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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55 Comments

  • maja: The beauty of your words and descriptions moves me, dear Victoria. *teary-eyed* December 7, 2018 at 8:34am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you for your kind words, Maja. It’s really such a place. December 7, 2018 at 12:33pm Reply

  • Sandra: Wow..I feel as though I was transported there…Your writing is like poetry December 7, 2018 at 10:09am Reply

    • Sandra: Also, I also feel a sense of frustration in NYC, where I live. But I thinks its part of its charm, so to say.. December 7, 2018 at 10:17am Reply

      • Victoria: In Lahore it was of a different nature, of course. It’s a large, chaotic city that’s very difficult to navigate. And yet, it’s unforgettable. December 7, 2018 at 12:35pm Reply

      • Fazal: As someone from Lahore and now in NYC, I think I understand a bit of whatever is said about Lahore and NYC. I am a bit of a traitor in claiming NYC is my most favorite city in the world. The only thing that frustrates me about NYC is cost of living. Otherwise, it is as close to a perfect city as anyone can be in our times. December 7, 2018 at 11:18pm Reply

        • Victoria: The most frustrating part about Lahore was to see its amazing cultural heritage neglected. As I mentioned to you earlier, the Walled City Authority has done some amazing work to restore certain sites, but it’s an uphill battle. Conservation and restoration are extremely expensive and complicated, and in a city of Lahore’s city, growing population and many other infrastructural issues, it’s very difficult.

          I did find the vibrancy and energy of Lahore similar in part to NYC. December 8, 2018 at 7:44am Reply

    • Victoria: Lahore is Lahore. 🙂 December 7, 2018 at 12:33pm Reply

  • TTT: I am from Lahore! You express your journey beautifully! Did you see Bad-Shahi mosque, the Fort and Shalimar Gardens? There are relics of Mughal architecture strewn around Lahore as well. You visited in the right season. Summers can be brutal though!
    Thanks for writing about this forgotten jewel of a city so off the tourist maps! December 7, 2018 at 10:10am Reply

    • Victoria: I did! I covered as much ground as my time allowed. December 7, 2018 at 12:36pm Reply

  • Ophelia: Wow! Thanks for writing about this hidden jewel of a city so off the tourist maps. Did you get a chance to see Bad-shahi mosque, the Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens? There is a treasure trove of Mughal architecture strewn on the outskirts of Lahore as well! Plus winter is the best season to visit this historic city! December 7, 2018 at 10:27am Reply

    • Victoria: True, the weather was perfect. December 7, 2018 at 12:36pm Reply

  • OperaFan: I feel so very fortunate to be able to follow you on your wondrous journeys. You give me awareness to places that I never thought I would be interested, and make me long to visit. Lahore sounds like one of those places, and a chance to smell that rose…. December 7, 2018 at 2:26pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you. It’s more rewarding to bring back impressions from a place that’s usually depicted so badly in our media. December 8, 2018 at 7:57am Reply

  • Fazal: “Lahore is not perfect. There were times I was suffocated by it and frustrated. And yet, it thrilled and enchanted me.: <—— I love this brutal honesty of yours. I want to see as many countries in my life as possible. I do believe different places have different kind of beauties. However, I have low tolerance for those who pretend their last experience with a country, culture, or food was the best ever so far. I want people to say what they really feel. I am not saying you should offend locals when you are in their country but it is a different matter with a neutral audience. December 7, 2018 at 11:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: I think that such travel accounts are disingenuous. No place is perfect, of course. Pakistan in general is much more layered, complex and fascinating place than what one get from the western media. Then again, with the terrible state of reporting from this region, this is not saying much. There were some aspects of traveling in Pakistan as a woman that were frustrating. Yet, I knew and anticipated all of these things going there, so I was prepared. What I didn’t anticipate was just how much I could discover during my travels and how generous and hospitable people would be.

      Food in Lahore was wonderful, even too rich. I do wish I could somehow transport to Brussels the small dive along one of the roads in Sindh where I had the best Baloch-style biryani, liver and kidney stew and roti fresh from tandoor. And Lahore’s halwah puri, nihari, paya and haryali kebabs would be nice to have once in a while. December 8, 2018 at 7:56am Reply

      • Fazal: oh my god, now you are making me hungry. You seem like a dream travel companion. You know it is funny that I don’t like paya except maybe the soup part yet you won’t find many people that don’t like paya back home. That meat is too rubbery and funny-looking for my tastes…hehheh. I am actually surprised you enjoyed it. All the other food stuff is amazing though. December 8, 2018 at 9:29am Reply

        • Victoria: There is nothing I won’t try, at least just to know what it’s like. You can have the soup, I’ll take the meat. I love the rubbery, gelatinous texture of tendons. We cook paya at home, but of course, the Ukrainian way of doing it is very different.

          Saag with makkai ki roti was another thing I couldn’t get enough of, especially since this is the mustard greens season. So flavorful. December 8, 2018 at 10:26am Reply

          • Fazal: You seem more Pakistani than me now… lolz. Saag is deinitely another one of favorite dishes back home and once again I found it just ok even though everyone I knew loved it. Now I think I will probably enjoy it more. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder. But paya meat is still a big NO 😀 December 8, 2018 at 11:32am Reply

            • Victoria: Ha ha! And gajjar ka halwah made with those sugary sweet, dark red desi carrots. December 8, 2018 at 12:48pm Reply

              • Fazal: I knew you are intelligent but I guess I still underestimated you. How did you learn Urdu and how much time it took you to learn it? What other languages can you speak? My guess would be English, Russian, Ukrainian, French, Italian, and Spanish at the minimum… December 8, 2018 at 5:04pm Reply

                • Victoria: I started about three months ago. That’s generally how long it takes me to get to a comfortable conversational level. I speak Persian, so it helps a lot with Urdu. As for my other languages, I speak 11 at an intermediate-advanced level. Besides those two and the ones you’ve mentioned (minus Spanish, which I only read and understand but have no conversational skills), I also speak Japanese, Indonesian, Polish, and Vietnamese.

                  ان دنوں اردو میری پسندیدہ زبان ہے. بہت سریلی اور خوبصورت ہے December 9, 2018 at 2:57am Reply

                  • Lettie: How amazing! Would you be willing to share your technique for learning new languages so quickly? (I’ve been reading your blog for a while but I’ve never spoken up before. Thank you for sharing your lovely thoughts and experiences with us!) December 14, 2018 at 9:31am Reply

                    • Victoria: Lettie, I’m more than happy to share! Several other people have already asked me and I started jotting down my techniques and tips. Hope that they would help someone. So please stay tuned! December 14, 2018 at 4:24pm

                    • B.: Learning languages really is not that difficult at all. It is the plasticity of the brain one needs to use. I am fluent in 7 languages. Open your mind and it is easy. Immerse yourself via radio and tv without worries. Past lives lived in those places may come up and it will be like home again. The challenge is overcoming fear. December 14, 2018 at 10:09pm

  • ninon: My sense of Lahore comes from Marguerite Duras’ novella, The Vice-Consul. It is colonial image, a caricature full of violence. I would love to learn about Lahore from a Pakistani perspective, and from your perspective too. I look forward to the coming posts! December 8, 2018 at 2:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you. I have another big journey come up soon, but I’ll try to share as much as I can. December 8, 2018 at 7:58am Reply

  • kayliz: This is so evocative, am very much looking forward to reading more. (And what a beautiful kameez you‘re wearing!) December 8, 2018 at 5:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you. I loved how brightly dressed people were in general. December 8, 2018 at 7:59am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much for the wonderfully eloquent description of Lahore. The name itself is poetry to my ear; I love the houses painted in blue and green, so vibrant.
    I used to travel on Pakistan Airlines from JFK to Europe (this flight left late in the evening and was so convenient) and often dreamt of continuing the trip to its final destination. I can’t wait for more posts on your trip. December 8, 2018 at 6:51am Reply

    • Victoria: This is the part of Heera Mandi, the old red light district in Lahore. It’s now a trendy area full of restaurants and these brightly colored havelis. Some of them are better restored than other, but overall, it’s very picturesque. December 8, 2018 at 8:01am Reply

  • Debi Sen Gupta: The irony is Lahore is not too far from where I am. But can never visit. Lovely write up. December 8, 2018 at 9:06am Reply

    • Victoria: The same goes for many of my friends. The tragedy of politics. December 8, 2018 at 10:22am Reply

  • Matty: Thank you for this wonderful post. Look forward to more accounts of your journeys. December 8, 2018 at 9:19am Reply

  • BellaCiao: Have you read Alice Albinia’s “Empires of the Indus”? If not it will transport you back to the craziness that is Pakistan (and the rest of the sub-continent as well for that matter) December 8, 2018 at 9:59am Reply

    • Victoria: I have, and I liked it, especially the first two thirds of the book. My itinerary was very similar to hers, in fact. December 8, 2018 at 10:27am Reply

  • Mela: Ever since I read Rudyard Kipling, Lahore has had a tug at my heart. I would hope to visit at some point, but from your words I felt just a bit of the magic and pain of the place. December 8, 2018 at 10:14am Reply

    • Victoria: I saw the Zamzama Gun in Lahore. It’s a bit sad, lost on a traffic island amid the chaotic, busy road, and yet so evocative. December 8, 2018 at 10:28am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Oh, how I do envy you! Just reading those evocative names—Shah Jahan’s palaces, Shalimar Gardens, Badshahi Mosque—provoke such a yearning to go visit myself! December 8, 2018 at 10:15am Reply

    • Victoria: You’d definitely enjoy it. Pakistan, of course, is not an easy place to travel around, but whatever the challenges, the discoveries are more rewarding. December 8, 2018 at 10:30am Reply

  • BellaCiao: What an epic trip then! December 8, 2018 at 10:48am Reply

  • Maz: “Lahore is Lahore” – as always you managed to transport us to where you’ve been, with such beautiful vivid description. Thanks Victoria. Looking forward to read the rest of your sojourn. 💚 December 8, 2018 at 10:55am Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very happy to hear it. It makes even more rewarding to share it with you. December 8, 2018 at 12:44pm Reply

  • Kathy parsons: I went to a wedding in Lahore and it was magical (if you have money) and the honeymoon suite was full of rose petals. Please can you state the name of the rose in your photo December 8, 2018 at 11:25am Reply

    • Victoria: I can only imagine what an event it must have been!

      I wish I knew. It’s some sort of tea rose hybrid. December 8, 2018 at 12:45pm Reply

      • Kathy Parsons: Thanks for your reply. I love your blog as I am a massive perfume fan December 8, 2018 at 4:37pm Reply

        • Victoria: Thank you. You found the right crowd then. 🙂 December 9, 2018 at 4:25am Reply

  • Filomena: Victoria, what a beautiful post. Although I have never been to Lahore, I can relate to your feelings and passion when you are there as I felt the same way on every trip I have made to Sicily (and Italy) especially my most recent one in the Fall. Thank you for sharing and for the beautiful photos. December 8, 2018 at 11:52am Reply

    • Victoria: When a trip leaves such a trace in your memory, it means a lot.
      What towns did you visit in Sicily this fall? December 8, 2018 at 12:51pm Reply

  • Annie Oney: As everyone has stated, the elucidation of your travels, from your Grandmother’s house and orchard, to Lahore and beyond, are thrilling, evocative, and the closest many of us will get to such high adventure and glorious sights. Thank you so much for such rich gifts- December 8, 2018 at 1:21pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Annie. Sharing with all of you makes me relive these journeys. December 9, 2018 at 4:25am Reply

  • Tara C: Your depth and breadth of culture never cease to amaze me, not to mention your lyrical writing. Respect et merci! December 8, 2018 at 8:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Tara! There is so much to discover. December 9, 2018 at 4:26am Reply

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