Eastern and central Punjab is a heavily populated, pancake-flat land of rice paddies, corn fields and urban conglomerations. Lahore, the state capital and Pakistan’s second largest city, is the nation’s cultural, artistic, educational and culinary hub – simply put, it’s the place to be! It’s no wonder the locals say “Lahore Lahore aye” – “Lahore is Lahore”, and there’s nothing quite like it.
Pakistan’s second largest city and the state capital of Punjab is also its most friendly. Lahore is the cultural hub of Pakistan but is Punjabi to the core; a fun-loving place of music, drama and gastronomic delights. While the roads around the sprawling University of Punjab are leafy boulevards, the frenetic lanes and microstreets of the Walled City are the polar opposite. It’s equal parts fun and frenzy, squalor and splendour, refined tradition and exciting exuberance. City streets throb at weekends with young guys on their bikes, heading to the cinema before coffee at 2am – if it’s not happening in Lahore, it’s probably not happening in Pakistan! No wonder the locals say “Jine Lahore jai wekhya, o jamya hi nai” – “whoever hasn’t seen Lahore hasn’t been born yet”.
Wagah, just 30 kilometres from Lahore, is a highlight – you’ll never forget the pomp and ceremony of the India – Pakistan border closing ceremony. The people of this region of Punjab are also known for their fun-loving and worldly outlook, tempered with time-honoured tradition.
Leaving Lahore towards the north or west, you can either take the marvellous motorway, or you can opt for the more direct, but slower Grand Trunk Road (known as G.T. Road). The Grand Trunk Road dates back to early times, but was significantly rebuilt by Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century, and consolidated by the British as a method of linking the colonial Indian capital of Calcutta to Kabul in Afghanistan.
Gujranwala forms part of what is sometimes called Pakistan’s “business triangle”, with the enterprising cities of Gujrat and Sialkot (off G.T. Road) making up the other two points. None are major tourist destinations in their own right, but their strong trade links draw in a number of business travellers each year (enough for Sialkot to have its own international airport, for example).
Sometimes it seems as if you’re never truly rid of the big city when travelling in this part of Pakistan, and that’s because you’re not – large towns, as well as small and large cities are dotted all around the place, and sprawling Lahore threatens to swallow some of them whole in the coming decades.