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Lahore (cont'd...Festival of Lamps "Mela CharaghaN")

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    Lahore (cont'd...Festival of Lamps "Mela CharaghaN")

    Mela CharagaN (Festival of Lamps)

    Pronounced "May-La"

    Every year in last week of March this festival is held in Lahore outside Shalimar Gardens to herald the advent of spring. The festival is also known as 'Mela Shalimar Ka', and a lot has been written about this festival. Perhaps the most famous being a poem "Mela Shalimar Ka, KHaitooN say monH MoR kay, Sub KamooN ko ChoR kay…" (it is the time of the Mela, we are leaving our farms and all the daily chores to go see the festival of lamps….). People from all over Punjab come to see this Mela. It is the largest Mela to be held anywhere in Pakistan, even bigger than the Urus of Shah Shamas Tabreez.

    A brief description of Shalimar Gardens: (skip this part if you already know). Shalimar means "House of Joy" and in reality passing centuries have done nothing to detract from the air of peace and laughter that characterizes this green retreat. A waterpath runs the entire length of the Gardens (approx 700 yards) and there are approximately 500 fountains that throw up cool and fresh water in the atmosphere. It is located on GT (Grand Trunk) Road about 5 miles east of the old city. It was built in 17th century by moghal emporer Shah Jahan. It is approximately 40 acres.

    Back to Mela. There are stalls and shows and circus, and rides, and food. Stalls are set up from Suk Naher (Dried Canal) in the east to AnnyaN Wala MoR (Blinds' Corner) to the west on the GT Road, about 3/4th of a mile. Shops and stalls also stretch on Shalimar Road (perpendicular to GT Road) for about ˝ mile. There are over 300 stalls selling goodies from all over the country. You can find 'WangaN' (bangles) from Hydrabad, 'ChiRee-Chikay' (badminton rackets) from Sialkot, 'Pateessa' (sweets) and 'PhaniaN' (angelhair noodles) from Bhera, 'hand made and hand painted furniture' from Chiniot, handicrafts from northern areas, camel skin lamps from Multan, clothing material from Layalpur (1/2 the price of H. Karim Bux and sons), and tons of other specialties from various regions of the country.

    Food stalls are in abundance - ranging from 'PikoRay' (gram flour patties) to 'Khear (rice pudding), from freshly squeezed fruit juices to 'Doodh-Patee' (milk tea). All kinds of sweets, and a local specialty, Katlama (a bread with May'da (white flour) base topped with Basin (gram flour) mixed with herbs and spices, and fried in oil in a flat iron pan (absolutely not for calorie conscious folks!!). No matter where you buy it, Katlama always tastes the same. Some PikoRa stalls are better than others. Make sure you try PikoRas Hot, freshly out of the cooking pan, even if it means waiting for a few minutes. My favorite are Palik (spinach) PikoRas, not any ordinary Palik, but 'Cheer-veeN' Palik - a leaf grown only in northern Punjab near the villages of Sargodha. You must try Palik PikoRas. Juices made with out of season fruits might give you an upset stomach, so stay away from them. Only try seasonal fruit juices. I recommend orange, and carrot juice. Don't fill yourself up with sweets, try everything in small quantities, so you will still have appetite for an exquisite meal of Chicken KaRahi at the end of the day at "Chacha's Restaurant" (mentioned later).

    The entertainment ranges from Pakistani version of "Ripley's believe it or not" shows (where you see a two-headed goat, a boy with 4 legs, a dancing rooster, and cow with 8 thuns - tits) to circus, and dare devil stunt shows like 'Mout Ka KuwaN' (death well) and 'Mout Ka Gola' (death cage). In Mout Ka KuwaN, a man rides a motorbike around the well's walls, sometimes accompanied by a female passenger. The rider maintains a very high speed and the centrifugal force keeps the bike from falling. The KuwaN diameter is roughly 20 feet. It is constructed with wood and stands up the ground about 25 feet tall with spectator stand built on the top. Spectators throw money in the KuwaN to show their appreciation of the driver's skills. If the female passenger is attractive, more money is thrown. Moot Ka Gola is pretty much the same except the rider drives around inside a metal cage in different directions - same rules, centrifugal force and high speed.
    The most famous and must see attraction is perhaps the circus - none other than the "Lucky Irani Circus". Much more entertaining than say, Wringling Brothers. The animal acts involve lions, elephants, and horses. The acrobatics done in such precision that match Olympics standards (well, almost). The women gymnasts have their faces painted white to make you believe that they are "imports". There might be one or two imports, but the rest are all local with blonde wigs. The ring master is always this muscular guy with long hair resembling Tarzan. One of the male gymnasts is always from a village near Lahore (just to get some additional applause and cheers from the spectators who come from that village). The accompanying band repeats the same tune over and over.. "chicka-chicka-dhun-dhun, chicka-chicka-dhun-dhun .. with vibrating plates and a big 'Dhun" on the drum to indicate the end of an act. It is a good experience. A trip to Mela is not complete without seeing Lucky Irani Circus.

    If you have kids with you, you may want to take a ride on 'Aasmani Jhola' (Ferris wheel), and bumping cars, or other rides.

    Another ritual associated with Mela is a visit to the mausoleum of 'Sa'eeN' (Saint) Madhu Lal to pay respect. The mausoleum is only 10 minutes walk from Shalimar and is inside Baghbanpura Bazzar. It is believed that whatever you pray for at his grave is always answered. I always prayed for good grades in college - my prayers were 'mostly' answered (trust me!). You can pray for a good "partner" if you are single and want to get married, or pray for reconciliation with your parents who are mad at you for marrying someone against their wishes, or for a son if you have 8 daughters, and for a daughter if you have one son who is a monster, you get the idea.

    You can spend a good part of the day, from 11 am to 4 pm at the Mela, and then perhaps see a Punjabi movie in one of the neighborhood cinemas. There are 3 or 4 cinemas. Some cinemas in Lahore are being converted into shopping centers - what a shame. This is due to satellite TV and easy availability of Indian movies on video. The cinemas close by are: Angoori, Saher, and Shabnam. Usually a good Punjabi movie is always showing in one of them. Try to get 2nd or 3rd class seats because it is much more fun that way. Don't buy Gallery or Stall seats, they can be expensive (especially if the ticket is bought in 'Black'). I always sit in the 3rd class (bara aanay wali seat (3/4 of a Rupee) - now goes for much more than bara aanay). It is equally enjoyable what you see off the screen as you do on the screen. You will see characters in the movie hall that will make you believe that they belong in Hollywood. Sometimes cinemas show classic movies. If one starring Sultan Rahi and Mustafa Qureshi (the most famous hero and villain duo of Punjabi movies) is playing, see that. If you are in a mood for some comedy, nobody beats Munawar Zarif. Nobody.

    After a full day at Mela and watching a 3-hour movie you will probably be hungry. A meal of Chicken KaRahi is highly recommended. The best place is "Chacha's Restaurant" on Shalimar road, across from Angoori cinema. There might be an hour's wait because this place is very popular. It is worth the wait. Ask for extra ginger, and if you like your food "hot", ask for extra 'Mirach' (chillies). I like my KaRahi with lots of onions, and very little butter, and a lot of Mirach Masala. Have your KaRahi with 'Tandoori Rooti' (and not 'Nan'). There is no substitute for a good 'KaRakay Dar Tandoori Rooti' (a bread that is fresh out of oven and is crunchy). After a nice filling meal, you may like to try some 'Champi', also called 'Malish'. It is a massage. It is the best experience you will ever have. The Malshi (masseur) will put his chadar (sheet) on the sidewalk, you lie down on the chadar, and the rest is history. There are simply no words to describe this experience. Finish your day by chewing a good "Lachi-Sipari or Khusboo Wala" Pawn (beetle leaf). If you like, you can have a 7-up or Sprite before Pawn, it is good for getting rid of extra gas that you might have accumulated during the day. Where do you think all that sweets, PikoRas, and food go??

    Please note that unfortunately some activities may not be suited for women. Definitely not Malish. You be the judge.

    This is pretty much your usual day at Mela ChraghaN Wala. It runs for a whole week. If you miss any thing, you can always go back. If you interested in knowing about the history of Mela or the neighborhood, ask natives, as I have learnt more about history of Lahore from its people, than I have from reading history books. I am sure you will have a lot of fun....

    Ok here's the warning.

    Nice topic....especially with all the other cultural lessons we've been getting on Lahore and Punjab.......BUt I think they are more appropriate for the OUT CULTURAL HERITAGE SECTION.

    Please re-post there.....

    I'm going to start having most of these topics move there anyways so....

    To all the other members, please think about your topic and see if it could go there first, b4 bringing it here.

    That will save me from cut and pasting.


    [This message has been edited by kashmirigirl (edited March 16, 1999).]