EXPERIENCING THE PEARL CONTINENTAL HOTEL
Content & Photography By: Saifuddin Ismailji
Lahore is among those places in the world that has an air of mystery in its untold tales, misplaced legends and elapsed folklores. This City of Culture holds strong appeal in the grandeur of monuments, astounding history and unprecedented venues serving traditional Pakistani cuisines – prominently Dumpukht at the Pearl Continental Lahore (PCL).
In the early hours of a mid-September morning, a duel between summer and autumn, the sun will decide to let the autumn win, as the summer heat lowers down and an overcast sky announce the arrival of autumn. It has been a long time since I had journeyed on the train in Pakistan with much anticipation to experience a comfortable train ride from my hometown Rawalpindi to Lahore. But to my disappointment, I spent a somewhat uncomfortable night journey in one of the worn-out buggies in a mien of 60-year-old with no improvement in the interior, zero upgradation but the price continues to rise over the years.
Stepping down the train, the Lahore Railway station wear the same old tarnished look – untidy toilets, lack of facilities to passengers as seen back in early 1970’s (except there were no McDonald and KFC, then) when I had first visited Lahore in my hey days.
In the early hours of the morning, I sighed with relief to see my hosts from the Pearl Continental Lahore, at the exit of the railway station. I am escorted to the hotel’s limo for conveniently transfer to my comfort zone at the city’s oldest luxury hotel: The Pearl Continental Lahore – the only hotel in Lahore with a 5-Star rating in every nous, located in a central but unobtrusive zone of the metropolitan city.
On arrival, I am rather gratified with the very warm welcome extended by the hotel with a bouquet of flower.
I have stayed at the PCL on several occasions in the past and during this stay, I experienced a new level of refined hospitality at every section of the hotel – from my house-host to the concierge and from the front office to restaurants, cafes and attendants in the common areas of the hotel.
Before check-in, I am escorted to the Business Center, which comprise of reading area and washroom facility.
Early morning, in time of opening of the MarcoPolo Restaurant, I explore the well- lit buffet breakfast arena and sample some of the traditional breakfast eats and local delicacy like Nihari (a typical spicy Pakistani meat dish cooked overnight).
The buffet is generously laid out with egg station, bread section, hot Pakistani food, selected international favvourites, assorted cereal and desserts, a variety of fresh fruit juices and much more.
MarcoPolo is located on the Lobby floor with an inspiring view of the Hotel’s Atrium – the tallest and oldest in Pakistan.
Opposite the MarcoPolo, the talk of the town – Nadia Café, adorned with art pieces is a place to socialize over food and beverages in a relaxed and spacious environment.
It was time to Check-in and I am escorted to my Executive Room (with access to the Executive Lounge), one of the 605 rooms in the category of Standard, Deluxe, Executive, Deluxe Suite, Executive Suite and Presidential Suite.
I revel in the luxury of the room equipped with 5-star amenities including Fruit basket on arrival, tea-coffee making facility, large TV and reading material.
After a quick nap and a shower in the spacious bathroom well stocked with high quality toiletry products; it was time to explore more experiences at the Hotel.
Graciously invited by my host over coffee and cake at the Nadia Café, although after a super breakfast that should maintain my energy level high for an active day, how could I have resisted not try a bite on a dark chocolate cake with Cappuccino. The piece of cake was perfectly baked with best chocolate ingredient and complemented with coffee.
Near the entrance of Nadia Café is an interesting feature that captures the eye: a vintage car that reflects status symbol through a classic entity from the days of yore
Dumpukht restaurant– the talk of the town is my favorite. Dampukht prepares traditional Mughlai recipes (dating back from Mughal dynasty period from 1526 to 1827), handed down by the master chefs who had served the Mughal kings.
The buffet dinner comes with live entertainment, performed by a professional Punjabi dancer attired in folk dress.
Avid chef, Riaz Bhatti reflects the original recipes of chefs who had served the Mughals and recommend signature dish: Namkeen (saltish) Tikka. Other variety of traditional cuisines include Malai boti (creamy boneless chicken), Reshmi kebab (tender meat kebab), tak-a-tak (minced meat), gulab jaman and more variety at the dessert table. Not to miss, the local yogurt drink: lassi.
Among the other distinctive restaurants includes Tai Pan (Chinese), Sakura (Japanese), Bukhara (Pakistani BBQ) and In-Room Dining: Pakistani, Continental cuisines available 24/7.
Fully serviced Banquet halls and meeting room offers receptions and seminars.
Large outdoor pool is an invitation to splash in when the sun turns the heat on. Nearby, there is a Fitness Center and Spa for a visitor conscious on wellness. The Fitness Center is fitted with world class equipment and therapy treatment at the Spa aims to rejuvenate and tune the body to a fresh start on a new day.
Today, Lahore takes in the history and put the modern perspective of the Pearl Continental Hotel and other modern venues, city transportation system, theaters, art galleries hand-in-hand.
Out of the comfort zone of PCL, the outdoor experience is like stepping back in time.
It would be wise to make an early morning start to explore Lahore. At an easy pace, at least 3 days in Lahore will give you a feel of this historic city, visiting places that capture the spiritual, historical and present-day vibes of the city. To get the most from an experiential tour of the capital of Punjab, hire a 3-wheeler rick-sha or even a tanga (horse-driven transportation) and do it like the locals do.
The Walled City in the old district of Lahore is a good point to begin.
The oldest settlements in this complex with 13 giant gates behold the humble beginning and glorification of the city back in time 1,000BC, when Lahore was founded by Prince Loh. However, evidence from archeological finds suggests existence of earliest settlement in Lahore since 2,000BC.
Today, it is an Open Museum of History and Heritage that depicts and narrates the tales of the days of yore, the pre and post Mughal periods in the finery of tombs, forts, religious buildings and in the narrow streets and edifice.
The main quadrangle Hazuri Bagh comprises the monolith Lahore Fort and the grand Badshahi masjid – once in its time, the largest in the world. These grandest of National treasures encircling many other historic buildings includes the Tomb of Ranjit Singh, Huzuri Bagh Baradari, Gurdwaa Dera sahib, Tomb of Allam Iqbal – the National Poet.
In the outskirts of Hazuri bagh within the Wall City, many old buildings are worth a visit, subject to time, however, not to miss Golden masjid, Shahi Hammam (Royal Bath) and one of the most ornate masjids of the country: the 17th C Wazir Khan masjid, located in a narrow street with access from Delhi Gate.
There are plenty of food and beverage stalls in the streets of the Walled city. Travelers recommend not to consume from roadside stalls due to unhygienic condition, pollution and dusk.
Gawal-mandi Food Street, near the Camera Market (known to be Asia’s bargain center to buy camera and equipment) is a more popular place among locals and visitors to eat local food. The street becomes a festive place after dusk with the twinkling neon signs.
Just outside the Walled City sprawls the majestic Shalimar Bagh – Gardens of Love, adorned with water fountains, lush gardens with line of trees, fruit orchards and flowering plants. Created by master Mughal designer, Shah Jahan (1642), this monument of love was listed in the UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the Lahore Fort.
The city boasts remnants in the timeline of rulers and invaders. Colonial architecture gifted Lahore with a new look.
The Jinnah Library and botanical gardens traces its origin to Lawrence Garden (1862-1868), named after John Lawrence, Viceroy of India (1864 – 1869). Some of the magnificent buildings and edifices built during the British regime, worth visiting among others are the Lahore Museum, General Post Office (GPO), Railway Station, Lahore High Court.
Most of some 100 church buildings were built after the Mughal period, but according to chronicles of history, the 1st church was built during the period of Mughal king Akbar (end of 16C), which stands today on the same site as a Presbyterian church.
One of the most visited buildings of faith is the Lahore’s landmarks – the Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
Sir Ganga Ram is regarded as the father of modern Lahore. In the crown of Lahore landscape, he added jewels like the Ganga Ram Hospital, extension to Mayo Hospital, and educational institutional buildings. He designed the Lahore Museum building and other colonial buildings like the GPO.
If you are a staunch explorer, you will need more than 3 days to dig into the history of Lahore, which spans across the many streets and corners of the City. Then you will have time to visit more landmarks on which the city etches history: Minar-e-Pakistan (Pakistan Liberty Tower) near Hazuri Bagh (across the road), Data Darbar (largest shrine of a saint in South Asia), the Chauburji (Four Towers) at intersection of Multan-Bahawalpur Road (1646), Zamzama Gun (Kim’s Gun) casted in 1757 now on display outside the Lahore Museum, Tomb of Qutubuddin Aibak – a slave who became a king.
If time permits, in the outskirts of Lahore, it’s worth visiting the Tomb of Emperor Jahangir and nearby, Tomb of his wife: Noor Jahan at Shahdara. Farther, driving up north (about 40 kilometers from Lahore), Sheikhupura was founded by Mughal emperor Jahangir (1607). He cultivated vast gardens around his resting place by a reservoir and constructed Hiran Minar (Deer Tower) in memory of his pet deer.
And not to miss, an organized trip to experience ceremonial drill, a military exercise since 1959 at Wagah border between Pakistan and India.
It is heart aching that some of the magnificent National treasures and UNESCO World Heritage sites are seen in a rundown state. Who is responsible? General public? Authorities? Lack of administrative skill in maintaining the sites? How to stop pollution and restrict flow of traffic in congested districts like the Walled City?
There is an awareness of Green transport technology so why no one takes action in restricting traffic flow around the Walled City district, marking it a “”Green Zone” area.
City admin should introduce green busses to shuttle around the district allocating a certain parking area outside the “Green Zone” so commuters park their cars and hop on to green buses to access the “Green Zone”. Why is there no effort and action taken to enlarge network of public transportation system to encourage commuters to using public transport?
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