If Karachi is a three-day frat party then Lahore is a weekend at the university library just before finals.
An air of intellect hovers over the city like the smog that hit us as we collected our luggage in the airport. Yes, smog you could see indoors.
Lahore has been a capital of empires for centuries. Its skyline is a silhouette of history – a Mughal mosque here, a Sikh tomb there. A cathedral consecrated in 1907 is a youngster here.
Our visit to Lahore coincided with Eid Milad ul-Nabi, the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم), long strands of colored lights had been hung from buildings and the morning papers warned that extra security measures would be in place and that the cell phone networks would be shut down for the day.
I’m not sure this is what the Prophet had in mind.
On our return from an organic farm on the outskirts of the city our bus got caught up in a celebration procession. Children filled farm wagons waving green banners and chanting in response to the truck-mounted loudspeakers that led the parade. This seemed more of a birthday party to me.
Lahore sits on the ancient Grand Trunk Road, near the border with India.
Borders here mean more here than just real estate. We were lectured often about the border with Kashmir.
I assumed that this issue was settled. Not that Pakistanis were happy with it but that it was settled.
But Kashmir is still very much a fresh wound for Pakistan. For me it was like visiting Tennessee and finding people still fighting the “war of northern aggression.”
We visited a less controversial border on our last day in Lahore. The Wagah Border is the site of daily pep rallies for both Pakistan and Hindustan.
Every day, since 1959, soldiers on both sides of the border have held a ceremonial closing of the gates, simultaneously lowering the flags of both nations. It is a huge production and attracts crowds on both sides.
Later, in Islamabad, I was chatting with a young Lahore reporter about the abysmal air quality of the city (her beat was the environment). I mentioned the Wagah Border ceremony and she laughed. A native of Lahore and she’d never been.
“I’ll go to Wagah when I can cross the border and get out of Pakistan,” she said.
Borders are limits and even great pageantry can’t stop the brain drain of Pakistan’s educated youth who see a better future abroad.
OPB photographer and web editor Michael Clapp recently returned from a two-week trip to Pakistan with six other American journalists as part of an exchange program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists. This is the third of five travelogues he will be writing about the trip for OPBNews.org.
Pakistan: Mapping The Unknown - OPB News Series