The Shahi Hamam (Royal Bath), an important landmark of ‘Old Lahore’ is located right inside Delhi Gate. It has a small gate as its entrance on the left side, right after you’re inside Delhi Gate, in the Shahi Guzargah (The Royal Passage).
Having lived for years with the pride of having one of the largest fresco works ever, Shahi Hamam, despite its name, was not only for royals to freshen up who’d come in from far-off places like Delhi but was also open to the general public. With a glorious past defined by the architectural genius that Shahi Hamam was/still is, having cold, hot and steam bath options in THAT time, what state the Hamam lies in now is nothing but sad to look at.
Keeping it short, most of the frescoes have been painted on. White. WHITE PAINT. This was done after a mother-loving TV-producer covered the Hamam’s walls with wallpaper for a shoot and ripped it all off after they were done shooting. Smooth, oh Pakistani Producer. Real smooth. Way to respect your heritage for sure.
That said, what is left of the Hamam is taken care of by the TDCP now and they have left it to the most amazing guide you will find in Lahore – Mohammad Azam, who not only is super-polite and extremely well-informed about Walled Lahore’s glorious past but also has an AMAZING voice. At some point during the guided tour, he breaks into song as you lean into one of the pillars of the Hamam to feel the unbelievable acoustic technology the Mughals gave to it. You have to go there to understand what I’m saying. Words won’t do justice to it.
Why am I writing about a public bath on a food blog is because it’s not a bath anymore, obviously, but also because it’s not anywhere close to being renovated into a bath-like building of the past anyway. The TDCP itself announced in 2005 that they were planning to turn the Hamam into a Mughal-themed restaurant. Bad idea, TDCP. What has kept the Hamam in visiting condition til now even after the frightening damage done by the TV-producer is the fact that very few people actually deem the place important enough to visit. Turn it into a restaurant and there we go. Smoke from BBQ grills, splashing cooking oil, the sounds of Taka Tak, Lahori kids using the walls as their personal canvas, ahh hell. I don’t like the picture. Thankfully, the plan hasn’t fallen into place yet.
Back to why I’m writing this. Ironically, as much as I’m against turning the Hamam into a restaurant, I dined there. Yes. After my first visit to the Hamam, I decided to visit Wazir Khan Mosque and Kashmiri Bazaar. On returning from the long walk in the sun, I thought I’ll ask sweet Azam if there’s a clean fooding place nearby apart from the ridiculously priced Cuccoo’s at Heera Mandi. He however, generously pulled up two couches for me and my trip-partner Aarzoo Naeem and ran off somewhere into Old Lahore to get us the most amazing food I had that week:
Actual, unadulterated Naan Chanay (Pakistani baked bread and a Chickpea Curry) served with freshly-cut (crinkled) salad, Raita (Yogurt with salt and pepper) and ice-cold Sprite.
If not for anything else, I want you all, my readers, to visit Shahi Hamam for Mohammad Azam. He is unbelievably sweet and is so amazing that the Hamam’s guestbook looks like a Fan-book for Azam! It’s filled with comments by people from all over the world (literally), all about Mohammad Azam and his friendliness and guidance.
Do not directly ask him for Naan Chanay though, friends. He is still a TDCP guide. Wait until we turn the Hamam into a restaurant and we may then treat him like our server too. Until then, I’ll laugh at how this post’s title is the exact translation of my blog title. And I didn’t even realize it lulz.