This was my fifth visit to the same place to resolve my mystery about the Noori building, popularly known as Noori Manzil inside the famous Lohari Gate, Walled City of Lahore, near Mohalla Peer Shirazi. Every time I had visited the place I was informed by the locals that some parts of it were haunted. It was not actually the fear that stopped me going inside there, but seeing a female alone, I was not allowed to enter the building. It took me all these visits to convince the family living in one part of the building and finally the fifth time I could photograph it, as I had a male friend along, whom the family thought would guard me! Well, the family was kind enough to call a local person to guide us into the haveli.
There started my excursion! I entered through a narrow dark doorway which led me into a reasonably larger courtyard, as usually we do not find open spaces and courtyards inside the walled city; it’s a rare feature now. No wonder the building façade was mesmerizing and captured my senses for few seconds. Till then I could not smell any hex or vex there. It was a wrecked beauty, but still staggering. I believe (from what I observed) it was a living area between the two sections of the building. It had turned into a courtyard as the roof had collapsed over the passage of time and I am sure it was neglected. The local person Akhtar guiding us seemed nervous right from the first step. Along the sides of this courtyard were the main buildings structures decorated with carved and brick balconies reflecting Sikh Architecture. The lined designs are a prominent feature of Sikh Architecture which was visible all over the building. Probably, it was a Sikh era construction.
I entered in one of the portions of the building on the right and I was lost into the majesty of the ruins. It was undoubtedly a masterpiece. The interior was spellbinding and mysterious. Now, for a moment I was scared and the local along us must be coveting to hammer us out, but again our curiosity won. The main area inside this double storey portion of the Haveli had a small square courtyard with rooms around it. It was an abandoned Haveli and some shoe makers had occupied two rooms on the ground floor. Other rooms were locked since ages as the manes were rusted. The building was awfully dilapidated with pigeons all around and debris on the floor. Some parts were covered with bird droppings which gave a snowy look! I wondered why nobody ever thought to maintain it. It is a piece not less than any other Haveli inside the walled city; it is just ignored and blamed as being haunted. I didn’t feel anything in there.
The Noori Manzil, was a doll house but in fiasco. I thought to go on the upper floor but the local man tried to stop me. Finally after a long argument I managed to reach the first floor which was actually derelict and with my each step it quivered. Well, there I was a little frightened and most of the pictures I took were blurring. The huge cracks narrated how ruthlessly the building was kept and treated. Each brick falling apart cried. The railing running around the upper floor was dusty rather grubby. The walls of the Haveli were carved, and brick work in paisley design was used as a border everywhere.
The structure of the building seemed strange to me, but I could relate it with the Haveli of Nau Nehal Singh (Victoria School). I asked Akhtar, if I could get any history of the place or if the family living in it could tell me something. He took me to the family again. There I met more women and lots of children playing in a dark room maybe that was the load shedding time. The ladies, a little hesitant in talking to me, later narrated the whole story. The head of the family was working abroad and according to them they did not have sufficient income to maintain the building, so they left it falling apart.
According to the residents, the haveli was a house of dancing girls during the Sikh period. It was built by a prostitute /dancer “Poori Bai” and the Haveli was known as Poori Haveli at that time. As the time passed, the haveli, like many other streets and gates of the walled city, was renamed to Noori Haveli or Noori Manzil. The Haveli was a two storeyed building with thirty two rooms. I couldn’t get a chance to see all the rooms as one portion was completely locked and other rooms were closed as well. There was a stable for horses which was now converted into shops in which the shoe makers were sitting. According to the residents the occupied area of the Haveli was 27 Marlas, which is considered huge inside the walled city at present. It was allotted to the family after the partition in 1947 when the Sikhs moved out.
According to history books, the red light area was located inside the Lohari Gate before the Sikh rule and most of the affluent prostitutes/ dancers had built beautiful Havelis in Lohari. The famous Chowk inside the Lohari Gate, Chowk Matti was also named after a prominent prostitute “Matti Bai”. With the passage of time, the Red Light area was shifted to Chowk Jhanda, then Tibbi Gali and eventually spread over the Heera Mandi.
The Haveli is no doubt a masterpiece and a hidden jewel inside Lohari Gate Lahore. The residents are not financially sound to restore or maintain it. I hope it is not lost into commercialization till my next visit.
(The writer is a media professional and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)