It’s all green–the thick canopies of trees, the echoing grass fields filled with the sound of music, the dairy farm and the military spots. Lahore Cantonment is a tranquil place to live in despite being a red alert area
By Marian Sharaf
or 24 years I did not know the world beyond the Lahore Cantonment; it’s tranquil, disciplined and clean. It’s a very different world.
Living there since childhood made me so used to seeing camouflage patterns here and there that any other place across its perimeter seemed strange. I remember those morning rides in our military school truck; waking up at wee hours of the day when you could still count every star in the sky. The sound of music of the military bagpipes and the bang of the guns from their regiment grounds was a signal to wake up. The truck took us all around the town from the north to the south of Cantt and finally into the main city covering areas from Gulberg to the Mall.
Such a treat gave us a perfect idea about the ambiance, people and infrastructure of non- Cantt areas, for many reasons I could never like it. What is it that made one fall in love with the Cantonment? Fresh air, well paved roads, spacious surrounding and security. Yes, take my word; as kids my siblings and I use to whistle ‘Colonel Bogie’s song’ all the way to Services Club on Thursday nights for movie. At times our old school truck would break down (somehow it always happened in the far eastern coast of Cantt where we have International Allama Iqbal Airport today).
We considered it the forsaken land. We’d have no choice but to go ‘Waltzing Matilda’ with our bags on our back – this is about 4 miles from Ayub Stadium before Garrison Golf to The Polo Ground, Sarwar Road. The tall canopy of thick trees, chirping of the birds (I still haven’t identified its name) and the little pedestrian path passing made it a ‘yellow brick road’ experience.
The history of the Lahore Cantonment traces back to the times of the British Raj. It was the second and final Anglo- Sikh war that caused the establishment of Lahore Cantonment. After the defeat of Sikhs, who took over Lahore in 1779, and annexation of Lahore by the British, the British troops stationed at Anarkali but later on moved to Mian Mir (a village). It was this area that became to be known as Lahore Cantonment. Thus, Lahore Cantonment was established in 1850 by Lt. Gen. Sir Charles Napier. Since then, the Cantt has been a beautifully planned area with wide roads, parks and well laid-out living and unit areas.
In 1968, the Cantonment limits were extended to include a large area with an over-all rural complexion. The Cantonment with this large extension became administratively difficult to manage; therefore in 1998 it was bifurcated into two Cantonments: Lahore & Walton. The Walton Cantonment though a part of the Lahore Cantonment is administered by Walton Cantonment Board while the latter is taken care of by Lahore Cantonment Board, Ministry of Defense.
The Lahore Cantonment controlled by the military is established on the eastern wing of Punjab securing the border between Pakistan and India. The trail runs all the way from River Ravi that touches the Cantt in its north (farthest coast of Saddar Cantt-BRP Canal) and all the way up to Kasur. Wagah – Attari border is the official spot where the flag ceremonies of Pakistan-India take place every morning and evening. There are many villages that lie between main Cantt and the border; all of these come under the Lahore Cantonment Board. It’s interesting to tour down the military city – absolutely dense and green in its geography. It hasn’t changed much over the years except for the newly developed colonies which is comparatively less dense like Cavalry Ground, the Jinnah flyover that connects DHA – Cavalry area to the Gulberg-Model Town and the latest commercial zones added in the Fortress Stadium, Cantt’s hip hot spot. The tree-lined roads with green belts, planned residential colonies, neat traffic and endless grass fields makes its infrastructure the best in Lahore.
The Cantonment has its own system; the military police, the check posts, the night petrol to guard and keep everything in order; by the way even if you go to local bazaars like Royal Army Bazaar (R A Bazaar) you’ll find all the local transportation lined up – no one can dare encroach the road. The infrastructure resembles old British colonies.
Lahore Cantonment has stood the test of time; the War of 1965 and War of 1971. It serves as a fortress and is the shield between the enemy line and the main Lahore city. Being the most sensitive area besides the government districts offices at the Mall, Lahore Cantt has historic landmarks like the Combined Military Hospital, Military Farm, Gora Qabristan and Shaheed’s Graveyard, The St. Joseph Church and The Mary Magdalene Church, Saddar Cantt, Lal Kurti & R A Bazaar, Cantt Post Office, Services Club and Government Islamia School.
The town has come a long way. It has a nostalgic feel; maybe because of its historic connection. It’s simple, nothing flashy about it, yet, the military ambiance makes it perfectly regal – VVIP.
This article was originally published in the print edition of Valuemag, issue 5, September 2008