Bullah Shah, Shrine Retail & Food | The Best of Kasur
About 50 km southeast of Lahore is a city that may not be on your must-visit list, but like every city, Kasur too has something unique to offer the visitors.
Most people know Kasur as the city of Bulleh Shah the Sufi poet. For many, the word Kasur also evokes the images of kasuri methi, Kasuri khussa or shoes, the crispiest ‘andrasay,’ yummiest falooda and the best tawa fish.
Kasur is all this and more.
As you enter the city, the first impression registers: It is the city of Bulleh Shah. Every other shop is named after the Sufi poet.
Like all cities, history and culture of Kasur city are also closely intertwined with its retail sector. Be it eateries, souvenirs, or the inevitable mushrooming trade built around the shrines of the Sufi saints of Kasur. The shrine retail caters to a deep-seated human longing for miracles. There are strings to tie on the wish trees, diyas to light, incense to burn, talisman and amulets to wear and cherish.
Shrine of Bulleh Shah
For many visitors, Bulleh Shah’s shrine is the first place to visit as you enter the city. You will have to take off your shoes to enter the shrine area. The shrine and the atmosphere around it are strikingly evocative of the calm that poetry of Bulleh shah bestows on the reader. The vast empty spaces, people sitting under the trees & chatting leisurely, people praying in devout concentration, Kafi singers of the shrine, all seem snippets of some magical era when life was comparatively uncomplicated and slow paced.
The shrine and the atmosphere around it are strikingly evocative of the calm that poetry of Bulleh shah bestows on the reader. The vast empty spaces, people sitting under the trees & chatting leisurely, people praying in devout concentration, Kafi singers of the shrine, all seem snippets of some magical era when life was comparatively uncomplicated and slow paced.
Wish Trees at Shrines
My personal favorite are the trees in shrines that display the vanity, the innocence, the immensity of human wishes. It’s an old practice to make a wish and tie a piece of cloth, or a string, to the trees inside shrines, a string for every wish.
The bigger and more colorful the thread and more conspicuous it is the sooner the prayer will be answered?
Not sure. But the ‘wish bands’ for sale make you think this could be true. Available in various colors and sizes, they do seem to be sending the marketing message ‘the bigger and more colorful the string, the more powerful your prayer becomes.’
As in most of the shrines, women are not allowed to go inside. Female employees of the auqaf department sit there and monitor your movement lest you step inside the shrine. Men, however, can pray inside and even take photographs of the ornate design of the shrine’s ceiling.
Baba Kamal Chisti Shrine
A couple of miles from Bulleh Shah’s shrine lies the shrine of Baba Kamal Chisti. It is built on an embankment. A legend that the locals like to narrate is that once the entire city existed on this embankment. One day the saint was angry over something and spilled his ablution water pot causing a flood that drowned the city leaving the shrine unscathed. Gradually, the city was built and inhabited again around the saved shrine.
Now visitors have to take stairs up to the tomb. Once you are there, it could be any other Mazar with singers chanting kafis, people busy in lighting incense and, of course, the inevitable wish tree.
Baba Kamal Chisti shrine is relatively more egalitarian as women are not barred from entering there, and there is a separate door for women.
The embankment is also a kind of picnic spot where a few eateries have sprung up to cater to the picnickers who enjoy food and company after paying their homage to the saint.
Ganda Singh Indo-Pak Border
Kasur is adjacent to the Ganda Singh Indo-Pak border. The place with its daily flag-lowering ceremony is another tourist attraction of Kasur.
Owing to security reasons, all vehicles are parked a few kilometers away from the main entrance so you have to walk all the way to the gate. But it’s a walk to remember. The sound of silence, the twitter of the birds and dancing of trees and hushing of the breeze are intensely audible on this track on the outskirts of the bustling city.
And there it is, again: the omnipresent retail sector. Small shops and kiosks around the place offer eateries and drinks as well as the trinkets that you buy to display your patriotism. Marketing also dictates how you show allegiance to your country!
It’s fun to watch the parade and the mock jingoistic expressions of the soldiers on both sides. Equally interesting is to listen to the patriotic slogans and songs of the two estranged siblings.
As the evening falls, the roadside eateries and narrow lanes of Kasur start buzzing with throngs heading to all kind of eateries to satiate their love of food. Kasuris seem to share the trait of ‘healthy appetite’ with the people of Lahore. There’s another bond too… fraternal one. After all, as the legend says, Lahore and Kasur are named after the two sons of Rama: Loh and Kush. So this love for food seems to run in the family!
There is so much to choose from to satisfy the palate: Deep fired andaras (a kind of sweetmeat) with or without sesame seeds, Katalmas, spicy tawa fish, and yes, kasuri falooda. Falooda is kind of condensed milk (rabri) that is served with ice and sugary syrup. And people don’t just eat, they drink it too. The thick rabri and ice are blended to make this ‘drink.
You have to have a strong digestive system to finish a bowl of falooda, and considering the crowds in falooda shops devouring bowls and bowls of falooda and ‘drinking’ huge glasses of it, people of Kasur can boast of possessing the healthiest systems in the world.
Yes, Kasur has much to offer.
So if you ever feel like heading 50 km southeast of Lahore, go to Kasur. Morning is the best time. If you want to experience the calm that envelops the shrines of Sufi saints, don’t go on Thursdays. Spend some time with Bulleh Shah and Kamal Chisti. Sit under the trees and listen to the Kafis being sung at the shrines.
And while you are there, you might as well light a diya and tie a few colorful strings to make your deepest longings come true. And who knows, it just might work!
Take a long walk to the Ganda Singh border (the flag lowering ceremony takes place after asr prayers). And then head back to the city and roam the streets of Kasur to soak in the city’s ambiance.
You can end your excursion on a foody note by devouring some flooda or fish. Did I mention the mouthwatering Andrasas?