The place is more than just prostitution, it has art, culture & good food
Lahore, known as the “City of Gardens,” is renowned for its many attractions. Within its historic Walled City lies a significant and ancient locality called Heera Mandi, also known as Shahi Mohallah or the “Royal Neighbourhood.” While it has gained notoriety as Lahore’s red-light district, it is more than just a hub for prostitution—it is also home to a variety of delightful culinary experiences.
Heera Mandi boasts desi food streets that cater to our love for roadside delicacies. The area is adorned with charming roadside cafes where one can savor some of the best Halwa Puri and desi tikiyan. Moreover, the Sweet Tooth Heera Mandi café offers not only delectable food but also a picturesque view. Another notable establishment is Haveli Restaurant, which not only offers a splendid view but also an extensive array of local cuisine, barbecues, and vegetarian-friendly and vegan options. Their mouthwatering handi and chicken boti, accompanied by garlic butter naan, are simply divine. Furthermore, Cooco’s Den, an extraordinary restaurant nestled amidst the red-light district of Heera Mandi, offers captivating rooftop views, vibrant paintings, eclectic bric-a-brac, and sculptures, all accompanied by an enticing mix of food and beverages.
During the Mughal era, Heera Mandi was known for its tawaif culture, where women from various parts of India performed dances and provided entertainment. However, during the invasion of Ahmad Shah Abdali, the area became associated with prostitution as his troops established brothels using captured women from the regions they had conquered.
Under British colonial rule, Heera Mandi further solidified its reputation as a center for prostitution.
The market featured traditional and classical dances performed by women and khwajasara (transgender individuals). It continued to be a prominent location for prostitution until recent years. During the day, Heera Mandi functions as a typical bazaar, offering food, traditional Mughal footwear called Khussa, and shops for musical instruments and dance-related items.
At night, the brothels above the shops open, catering to the prostitution trade. The area is often considered a symbol of Lahore, though the term “Heera Mandi” itself can be considered offensive in informal conversations. In the past, there have been crackdowns on prostitution, such as during Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq’s reign, when efforts were made to shut down music and dance houses believed to be associated with prostitution. However, prostitution has persisted in the area, although it has declined with the rise of online escort services in recent times.