Locals take up maintenance of Oonchi Masjid as WCLA bats no eye


Several changes made to mosque’s structure as local committee lacks knowledge of heritage sites restoration

WCLA conservation director says authority will restore mosque in phase two of Bhati Gate Trail rehabilitation project

LAHORE: The Oonchi Masjid, located inside the Walled City of Lahore, is on the mercy of the locals as no government department is ready to take up its maintenance and the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) is also silent on the matter, Pakistan Today has learnt.

According to sources, the maintenance work of the mosque – one of the oldest in the Walled City – is being carried out by a committee formed by the locals of the area as WCLA is not paying any attention to it. They lamented that WCLA had spent millions on the restoration of Delhi Gate area and Wazir Khan Mosque, but several other buildings of high heritage value, on the other hand, were being ignored.

Due to the fact that locals are maintaining the mosque on their own without any knowledge of how to maintain a heritage site, the façade of the mosque has been changed and several additions have been made to its interior as well.

Sources added that the mosque remained closed for public and was only opened at prayer times but it should be made a tourist spot because of its history and importance.

A tourist guide and resident of the Walled City, Muhammad Aziz, informed Pakistan Today that the mosque was named Oonchi Masjid because it was constructed on a platform higher than the street level.

“It is located inside Bhati Gate’s Mohallah Chomallah and was built on a towering platform with seven feet high steps. Oonchi Masjid has lost its original fabric because the locals have repaired and decorated it in their own style. I have heard from my elders that it was finely decorated with fresco and traditional carving. The locals of the area say that the mosque was built during Akbar’s rule but the concept of a raised platform of mosques is more likely to be seen in Aurangzeb’s time,” Aziz added.

Speaking to this scribe, the residents of the area said that so far no government department had taken up the maintenance of the mosque and so the local committee did whatever it liked to in a bid to maintain the mosque’s beauty.

“In my opinion, the people of the walled city should be educated about the value of heritage and such sites should be made tourist spots and surely the sanctity of the mosque should also be maintained. We have easy access to Mariam Zamani or Wazir Khan Mosques but Oonchi Masjid is hard to photograph,” said Masood Khan, a photographer.

A resident of Bhati Gate and owner of the Faqir Khana Museum, Faqir Saif told Pakistan Today that it was a phenomenal mosque and a unique piece of art. “Mosques like Oonchi Masjid and Neevin Masjid should be given proper attention and restored for the future generations as well,” Saif added.

WCLA Conservation Director Najam Saquib said that WCLA was working on the rehabilitation of the Bhati Gate Trail and phase one was currently under deliberations.

“We will be taking up the maintenance and restoration of the mosque in phase two of the restoration project and gather historic references about this mosque before we start our work so that the original features of the structure can be restored,” Najam said.