History

History

The Lahore of Antiquity

The origin of Lahore, as a popular saying goes, lies beyond antiquity. The flat plains of the Punjab, irrigated by its five famous rivers from which the word ‘Punj’ (five) and ‘Ab’ (water) is derived, witnesses annual floods in the monsoon season. The only safe places in such circumstances along the rivers were the natural mounds that form part of the Punjab landscape.

On one such series of mounds on the ancient road from India to the West, on the River Ravi, emerged the city and fort of old Lahore. Recent excavations have thrown up pottery carbon-dated to 5,000 years ago. This is almost similar to the mention of Lahore, known as it has been by numerous names over the ages, in the epics of the ‘Mahabharata’ and the ‘desh ye bhaga’ of the Puranas. The name Lahore is ascribed to Rama, the ruler of Ayodha and a hero in the epic ‘Ramayana’, whose two sons ‘Lav’ or ‘Loh’ and ‘Kash’ had the cities of Lahore and Kasur named after them.

In the ‘Mahabharata’ the legendary battle of the Ten Kings was fought on the banks of the Ravi at Lahore, known as the Irrawaddi after the Hindu deity Indira. In this the forces led by Lahore’s Raja Ban Mal with over 10,000 horsemen were defeated by the powerful Raja Bhim Sen and his confederates. Likewise in a forest on the river next to Lahore, the famous Raja Rassalu of Sialkot slew the monster Rakhas, an event that makes up for a major part of ancient Hindu legends.

To truly understand the antiquity of Lahore it is important that we look at the scientific evidence of the melting of the glaciers as global warming took place hundreds of thousands of years ago. As the ices started melting, moving northwards, the very first traces of the ancient Indus Valley civilization started emerging. The oldest such site is that of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan. Then comes Mohenjo-Daro, then Harappa and finally Taxila, where probably the world’s first university was founded. It was in this time period that the first traces of habitation emerge of humans living on the mound that is today the Lahore Fort. In these small villages and towns along the five rivers of the Indus valley emerged the Jain, Buddhist and Hindu religions. To these centres of excellence came from the West the Arya people, known as the white-skinned, merging with the original inhabitants, the Dravidic. The amalgamation resulted in a pastoral people taking to agriculture and, gradually, moving eastwards.

As the ice melt continued the Ganges and Jumna civilizations emerged much later as large numbers of people moved eastwards. In this movement we now know, thanks to DNA research, that the Solanki of Anulhara Pattan and the Bhatis of Jassalmir in Rajputana have their origins in Lahore. As such Lahore was, and even today, remains essentially a Rajput city, surrounded in the countryside by ancient tribes like the Bhatti, the Virk, the Manj, the Dogars and other such tribes.

By the time Alexander the Great clashed with the Puru of Bhera, known popularly as Porus in western literature, Lahore and its Puru was the most powerful in the region. Porus of Bhera used Alexander to overcome the ruler of Lahore, who shrewdly judged the Greek fighting quality of speed and thrust well. They joined hands with seven other Purus of kingdoms to the east and formed a massive army waiting for Alexander and his men on the eastern bank of the Beas. The massive river and the even larger army put a halt to the unending ambitions of the Greek invader.

When the first Muslim invader, Mahmud from Ghazni in Afghanistan, overcame Lahore almost 1,000 years ago, the city was ruled by the legendary Raja Jaipal. On being defeated repeatedly he committed ‘Johar’ – the Rajput act of self-immolation in honour – outside the city walls at Mori Gate. His son tried to hold on to power but ultimately Mahmud ransacked the city and Muslim rule continued till the collapse of the Moghal Empire.

The Moghals rebuilt Lahore like never before. Akbar the Great for the first time used burnt bricks to encompass the fort and the city in massive walls with exquisite gates, traces of which can even be seen today. Around the city hundreds of monuments came up and by the time the Sikhs under Maharajah Ranjit Singh captured the city in 1799, Lahore had more historic monuments in and around Lahore than any other city in the sub-continent. Akbar and Ranjit Singh are considered the two greatest rulers to have lived in and ruled Lahore.

On the collapse of the Sikhs in 1849, the last country to fall to the British in the Indian sub-continent, the British took over and ruled the Punjab and Lahore for 98 years. Known as the colonial period, the city grew eastwards and most of what you see in Lahore today is thanks to their effort. In the midst of the renewal of Lahore in the colonial period was created the Faletti’s Hotel, then the finest in the entire Punjab, and considered fit for a maharajah to live in.

When the first Muslim invader, Mahmud from Ghazni in Afghanistan, overcame Lahore almost 1,000 years ago, the city was ruled by the legendary Raja Jaipal. On being defeated repeatedly he committed ‘Johar’ – the Rajput act of self-immolation in honour – outside the city walls at Mori Gate. His son tried to hold on to power but ultimately Mahmud ransacked the city and Muslim rule continued till the collapse of the Moghal Empire.

The Moghals rebuilt Lahore like never before. Akbar the Great for the first time used burnt bricks to encompass the fort and the city in massive walls with exquisite gates, traces of which can even be seen today. Around the city hundreds of monuments came up and by the time the Sikhs under Maharajah Ranjit Singh captured the city in 1799, Lahore had more historic monuments in and around Lahore than any other city in the sub-continent. Akbar and Ranjit Singh are considered the two greatest rulers to have lived in and ruled Lahore.

On the collapse of the Sikhs in 1849, the last country to fall to the British in the Indian sub-continent, the British took over and ruled the Punjab and Lahore for 98 years. Known as the colonial period, the city grew eastwards and most of what you see in Lahore today is thanks to their effort. In the midst of the renewal of Lahore in the colonial period was created the Faletti’s Hotel, then the finest in the entire Punjab, and considered fit for a maharajah to live in.


History

Faletti's over the Ages

The Faletti’s of Lahore is the oldest colonial period hotel in the historic city of Lahore. When it starting operating in 1880 it was, without doubt, the finest the city had ever seen. The ‘Civil & Military Gazette’ newspaper of 1887 in an advertisement claimed that it was fit for “a maharajah”. Today it remains among the very best, with more tradition, history and class than any of its modern competitors.

This is not co-incidental, for this unique hotel has a history of excellence. The origins of this hotel lie in the Napoleonic Wars that ravaged Europe in the 18th century. The Faletti clan of Sagliano Micca, Piedmonte, in Italy, was well known for its culinary excellence. Even today all over the world the Piedmont eateries are known for their excellent cuisine. Being near the French border these areas were part of the expanded French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. Most of the Faletti clan were made to join his army and participated in the wars that followed.

After Waterloo and the depressing economic conditions that followed in Europe, people from the entire European continent started to move westwards, mostly to the United States. A considerable number of Italians began to migrate too. The Faletti clan, so the record tells us, migrated to the USA, South America, France and England. Even today in New York they remain a tightly-knit community.

In Italy immense wealth of the Lahore Darbar of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, mostly, one assumes, through popular gossip that followed the return of General Ventura of the Sikh Army, whose wealth even in 1848 was legendary in Italy. It seems this lure of the East compelled Andrei Faletti to move to Lahore from Hammersmith in England, where he worked in a hotel.

The circumstances of his arrival are little known, but what is known is that he took up residence in 1872 in a house in Tehsil Bazaar inside Bhati Gate, located as it is in the Taxali area. From there he started trading, making numerous friends among the ruling British elite. As circumstances would have it, he became friendly with a beautiful courtesan, a friendship that was to last a lifetime.

By 1876 he had moved to a new flat on The Mall. It was here that he set up a company to plan his grand dream of a hotel “fit for a king”. He approached the Governor of the Punjab, Sir Robert Davis, and in a meeting in August, 1878, at the Governor’s House of Lahore he was assured the “fullest possible support” of the authorities if “the proposed hotel met the highest standards of service”. The company registered with the office of the Deputy Commissioner had four investors led by Mr. Andrei Faletti.

Mr. A. Faletti approached a well-known chartered architect’s firm by the name of Anderson of Simla and Karachi. The young Mr. J.R. Anderson sought assistance from the famous Bhai Ram Singh, probably the greatest architect and designer then and working as a teacher with Lahore’s Mayo School of Arts, now known as the National College of Arts. The resultant design, which was an Anderson creation, was shown to the authorities in Town Hall in Lahore and official approval was granted. By the end of 1879 the structure was complete and by the middle of 1880 it was ready. The inauguration was performed by the new Governor, Sir Robert Egerton, who said on the occasion: “Finally we have in Lahore a place that meets the highest standards expected of a British hotel”. After the inauguration the road was named after Sir Robert Egerton.

In those days guests arrived in horse-driven buggies and the hotel owned three two-horse driven carriages for their guests. The rear portion of the hotel had a stable and the staff lived and worked there. The carriage staff that came with the guests used the stable to wait and moved only when an ‘usher’ announced the expected departure of a guest. It was almost like England recreated in a foreign land.

Initially the hotel was restricted to the ruling classes, mostly British officials and the rich Rajas, Nawabs and the emerging entrepreneurs of the Punjab and India. It was such a success that from the initial 44 rooms permission was sought in 1897 to expand to 68 rooms, which permission was granted by the Resident Engineer based at the Town Hall.

In 1905 the founder of the hotel passed away. The authorities made a special dispensation and allowed him to be buried in Lahore’s Royal Artillery Bazaar graveyard. Today his grave lied in the middle to the right of the main entrance, a typical square structure one finds in a European cemetery.

By 1923 the firm Anderson and Aserpota of Simla and Karachi had applied to the Town Architect for permission to use an incinerator to dispose of waste given the large amounts generated. Lahore had never experienced such a large hotel and the owners felt that the time had come for “a scientific way to dispose of waste”.

Ironically, the Chief Engineer withheld permission for the hotel management could not provide a guarantee that “smoke would not pollute the surrounding areas”. In Lahore this probably was the first example of what we in modern times call environmental awareness. By this time the hotel was being managed by a firm named Associated Hotels of India, which owned the Cecil’s of Murree, Flashman’s of Rawalpindi and Deans of Peshawar.

In 1942 the entire company and assets of the Associated Hotels of India was taken over by the Oberoi Group, owned by the legendary hotelier Mohan Singh Oberoi. The life of M.S. Oberoi itself reads like a fairy tale of a rags-to-riches story. Born in the village of Bhaun in Chakwal, then part of District Jhelum, he did his initial schooling at Bhaun, then moved to Rawalpindi, where, as M. S. Oberoi himself writes: “For the first time I saw an Englishman and a hotel”. On the death of his father he moved to Lahore where he worked in a shoe factory. Here he decided to change himself radically by cutting off his traditional Sikh beard and discarding his turban. His family disowned him, but he took his wife and two children and moved to Delhi, where he worked as waiter in a hotel run by Mr. Clarke for Rs. 50 a month.

Both Clarke and Oberoi moved to Simla, where Mohan Singh Oberoi learned how to run a hotel. He was sharp and honest and very soon circumstances opened up and he purchased the hotel itself. There was no looking back for this great hotelier from Bhaun, for by 1942 he had purchased the Associated Hotels of India and by 2003, the year he died, he was among the world’s biggest hoteliers, owning prestigious places like the Imperial in Mumbai and similar ones in 15 countries.

But it was Faletti’s that he loved most, for when working in Lahore, as he was to write much later, he was denied entry to it and walked away wishing to one day buy it. That prayer, he says, the Almighty answered in no small terms. After 1947 the hotels remained with his group, and he was a regular visitor from India. In the September 1965 War the entire properties of the Associated Hotels Group was taken over as ‘enemy property’ and handed over to the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation.

In 2000 the hotel was finally auctioned, and today it is the prized possession of the Imperial Hotel Services Group. The legend of Falettis’ Hotel impressed the present owner, who true to his word invested to conserve the legacy of this great landmark of Lahore. Even the well-known trees have been taken care of, a promise to the environmentalist of Lahore. What you see today is how it looked in 1880, a place then before its time, and a hotel today that reflects a traditional of excellence that sets it apart from any other hotel.


History

Famous faces at Faletti's

Since 1880 thousands of well-known persons have passed through Falettis’ Hotel. From the great poet Iqbal to the statesman Quaid-e-Azam, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, to great sportsmen like Sir Garfield Sobers to legendary jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, to beautiful actresses like Ava Gardner and film heroes like Marlon Brando and Stewart Granger, and in relative recent time the well-known politician Z.A. Bhutto, all of them preferred Falettis’ to any other place.

But then in the colonial era nearly all the Nawabs and Rajas who did not own their own houses, all of them enjoyed the majestic hospitality of Falettis’. Probably the most romance is attached with Ava Gardner, the heroine of the famous film ‘Bowani Junction’, made in 1954 based on the John Masters classic by the same name. She stayed in Room 55, which is now named after her, a luxurious suite fit for a diva of her stature.

But then she was followed by the great film actor Marlon Brando, who came to Lahore in 1967 to enlist Pakistani artistes to a United Nations fund-raising gala.

Probably the most famous resident of this great hotel was the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr. Justice Cornelius, who with his wife moved into the hotel in the early 1980s and stayed there till his death in 1991. His room, Number 2, has now been named after him.

In 1929 the Father of the nation, Muhammad Ali Jinnah stayed in Room 18, when he came to argue the famous case of Ghazi Ilmuddin Shaheed. It is said that in the evenings he would have a black coffee and a cigar in the restaurant before he moved to his room to prepare his case. Today that room is named after this great statesman. In those very days the great poet Allama Iqbal also moved in there for a short period.

Over the last century all the great sportsmen who came to Lahore stayed at the Falettis’. All the Test cricket teams from England, Australia, the West Indies, India, New Zealand and Sri Lanka have stayed here. Great cricketers like Sir Garfield Sobers and other greats all stayed at Falettis’. Then also did the great American basketball wizards ‘the Harlem Globetrotters’ stayed here. They also played a match with the hotel staff in the car park makeshift court. The score, as an old employee recalls, was 110 - 3. Obviously the visitors were kind enough to allow a consolation throw to the manager.

The hotel remained for years the favourite haunt for famous politicians, like the former Pakistani Prime Minister, Mr. Z.A. Bhutto, as well as the great Sindi leader the Pir of Pagero and the Frontier Gandhi Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan. But probably the greatest Indian politician to stay in the Falettis’ was Pandit Nehru, who was to write of his stay: “I have never had such well-brewed tea anywhere”. Pandit Nehru preferred to stay here even though his in-laws, Raja Nirander Nath, had a magnificent house on Lahore’s Waris Road.

During the colonial era invariably all the delegation of top officials and MPs stayed at Falettis’, where in the slow progress towards Independence a lot of ground was covered in the rooms of the hotel. During the bloody riots of 1947 the hotel was a safe haven and remained free from the terrible events that were happening all around.

With the hotel now back to its glory of old, famous faces keep coming to enjoy its unique hospitality. In the glory of famous faces that are no more, the newer ones blend in comfortably, making history as time flies. The constant comfort to all is the hotel famous for its excellence and hospitality.


History

Tradition of Excellence

In this age of fast foods and packages servings, it is exceedingly difficult to relax and enjoy a classy meal, replenished with correct settings and a service few can match. Responding to proper service is an art form, and that is where Falettis’ exceeds, and always has, the lessons of over a century of serving the finest.

An elaborate setting is critical to the fine diner, for it saves him the hassle of constantly asking for the little things that make a complete meal. But a complete meal is not all service and setting. The central role of classy food, served with taste in an ambience unrivalled, is what makes the fine diner return. The mere fact that those who have once tried staying or eating at Falettis’ return to relive the experience. For the management this is reward enough.

In days gone by when twin-horse driven carriages pulled up at the entrance, the elegant doorman with his top hat received the guest and escorted him inside the main hall, from where page boys would sure the guest is always looked after. Today the staff at the door exudes the same friendly smile, a tradition of excellence that is here to stay.

In the huge rooms that remain unrivalled in the city for their comfort, the guest witnesses the same urge to make every guest feel at home. In a sense Falettis’ is a home away from home. The only difference is that at Falettis’ you are always being spoilt. Such is the pull of tradition; such is the role excellence plays in making sure Falettis’ remains among the finest hotel you will find in the historic city of Lahore.