Hira Mandi, a neighborhood on the east of the Badshahi Mosque, is (literally) the diamond market. But at night it turned into another type of 'diamond' market. By 10 P.M. the narrow streets were crammed with strolling men, cruising, looking for action, Pakistani style. Only men . . . and of course, in the business establishments, were the 'natch' (dancing) girls. A remnant of a bygone age.
The girls in all shades of satins and silks. Sparkley in sequins. Filmy Punjabi shalwar kameez and smoky flowing gossamer thin dupattas. Heavily made-up and glittering golden bejewelled. Sitting in upper-story windows and balconies, looking down, looking enticing, the men walking below, gazing up at them longingly. Some would beckon coyly with surma rimmed eyes sparkling, their red voluptuous lips mouthing unheard half-imagined words of encouragement. The houses lean half-hazardly against one another. Stairways and dimly lit passageways leading to the various rooms. Downstairs the musicians would be warming up. Mostly tabla, dholak, harmonium, and tambourine. And the shimmering sounds of the 'ghungrughan' (leather leggings covered with rows of small shinny brass bells, fastened to the dancing girls ankles). With graceful arched feet the girls stomped out the rhythms, dancing to the accompaniment of the pounding drums. Fat madames sitting on plush cushions, faces painted, ostentatious rings on corpulent fingers, silver filigreed paan boxes by their sides, watched the doorways for potential customers.
By 11:30 the dancing started. The hypnotizing beat of the drums and dholaks mixing and carrying down the streets. In front of the houses, the drone of the harmoniums would be heard. The fronts of the houses, open on the bottom floor, were brightly lit behind veils and curtains of transparent gauze like fabrics of all hues. The street became a surging press of humanity, predominately male. Vendors, beggars, food, lights, and colours. Cars slowly squeezing between the massed people. The pounding of drums, and the ringing of bells. Money changers on the street with their glass-covered card table size cases, filled with wads of crisp new rupee notes. Ones, fives, and tens, held together with thin rubber bands stretched to the breaking point, where you could change money to shower the dancing girls, the key to keep them spinning.
This is an excerpt taken from the first chapter of my book, 'Some Time On the Frontier-A Pakistan Journal' You can find it here http://www.pbase.com/noorkhan/image/78226038
I haven't hung out in Hira Mandi since this photo was taken, but it was already changing (into something less exotic) by the early 90's.