The first thing you notice is the tangy and refreshing scent of eucalyptus trees, thousands of them, planted symmetrically along the highway and around the edges of the 450-acre estate.
Then there are the animals--a herd of grazing deer, two grunting camels, a flock of fat turkeys--equally out of place in the harsh and impoverished surrounding countryside, where donkeys stagger along the road under mountains of fodder and peasants whip emaciated horses ahead of their creaking carts.
But this prized parcel of land, with its cluster of elaborate homes surrounded by tended lawns and rose gardens, is not a part of the real Pakistan. It is, or was, the exclusive domain of Nawaz Sharif, the wealthy prime minister who was deposed in a military coup on Oct. 12 and has remained in army custody ever since.
Now, military authorities are allowing foreign journalists to tour the guarded property about 20 miles outside of Lahore, helpfully pointing out each detail of Sharif's opulent monument to himself--the swan-shaped glass coffee tables, the empty marble foyers, the fleet of Mercedes-Benzes covered with dust.
"Peek in the windows here; you can see quite a bit," urged Maj. Babar Mahmood, pointing with his swagger stick as he leads a visitor around the grounds of Sharif's piece de resistance, a stately, 22-room mansion he had just completed building for his family when he was overthrown.
Sharif, whom military officials allege was involved in massive corruption and swindling schemes during his 2 1/2 years in power, named the compound after his ancestral village, Jati Umrah. But he furnished it with every modern convenience imaginable, from vibrating massage chairs to the latest milking equipment for his herd of water buffalo.
"You build a palace thinking you will stay there a long time, and then suddenly you are gone," observed Abid Saeed, a guide from the government's Information Ministry. In Pakistan's feudal tradition, he pointed out, "the ideal is to own as much land as possible." Sharif, a rich but insecure industrialist at the pinnacle of power, apparently needed a "farm" to serve as his sanctuary and showpiece.
Despite their contempt for Sharif's expensive self-indulgence in a country of vast poverty and hardship, the officials displayed careful courtesy toward his relatives, including his father and sister, who still live in the compound. Journalists must agree not to approach or harass any residents, and tours are conducted in the early morning before anyone is out and about.
Compared to the abandoned luxury lairs of other fallen potentates, such as Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines or Jean-Claude Duvalier of Haiti, Jati Umrah is peanuts. Sharif's house is spacious but single-storied, and most of the antiques inside appear to be reproductions. There are no waterfalls or amusement parks, although there is a helipad and a private theater.
There are signs, too, that Sharif, who was widely detested for his high-handed governing style, intended his rural paradise to benefit ordinary Pakistanis as well. In an adjoining tract, he built a modern hospital, known as Sharif Medical City, with ultra-modern equipment for diagnosis and surgery of all kinds.
But on Friday morning, the gleaming, 300-bed medical facility appeared to be nearly empty except for employees swabbing the corridors. A receptionist said that one night's stay in a private room costs 1,000 rupees (about $20; a fortune for most Pakistanis), although he added that all patients are welcome and discounts are available for those who cannot afford to pay the full cost.
It is unclear what will become of both the private and public structures of Jati Umrah, especially if military officials are able to prove in court that it was built with ill-gotten funds. Both Sharif and his brother Shahbazz, who is also in custody, are expected to be prosecuted in numerous cases of money laundering, bank loan defaults and other financial wrongdoing.
Sharif's wife and son, who are crusading to have him released, have insisted he broke no laws and that a fair trial would prove his innocence.
For now, however, the grooms continue raking out horse stalls, the maids keep dusting unused china services, and two stuffed lions continue to guard the front foyer of Sharif's empty mansion. Just three years ago, when he ran for office on a platform of economic and political reform--and won a landslide victory from Pakistani voters--his campaign symbol was a lion rampant.
CAPTION: Military officials now offer tours of the overthrown Pakistani prime minister's mansion.