The roughly 2 km stretch from the Lower Mall to Azadi Chowk is a political runway, lined with huge floodlights as far as the eye can see. Traffic is slower than usual, but hoards of children have climbed the small stages along the route, waving flags, singing along to “Haijamalo!” largely oblivious of politics.

The spectacle welcoming former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s convoy to its final destination in Lahore, is a costly one. There are dozens of speakers blaring folk and pop songs along the stretch, blinking stage lights and enough flex to cover every inch of the rally route leading up to Azadi Chowk. The floodlights, counting easily in the hundreds cost on average Rs1,800 to rent for the day.

The overhead walkways are a plastered mess of floating PML-N heads, with life-sized posters and “I love you Nawaz Sharif,” smeared across them, like love-letters from a child.

Further down the road, every metro railing is lined with posters, portraits and political banners, some already tearing off. The average price of a single six-by-three flex streamer is Rs250. These number in the thousands, with larger posters costing double or more.

Shujaat Ali, 25, says he couldn’t be happier with all the banners. “I’m earning Rs600 a day just running around putting up these posters,” he says. “This rally is my lucky charm.”

But the government isn’t betting on luck to keep the rally safe on Saturday. Scores of Punjab police officers hang out of their vehicles, posted every few hundred metres. In groups of three or four, they patrol the area, rifles slung over shoulders, the sweat visible beneath their green shirts.

When we stop to question some of them, they point to the superintendent’s car and tell us he is the man to talk to. None of them know what his name is, and the SP has disappeared into a nearby mosque for extended evening prayers. The entire place is swarming with police, and they’ll be around till the convoy gets here.

Reasonable security arrangements seem to be in place, but not without inconvenience to small business owners along the way.

“They’ve been asking me to close since yesterday,” says Ahmad Khan, 34, who owns a small restaurant, “Al-Faisal Hotel” along the rally route. “But I just can’t afford it. Tomorrow, I’ll have to close up.”

The heart of Azadi Chowk is lit up like an old school discotheque, in neon lights and purple lasers that rise up into the night.

At Data Darbar Chowk, where Nawaz Sharif is expected to speak, containers are already in place, and the usually busy Butt Market nearby is entirely empty. Famous for its bird sellers, perfume vendors and restaurants, it’s been closed for four days.

“It’s been days and our shops are closed. We’re bearing losses close to Rs25,000 a day,” says Zafar Ali, 42, who sells birds outside the shrine.

Restaurant owner Shehzad Anwar, 38, feels the same way. “Why shouldn’t we be allowed to profit from these activities?” he says. “Instead the police came in four days ago and gave everybody verbal orders to close down.”

Nearby, a man and a monkey watch the rally preparations, squatting in the dirt before a life-sized campaign poster.

“We have no interest in politics, we just want this rally to be over with so we can get back to life,” says Fahad Hussain, 22, who sells sports goods near the shrine.

The area around the shrine has none of its usual colour. The rose garlands, yellow parrots, sufis and students have been replaced by enormous banners welcoming Nawaz Sharif home.

After all, this is NA-120, Sharif’s former constituency. With his wife running to avenge her husband’s seat as the new PML-N nominee, this will be a political hotspot come September 17th.

It is clear however, that at the social level a certain political fatigue has set in, and ordinary people are eager for life to return to normal – away from the noise and bright lights of a gruelling election showdown.