Peshawar (pronounced Pe-SHAH-wur),
the capital of Khyber-Pukhtunkhwa (NWFP), is a frontier town, the meeting place of the subcontinent and Central Asia. It is perhaps the oldest living city in this part of Asia – a place where ancient traditions jostle with those of today, and where the bazaar in the old city has changed little in the last hundred years except to become the neighbour of a modern university, some modern hotels, some international banks and one of the best museums in Pakistan.No other city is quite like old Peshawar. The bazaar within its walls is like an American Wild West movie costumed as a Bible epic. Pathan (Pukhtun or Pashtun) tribesmen stroll down the street, their hands hidden inside their shawls and their faces partly covered by the loose ends of their turbans (they have now been forbidden to walk armed in town). With his piercing eyes and finely chiselled nose, the Pathan must be the handsomest man on earth. Overlooking all the crowded and narrow streets are the massive Balahisar Fort — still used by the army, and the elegant Mahabat Khan Mosque.The railway, built by the British, divides Peshawar’s old town from the Cantonment, laid out by the British after 1850, with wide tree-lined streets bordered by once gracious administrative buildings and spacious bungalows in large gardens. Clubs, churches, schools, The Mall, Saddar Bazaar and the airport are all part of the British contribution to modern Peshawar. Peshawar University, founded in 1950, and surrounded by University Town, lies to the west on the road to the Khyber Pass. Hayatabad, the newest suburb, is west of the university nearer the Khyber Pass.
Peshawar is divided into four sections:
The old walled city,
The British cantonment,
Here you will find many of Peshawar’s cheaper hotels and, in the evening, food stalls selling excellent kebabs and fry-ups. Meat is sold by weight and then cooked while you watch. The main street, full of doctors, lawyers and dentists, features billboards depicting sets of false teeth of nightmarish proportions. Kabuli Gate, one of the walled city’s 16 gates, is at the end of Khyber Bazaar. The wall survived until the mid-1950s, and though the names remain, the gates and the wall have, for the most part, disappeared.
Qissa Khawani Bazar
Qissa Khawani (Story-tellers’) Bazaar was described in the mid-19th century by the British Commissioner in Peshawar, Sir Herbert Edwardes, as ‘the Piccadilly of Central Asia’. Towering over the street are tall, narrow buildings with intricately carved balconies and window frames.Before the advent of radios and television, the art of professional story telling flourished in the traditional teahouses and balakhanas in the bazaar. The storyteller relied on his tongue and his imagination to earn his livelihood. The tales were partly narrated, partly sung to an audience of traders and travellers arriving with their caravans from distant corners of the world.
Chitrali Bazaar is in the street to the right (south) and a great place to shop for traditional woollen hats (pakol) and waist coats. Mochi Lara nearby offers traditional footwear (chapli)
Brass and copper shops
Brass and copper shops are in the street to the left (northwest) at the end of Qissa Khawani. These sell a range of new and old wares. Ali Brothers on the left is the best–known, and sells Gardner Russian china plus brass and copper
The Peshawar Pottery is down a side street on the left, immediately after the brass shops. Here you can watch the potters at work 10.00 to 16.00, except Fridays. The wide range of ornamental and utilitarian pottery is glazed in strong earthy colours.
Blankets and shawls
Back on the main street are the shops selling blankets and shawls from the valley of Swat. Made of handspun wool, they are predominantly red and black with brightly patterned borders. The lane to the right (southeast), opposite the street to the pottery, leads to the cloth bazaar. Beyond that is the basket bazaar, where baskets from Dera Ismail Khan are sold. Here also is the Banjara Bazaar, which specialises in unusual decorative items such as bells, bone and wooden beads and hair braids. Ask here for the way toPeepul Mundi, the main grain wholesale market, where there is a Peepul tree believed to be the offspring of the tree under which the Buddha preached.If you choose instead to continue on the main street towards Chowk Yadgar, you pass the bird market and more cloth shops selling all types of chadors (multi–purpose sheets) and blockprints.
Chowk Yadgar is the ‘Speaker’s Corner’ and central square of old Peshawar. The monument at the centre commemorates the heroes of the 1965 Indo–Pakistan War and is the traditional town meeting place, where most political rallies and demonstrations take place.On the left of the square the money-changers squat on their hand-knotted carpets with their safes behind them and their pocket calculators and mobile phones at the ready. They will change any currency, but only accept clean notes.
From Chowk Yadgar there are two interesting walks, one to the west and the other to the east. Running off the square to the west is Andershehr Bazaar, a narrow street of gold- and silversmiths selling jewellery (both tribal and modern), antique silver, old coins and military buttons and buckles. While you rummage through the boxes of treasures, trying on nomads’ earrings, the shopkeeper plies you with cups of sweet green tea brewed in huge copper samovars. Shinwari Plaza, 70 metres beyond the Mahabat Mosque on the right, is a plaza full of the best Afghan shops, happy hunting ground for jewellery and carpets, and all things Afghan.
Mahabat Khan Mosque
Mahabat Khan Mosque is at the top of the hill on the right (north), its entrance a narrow gateway between the jewellery shops. Built in the 1670s, this beautifully proportioned Mughal mosque, named after a regional governor who served under both emperors Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb, is orthodox in design. Its open courtyard has an ablution pond in the middle and a single row of rooms around the sides. The prayer hall on the west is flanked by two tall minarets. According to the late 19th-century Gazetteer, the minarets were frequently used in Sikh times ‘as a substitute for the gallows’. A fire that raged through the Andershehr Bazaar in 1895, (the Gazeteer continues) failed to destroy the mosque thanks only to the ‘unremitting efforts of the faithful’. The interior of the prayer hall is sheltered beneath three low fluted domes and is lavishly and colourfully painted with floral and geometric designs.From Andershehr Bazaar, a street leads into Dhaki Munawar Shah where the famous Bollywood actor Raj Kapoor’s ancestral house is located. Dilip Kumar’s house is nearby too.
Cunningham Clock Tower
However, if you start again at Chowk Yadgar, but go east this time, you pass the ancient vegetable market on the right and an alley full of hardware shops on the left before coming to the Cunningham Clock Tower. It was built in 1900 ‘in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen Empress’, but is named after commissioner of Peshawar of that period. A marble tablet on one side of the monument calls one’s attention to the sacrifices made by the people of the city in foreign lands: “From this city 200 men went to the Great War 1914-1919 of these 7 gave up their lives.”The leather and skin market around the clock tower features the skins of very young Karakul lambs, and many of the shops have tailors on hand to make astrakhan hats.
The Meena Bazaar, the Women’s Bazaar, is down the alley to the right (south) from the clock tower. Groups of black-tented women flit like ravens between the stalls shopping for beads, trimmings, machine embroidery and trinkets. Visitors considering adopting purdah can buy their burqa (veil) here in a choice of colours.Further up the hill from the clock tower is the shoe bazaar, which is down an alley on the right. Next is the blockprinting shop where cloth is handprinted using a variety of carved wooden blocks dipped in different coloured dyes.
Sethi Street continues up the hill to the Mughal caravanserai (Gor Khatri). Most of the old interconnected houses here belong to the Sethi family, one of the oldest merchant families in Peshawar. They once had offices in Czarist Russia and Shanghai; they imported silks and china and exported cloth, indigo and tea. The tall houses with wooden balconies have intricately carved wooden doors leading into spacious courtyards. Cool cellars, 15 metres deep, provide a retreat from the heat in summer. Victorian glass chandeliers evoke 19th-century opulence. Hidden inside these houses, covering their ceilings and walls like a mantle, is decorative woodwork of exquisite quality. Through a galaxy of pre-Islamic, Moghul, Sikh and even British motifs, much of Peshawar’s rich and varied cultural history can be traced.
The Gor Khatri was once a Mughal caravanserai crowning the hill at the top end of Sethi Street. Huge Mughal gateways on either end lead into a large courtyard, over 200 metres square, that was once surrounded on all four sides by rooms for travellers. The site has been considered holy for more than 2,000 years. In the second century AD, it was a Buddhist shrine and monastery known as the Tower of the Buddha’s Bowl. Remains of a Sikh temple to Gorakhnath, a yogi sect, stand in the south-eastern corner of the courtyard, with a shrine to Nandi beside it.An ongoing archaeological dig in the north-eastern corner of Gor Khatri has established that Peshawar is one of the earliest living cities in this part of Asia, inhabited continuously from the 4-6th century BC, when it was a province of the Persian Achaemenian Empire. From then onwards it was ruled in turn by the Mauryans, Greeks, Scythians, Kushans, Sasanians, White Huns, Hindu Shahis, Ghaznavids, Ghorids, Suri Afghans, Mughals, Durrani Afghans, Sikhs, and the British, before becoming Pakistan in 1947.
Balahisar Fort, is a massive structure built by the Sikhs in 1834 on the site of Babur’s earlier fort. It has been the headquarters of the Frontier Corps since 1907 and is still used by the army. Most of the existing barracks and military installations date back from the British period. The fort houses an interesting military museum which is open to public on special permission. A ceremonial changing of guards takes place ten minutes before sunset daily.
The Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is now part of the British Crown Jewels, was taken from the former Afghan rulers by the Sikhs inside Balahisar. It was then acquired by The East India Company after the annexation of Peshawar in 1849 and later presented to Her Majesty Queen Victoria the following year.
Lady Reading Hospital
Lady Reading, the Viocrienie who visited Peshawar in 1921, founded Lady Reading Hospital outside the old walled city in 1929. The hospital was built on the site of the Bullock, Elephant and Camel lines that once existed behind the Balahisar Fort. The famous Bolton Block is a historic building worth seeing. The typical ambience of hospital life of the Raj period is remarkably preserved here.Another old hospital, formerly the Military Station Hospital and now Combined Military Hospital (or CMH) was started at the turn of the last century. It is located opposite Company Bagh on the Mall in the cantonment.
All Saints’ Church
All Saints’ Church, located inside the Kohati gate of the old city, opened on 27 December 1883, is unique. It bears a striking resemblance to an Islamic saracenic mosque. In the words of one of its founding fathers Reverend Worthington Jukes, “Its architecture is a successful adaptation of mosque architecture to the purposes of Christian worship.”An old bible in Hebrew and English from 1806 has a brass latch engraved with the words “Peshawar City, Afghanistan” shows Peshawar’s historical links with the Afghans. Peshawar was once the Afghan winter capital.
Edwardes Mission HIGH School
The Frontier’s first school is located near All Saints Church near Kohati Gate. After the British annexation of Peshawar in 1849 this property was confiscated and handed over to one of the pioneer missionaries, Major Martin, to establish the first school on the Frontier in 1853. A marble plaque on a surviving gateway at the site reads: “This building was formerly the residence of the Governors of Peshawar Yar Muhammed Khan (1823-1829) Sultan Muhammed Khan (1831-1834) brother of Amir Dost Muhammed Khan (King of Afghanistan)”
Located on the southern side outside the walled city on Wazir Bagh Road is a muslim cemetery dating back to the time when Peshawar was the winter capital of Afghanistan. Here lies the tomb of Afghan prince Ayub Khan of Maiwand fame. He was the son of Sher Ali, Amir of Afghanistan, and cousin of Amir Abdur Rahman. He confronted the British force commanded by General Burrows at Maiwand, on 27th July 1880, near the close of the Second Afghan war and was able to win one of the very few pitched battles that have been won by Asiatic leaders over an army under European direction.The tablet at the cemetery gate reads: “The mausoleum of Maiwand’s Victor Ghazi Sardar Mohammed Ayub Khan” (b.1855 d.1914). His mother, the wife of Amir Sher Ali, and other relatives are also buried nearby. Two 18th century mosques dating also occupy the same compound. The smaller one is in a forlorn and dilapidated state and no longer used. Its walls still bear faint hand written Persian inscriptions in ink. The curious geometric shapes and mystical religious poetry appear to be of a Sufi nature.
Gurdwara Bhai Joga Singh
An old Sikh temple is inside Mohallah Jogan Shah situated between Namak Mandi and Dabgari.
Kotla Mohsin Khan
This site boasts a historical gateway and tombs as well as links with many great personalities who once lived here. The last Mughal governor, Nawab Nasir Khan welcomed the Afghan King Nadir Shah Durrani and gifted him the key to Peshawar in 1741 when he visited the city. This signalled the end of the Mughal empire in Peshawar. According to an earlier legend, the foundation of the Kotla gate was laid down in the latter half of the 16th century in the presence of renowned personalities of the time, Shiekh Kaka Sahib and Akhund Derwaza Baba.It is also recorded that Arbab Mustajab Khan, being the representative of the Moghuls, settled disputes amongst the Ghori Khel tribes in the balconies of the building. When the Moghuls arrested Khushal Khan Khattak, Arbab Mustajab Khan, secured his release from the dungeon, and kept him as a guest in the castle.The original name of this site was Kotla Mustajab Khan. It was renamed as Kotla Mohsin Khan due to the owner’s close relationship with Mustajab Khan during the reign of Afghan King Ahmad Shah Durrani.During the siege of Peshawar in 1830s, the Sikhs also burnt this site and it was later refurbished. The gateway and minarets of Kotla Mohsin Khan are historical landmarks of the 16th and 17th century “Roshnai period”. Bayazid Ansari alias Pir Rokhan started his religious and political movement against the Moghul emperor Akbar from this site. Allah Dad Doshani alias Rashid Khan constructed minarets at this site to conduct judicial duties.
In British India, the term ‘cantonment’ meant a permanent military station or settlement where the soldiers lived, not in private houses, but in barracks. After occupying Peshawar in 1849, the British founded a new cantonment turning it into a boulevard city lined with trees. The extensive military infrastructure, built to suit their needs during that period is still in use.Peshawar’s cantonment sprawls along the west side of the railway line. It was laid out under the direction of Sir Colin Campbell in 1850, following the gracious British layout found all over the Indian subcontinent. Barracks, officers and civilian residences, churches, clubs, schools and other amenities line the wide streets shaded by huge trees.Between the old city and the cantonment is Saddar Bazaar, an area full of hotels, offices, restaurants and shops stocked with carpets and antique. The Cantonment Railway Station is here, and the later additions of a stadium and the airport.
Sphola Stupa, a Buddhist ruin 2nd to 5th centuries, stands on the right of the road above the railway at the village of Zarai, 25 kilometres from Jamrud. The stupa has a high hemispherical dome resting on a three-tiered square base. Many Gandharan sculptures were found here when the site was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century, some of which are now in the Peshawar Museum. The side of the stupa facing the road has been restored, but the rest of it is crumbling away.
The Khyber Train
For steam rail enthusiasts, the Khyber Railway from Peshawar to Landi Kotal is a world-famous attraction. The British built it in the 1920s at the then enormous cost of more than two million pounds. It passes through 34 tunnels totalling five kilometres and crosses 92 bridges and culverts. The two or three carriages are pulled and pushed by two SG 060 oil-fired engines. At one point the track climbs 130 metres in little more than a kilometre by means of the heart-stopping Changai Spur. This is a W-shaped section of track, at which the train must twice shudder to a stop, wait for the points to be changed and then back up the next section.The Khyber train now only runs by appointment for tourists. Ask at the Sehrai Travels, firstname.lastname@example.org, tel (091) 5272085, 5253383 or STC, for the latest details. It is an all day outing and the train waits two hours at Landi Kotal for lunch before returning to Peshawar. It is a short walk of about 750 metres from Landi Kotal Station to the town from where you can take a bus or taxi back to Peshawar, an easy escape if you have had enough of the train. STC is also planning revival of this vintage train between Peshawar and Dargai and Attock Khurd routes.