Beyond the killing fields of Waziristan and amidst the nihilistic atrocities of ruthless Talibans lies Peshawar, one of the oldest cities of the world. This traditionally conservative city in Pakistan’s frontier with Afghanistan is steeped in history. Historical relics of the city’s splendid archaeological sites are still visible.
Peshawar’s downfall started with the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when the fleeing Afghans used Peshawar as the exit point to escape the chaos and atrocities in their motherland. Peshawar is the nearest gateway from Afghanistan through the picturesque Khyber Pass, a shortcut that was used by Alexander the Great over 2300 years ago to enter the Indian subcontinent. It is still being used by barbarian Afghan Talibans and al-Queda to escape American attacks and create havoc in Pakistan. The utter chaos and brutal killings that started in Afghanistan three decades ago have taken away the glitter of this exotic city and made it utterly hapless.
Roughly five hundred years after Alexander’s invasion of what is now North-West Pakistan, a Central Asian king named Kanishka established a major settlement and named it Pushpapur (City of Flowers) what later came to be known as Peshawar. It emerged as a major center of Buddhist learning until the advent of Islam in the 10th century. King Kanishka built a memorial to Lord Buddha that Buddhist travelers from China like Faxian and Xuanzang considered to be the tallest building in the world. This structure was discovered in 1908 and the resident Talibans haven’t destroyed it yet.
The present city of Peshawar was established by the mighty and benevolent Mughal Emperor Akbar, a contemporary of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I, who ruled most part of the Indian subcontinent in the 16th century. The city became a major trading center on the ancient Silk Road.Trading with outher countries brought prosperity to Peshawar.
This ancient city, albeit now violence ravaged, bears the testimony of different civilizations that the Aryans, Scythians, Persians, Greeks, Kushans, Huns, Turks, Mongols and Mughals brought to this frontier city. It has many amazing historical relics as also depressing remains of buildings that were once beautiful.
Peshawar was prone to attacks by invaders and fierce tribals from neighboring areas. High walls were erected for protecting the city. Most of these walls have since collapsed but many houses and some impressive palaces still exist.
In the old part of the city there are two and three story houses built mostly with sun-baked bricks reinforced with wooden frames to protect them from collapsing in this earthquake-prone region. Many of these houses have exquisitely carved wooden doors with ornamental wooden balconies.
What the city offers
The city offers excellent handicrafts and other products made by small-scale industrial units. Rare rugs and carpets are now Pakistan’s top export items. There are many bazaars in the city selling souvenirs and different other items like copper jars and brass samovars, tribal daggers and knives, silk scarves and Kashmere shawls. Travelers must visit the Kissa Kahani Bazaar (Story Tellers Bazaar) where various exotic merchandises from Central Asia are available.
Although a victim of ruthless violence, Peshawar is still a lively male-dominated city. Robust handsome men roam the streets and gather at eating joints relishing bar-be-cue kebabs and roasted steaks, listening to popular songs banned in Afghanistan. They look striking in their baggy trousers and long shirts with bullet-studded belts across their massive chests and locally made pistols stuck to their waist belts.
The airport is hardly ten minutes drive from most downtown hotels. Taxis are available. Pakistan’s capital Islamabad is 170 kilometers away and takes about three houses.
Traveling within the city
Tourist coaches are available for taking travelers around the city covering places like the various bazaars, Mohabat Khan Mosque and Peshawar Museum. That will give you ample opportunity of exploring Peshawar’s cultural life and witness the confluence of people belonging to different races who inhabit this historic city.
The horror of Daniel Pearl incidence is too fresh in our minds. Travel advisory issued by your country will discourage you from visiting Peshawar. But have this place in mind. When peace returns – and peace must soon prevail – come to this city and see the enchanting areas like the Swat Valley for its sublime natural beauty; also Mohenjodaro and Harappa, the cradle of Indus Valley Civilization.