Peshawar derives its name from a
Sanskrit word "Pushpapura" meaning the city of flowers. Peshawar's
flowers were mentioned even in Mughal Emperor Babar's memories.
Alexander's legions and the southern wing of his army
were held up here in 327 B.C. for forty days at a fort excavated
recently, 27 1/2 kms north-east of Peshawar at Pushkalavati (lotus city)
The great Babar marched through historic Khyber Pass
to conquer South Asia in 1526 and set up the Moghal Empire in the
The Khyber Pass and the valley have resounded to the
tramp of marching feet as successive armies hurtled down the crossroad
of history, pathway of commerce, migration and invasion by Aryans,
Scythians. Persians, Greeks, Bactrians, Kushans, Huns, Turks' Mongols
Peshawar is now, as always, very much a frontier
town. The formalities of dress and manner give way here to a free and
easy style, as men encounter men with a firm hand-clasp and a straight
but friendly look. Hefty handsome men in baggy trousers and long, loose
shirts, wear bullet studded bandoliers across their chests or pistols at
their sides as a normal part of their dress.
There is just that little touch of excitement and
drama in the air that makes for a frontier land. An occasional salvo of
gun fire, no, not a tribal raid or a skirmish in the streets but a
lively part of wedding celebrations.
Remember, we are in the land of the Pathans - a
completely male-dominated society. North and south of Peshawar spreads
the vast tribal area where lives the biggest tribal society in the
world, and the most well known, though much misrepresented.
Pathans are faithful Muslims. Their typical martial
and religious character has been molded by their heroes, like Khushhal
Khan Khattak, the warrior poet and Rehman Baba, a preacher and also a
poet of Pushto language.
Today, they themselves guard the Pakistan-Afghanistan
border along the great passes of the Khyber, the Tochi, the Gomal and
others on Pakistan's territory, but before independence they
successfully defied mighty empires, like the British and the Moghal and
other before them, keeping the border simmering with commotion, and the
flame of freedom proudly burning.
Peshawar is the great Pathan city. And what a city!
Hoary with age and the passage of twenty-five centuries, redolent with
the smell of luscious fruit and roasted meat and tobacco smoke, placid
and relaxed but pulsating with the rhythmic sound of craftsmen's hammers
and horses' hooves, unhurried in its pedestrian pace and horse-carriage
traffic, darkened with tall houses, narrow lanes and overhanging
balconies, intimate, with its freely intermingling crowd of townsmen,
tribal, traders and tourists - this is old Peshawar, the journey's end
or at least a long halt, for those traveling up north or coming down
from the Middle East or Central Asia, now as centuries before when
caravans unloaded in the many caravan series now lying deserted outside
the dismantled city walls or used as garages by the modern caravans of
THE OLD CITY:
Until the mid-fifties Peshawar was enclosed within a city wall and
sixteen gates. Of the old city gates the most famous was the Kabuli Gate
but only the name remains now. It leads out to the Khyber and on to
You come across two-and -three story houses built
mostly of unbaked bricks set in wooden frames to guard against
earthquakes, Many old houses have beautifully carved heavy wooden doors
and almost all have highly ornamental wooden balconies. There is a tall
and broad structure whose lofty portal look down upon the street. This
historical building houses the police offices and the site was occupied
centuries ago by a Buddhist stupa, then by a Hindu temple and then by a
Moghal sarai. It was, in Sikh days, the seat of General Avitable, an
Italian soldier of fortune in the service of Ranjit Singh.
QISSA KHAWANI BAZAAR:
Here perhaps visiting travelers or the relaxing townsmen were regaled
with stories by professional story tellers, in the evening, in the many
teashops that still adorn the bazaar front with their large brass
samovars and numerous hanging teapots and teacups.
As in most eastern bazaars, the shops of delicacies
predominate, and here too you will find many colorful fruit shops
displaying the glorious harvest of Peshawar's unrivaled bread and justly
celebrated "Kababs" and "Tikkas" meat sizzling on hot coals, in the many
Leather goods shops are the next most numerous,
selling that wonderful footwear, the Peshawari "Chappals" or sandals,
belts, holsters and bandoliers and a special variety of light but sturdy
suitcase called "Yakhdaan".
As you move up, the Qissa Khawani Bazaar turns left and here begins the
bazaar of coppersmiths whose jewel-like engraved and embossed jars,
bowls, ewers and plates are piled up in shops like glistening treasure
trove. Other famous bazaars of Peshawar are the Khyber Bazaar. Bird
Bazaar and Meena Bazaar, Jewellery Bazaar and Mochilara (Shoe Makers'
In fact, the variety of craft in which Peshawar
excels even today is amazing and this is a part of the city's character
often eclipsed by its martial tradition. Remember that it was in this
valley of Peshawar that there flourished that remarkable school of
Ghandhara sculpture, which is one of the glories of Pakistan's heritage.
Soon you reach the central square called chowk Yadgaar the traditional
site of political rallies. The two routes from the old city meet here.
Parking of cars can safely be done only at this place in the old city.
MOSQUE OF MOHABAT KHAN:
The only significant remaining Moghal mosque in Peshawar was built by
Mohabat khan in 1670 A.D. when he was twice Governor of Peshawar under
Moghal Emperors Shah Jehan and Aurangzeb. The mosque was nearly
destroyed by fire in 1898 A.D. and was only saved by the unremitting
efforts of the faithful. The extensive renovation of the mosque was done
by the traditional craftsman. The mosque is a fine specimen of Moghal
architecture of Emperor Shah Jehan's period. The interior of the prayer
chamber has been lavishly decorated with floral work and calligraphy.
BALA HISAAR FORT:
The mighty Bala Hisaar Fort lies on both eastern approaches to Peshawar
city. It meets the eye when coming from Rawalpindi or from the Khyber.
It is a massive frowning structure as its name implies, and the newcomer
passing under the shadow of its huge battlements and ramparts cannot
fail to be impressed. Originally built by Babar, the first of the
Moghals in 1526-30, it was rebuilt in its present form by the Sikh
Governor of Peshawar, Hari Singh Nalva, in the 1830's under the guidance
of French engineers. It houses government offices at present.
Peshawar Museum is housed in an imposing building of the British days.
It was formerly the Victoria Memorial Hall built in 1905. The large
hall, side galleries and the raised platform which were used for ball
dances now display in chronological order finest specimens of Gandhara
sculptures, tribal life, the Muslim period and ethnography.
These houses are situated in Mohallah Sethian and can be approached from
Chowk yadgaar. These are highly decorated style of building with carved
wooden doors, partitions, balconies, mirrored and painted rooms. The
Sehtis are the traditional business community of Peshawar. The main
house was built in 1882 AD. by Haji Ahmed Gul who migrated from Chamkani
(a near village) almost 6 generations ago.
Across the railway line was built the new modern Peshawar, the
Cantonment, like the ones which the British built near every major city
for their administrative offices, military barracks, residences, parks,
churches and shops.
The Peshawar "Sadder" (Cantonment) is a spaciously
laid out neat and clean township with avenues of tall trees, wide tarred
roads, large single storied houses with lawns and a pervading scent of
rare shrubs and flowers that is Peshawar's own.
The heart of the sadder is the Khalid bin Walid
(Company) Bagh which is an old Moghal Garden. Its huge ancient trees and
gorgeous big roses are a sight to remember. Two other splendid old
gardens are the Shahi Bagh in the north-east and the Wazir Bagh in the
south-east, all of which give the character of a garden city to
In Sadder, there are the splendid modern state bank building, Governor's
house, hotels, old missionary Edwards collage ,archly stocked museum,
fine shopping area and right in the middle is the tourist Information
center at Dean's hotel (Phone:279781).
The Peshawar of the hoary past is the old city, the
Peshawar of the British period (1849 to 1947) is the Cantonment but the
Peshawar of independent Pakistan is the vast extension of the city west
Westward, on the road to the Khyber, where in the
days gone by, no one was safe from tribal raids, today stretches a long
line of educational and research institutions, such as the Academy of
rural development, the teachers training college, the north regional
laboratories of the council of scientific and industrial research and
But the pride of Peshawar today is its university, a
vast sprawling garden town of red brick buildings and velvet lawns,
which comprises a dozen departments and colleges of law, medicine,
engineering and forestry. Special mention must be made of the Islamia
college, which was the pioneer national institution that ignited the
torch of enlightenment in this region,67 years ago.
The road stretching out east towards Rawalpindi is
lined for miles upon miles with factories producing a variety of goods
and also orchard producing some of the world's finest plums, pears
and peaches. Rice, sugar-cane and tobacco are the rich cash-crops of the
well-watered Peshawar valley through which flows the Kabul River and at
the end of which the mighty Indus forms the district boundary for 48 1/2
Kms (30miles),the two joining near the historic Attock fort.