About 172 kms west of Rawalpindi/Islamabad by road about half an hour by air lies the last major town of Pakistan, the ancient and legendary Peshawar, city of proud Pathans. Peshawar the capital city of North-West Frontier Province, is a frontier town, the meeting place of the sub-continent and Central Asia. It is also a place where ancient traditions jostle with those of today, where the bazaar in the old city has changed little in the past hundred years except to become the neighbor of a modern university, some modern hotels, several international banks and one of the best museums in Pakistan.
No other city is quite like old Peshawar. The bazaar within the walls is like an American Wild movie costumed as a Bible epic. Pathan tribesmen stroll down the street with their hands hidden within their shawls, their faces half obscured by the loose ends of their turbans. (With his piercing eyes and finely chiseled nose, the Pathan must be the handsomest man on earth).
On the other side of the railway line is the cantonment, its tree-lined streets wide and straight as they pass gracious gardens. Clubs, churches, schools, The Mall, Saddar Bazaar and the airport round out the British contribution to the modernization of Peshawar. Further west is University Town, Peshawar's newest section and the site of Peshawar University.
A local book, Peshawar, History City of the Frontier, by A.H. Dani and published by Khyber Mail Press in 1969, makes a good first purchase. It provides a detailed account of Peshawar's history and a tour of this city walls and ancient monuments.
The fortunes of Peshawar at inextricable linked to the Khyber Pass, the eastern end of which it guards. The pass seems to have been little used in prehistoric times, and even in early historic times it was generally shunned as too narrow and thus too prone to ambush. Not until the powerful Kushans invaded Gandhara and pacified the area in the first century AD did the Khyber become a popular trade route.
Peshawar owes its founding 2,000 years ago to those same Kushans. In the second century AD, Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushan kings, moved his winter capital here from Pushkalavati, 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the north. His summer capital was north of Kabul at Kapisa, and the Kushans moved freely back and forth through the Khyber Pass between the two cities, from which they ruled their enormous and prosperous empire for the next 400 years.
After the Kushan era, Peshawar declined into an obscurity not broken until the 16th century, following the Mughal emperor Babar's decision to rebuild the fort here in 1530. Sher Shah Suri, has successor (or, rather, the usurper of his son's throne), turned Peshawar's renaissance into a boom when he ran his Delhi-to-Kabul Shahi Road through the Khyber Pass. The Mughals turned Peshawar into a 'city of flowers' (one of the meanings of its name) by planting trees and laying our gardens.
In 1818, Ranjit Singh captured Peshawar for his Sikh Empire. He burned a large part of the city and felled the trees shading its many gardens for firewood. the following 30 years of Sikh rule saw the destruction of Peshawar's own Shalimar Gardens and of Baba's magnificent fort, not to mention the dwindling of the city's population by almost half.
The British caused the Sikhs and occupied Peshawar in 1849 but, as much as Sikh rule had been hated, its British replacement aroused little enthusiasm. More or less continuous warfare between the British and the Pathans necessitated a huge British garrison. When the British built a paved road through the Khyber Pass, they needed to build numerous forts and pickets to guard it.
Qisa Khawani Bazaar
Extending from west to east in the heart of the city is the romantic 'Street of Story-tellers' - the Qissa Khawani Bazzar. In olden days, this was the site of camping ground for caravans and military adventures, where professional story-tellers recited ballads and tales of war and love to throngs of traders and soldiers. Today the story-tellers are gone but the atmosphere lingers on. Bearded tribesmen bargain with city traders over endless cups of green tea. Fruit stalls look small colorful pyramids. People from everywhere throng the crowded street. Afghans, Iraqis, Uzbeks, Tajiks, Afridis, and Shinwaris move around with ease and grace in their colourful native robes and run shoulders with the Western tourists-lost in a world so different, so enchanting.
'The Street of Partridge Lovers' lies on the left hand corner of Qissa Khawani Bazaar. It derives its name from the bird-market which stood here till a few decades ago and has now been replaced by stores and shops selling exquisitely engraved brass and copper ware. However, a single bird shop still remains as a long reminder of the not too distant past.
Bala Hisar Fort
Built on a raised platform from the ground level, the Bala Hisar Fort stands at the north-western edge of the city. the original structure was raised in 1519 AD during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Babar. It was reconstructed in its present form by Sikhs who ruled over Peshawar valley between 1791 and 1849 AD.
Same 16 kms from Peshawar, on the Khyber road, an old battle-ship attracts the eye: this is Jamrud Fort. Looking ruggedly majestic with its jumble of towers and loop-holed walls, the fort contains the grave of its builder, the famous Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa, who died here in action against the forces of the Amir of Kabul in 1837 AD.
Situated on the Grand Trunk Road in the Cantonment area, the museum houses a rich treasure of art, sculpture and historical relics, particularly of the Gandhara period (300 BC - 300 AD). The pieces on show at the museum include Graeco-Buddhist stone and stucco sculpture, gold, silver and copper coins, antique pottery, armour, old manuscripts, Buddha images, terra-coat plaques, antiques of ivory, shell and metal and a replica of the famous casket which contained the relics of Lord Buddha.
The Khyber Train
For trail enthusiasts, the Khyber Railway from Peshawar to Landi Kotal is a three-star attraction. The British built it in the 1920s at the then enormous cost of more than two million pounds. It passes through 34 tunnels totaling five kms (three miles) and over 2 bridges and culverts. The two or three coaches ar pulled and pushed by two SG 060 oil-fired engines. At one point, the track climbs 130 meters in little more than a kilometer (425 feet in 0.7 miles) by means of the heart-stopping Changai Spur. This is a W-shaped section of track with two cliff-hanging reversing stations, at which the train wheezes desperately before shuddering to a stop and backing away from the brink.
The Khyber train currently runs only by appointment. Groups of 20 to 45 passengers can book one bogey for an all day outing to Landi Kotal and back, a ride lasting ten to eleven hours, for US $ 1,000. But you can easily see the train at rest at Peshawar Station.
The Swat Valley
Swat is the most historically interesting valley in Pakistan. It is also one of the most beautiful - certainly much greener and more fertile than the valleys further north because it lies within the monsoon belt. In Lower Swat, the valley is wide, the fields on either side of the river are full of wheat and lucerne, and the villages are prosperous and surrounded by fruit trees. In Upper Swat, the river tumbles through pine forests hemmed in by snow-capped mountains. For the historical and amateur archaeologist, Swat offers several hundred archaeological sites spanning 5,000 years of history. For the sportsman and trekker, it offers good fishing and hiking.
The people of Swat are Muslim Pathans, Kohistanis and Gujars. Some have very distinct features and claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great.
The Swat women wear colorful embroidered shirts and shalwars (baggy trousers). The men wear shalwar-gamiz and embroidered caps or silk turban.
Swat has been inhabited for over two thousand years. The first inhabitants were settled in well-planned towns. In 327 BC, Alexander the Great fought his way to Udegram and Barikot and stormed their battlemens. In Greek accounts these towns have been identified as Ora and Bazira. Around the 2nd century BC, the area was occupied by Buddhists, who were attracted by the peace and serenity of the land. There are many remains that testify to their skills as sculptors and architects. In the beginning of the 11th century AD, Mahmud of Ghazni advanced through Dir and invaded Swat, defeating Gira, the local ruler, near Udegram. Later the land was taken over by the Dilazak, who in turn were ousted by the Yusufzais.