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) near Charsada.
The great Babar marched through historic Khyber Pass to conquer South Asia in 1526 and set up the Moghal Empire in the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent.
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 and Moghals.
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 far-ranging buses.
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 wayside cafes.
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' Bazaar).
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.
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
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.
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 Peshawar.
The prime attraction in this region is the Khyber Pass situated in the Sulaiman Hills which form the western barrier of Pakistan. The hills dip down here, leaving a passage sometimes as broad as 1 1/2 kms and sometimes as narrow as 16 meters. The pass begins near Jamrud Fort 18 kms from Peshawar and extends beyond the border of Pakistan at Torkham 58 kms away.
You may travel by road from Peshawar via Jamrud fort which lies amongst low stony hills capped with pickets manned by Khyber Rifles. Also on the way you will see Ali Masjid and the fort with insignia of the regiments that have served in the Khyber. On route is also the Sphola sputa of Buddhist period and Landikotal Bazaar until you reach the border post at Torkham. The other exciting way of seeing Khyber Pass is to undertake a 42 kms and 3 1/2 hours journey to Landikotal by the equally legendary Khyber Railway.
Valley of Swat, with its rushing torrents, lakes, fruit-laden orchards and flower-bedecked slopes is an idyllic valley. It has a rich historical past. It was described as "Udayana" (the garden) in ancient Hindu epics where Alexander of Macedon fought and won some of his major battles before crossing over to the plain of Pakistan.
Swat was once the cradle of Buddhism where at one time more than 1,400 monasteries flourished. It was the hub of the Gandhara school sculpture which was an expression of Graeco-Roman style mixed with the local Buddhist traditional sculpture.
The valley of Swat sprawls over 10,360 sq.kms. The normal temperature is maximum 21.11C and minimum 7.22C. Tourist season is all year round. The main town of the valley is Saidu Sharif with a museum which houses most archaeological finds excavated in the area.
A 50 minutes flight from Peshawar takes you to the north-western extremity of Pakistan where lies the exotic valley of Chitral. Towering the valley is the majestic 7,705 meters high Trichmir peak. In three narrow valleys about 40 kms from the town of Chitral live the famous Kafir Kalash tribe. They are known the world over for their primitive pagan traditions and their love for dance and music. Chitral has many sculpture springs and is popular for trekking and mountaineering. Facilities exist for trout fishing. There are a number of hotels in Chitral proper.