Road to London - Peshawar-The Oldest Living City In South Asia
Thursday, February 2, 2012
If you ever come to Pakistan be sure to visit Peshawar, the capital of Pakhtunkhawa, formerly the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) which runs for over 1,100km along the border with Afghanistan. The famous Khyber Pass linking Pakistan to Afghanistan is the most direct route from Kabul to Peshawar. Peshawar is perhaps the oldest living city in this part of the world where ancient traditions mingle with those of today's modern lifestyle. The old city has been featured in a number of Hollywood movies (including Rambo |||) featuring tribesmen walking the streets armed to the teeth (they have now been forbidden to walk armed in the town). It is however still possible to buy guns here.
In Peshawar we (me and my son) had the good fortune to meet with 'Prince' Mahir Ullah Khan, President of The Peace Welfare and Development Organization and together with Kausar Hussain kindly acted as guides showed us around the city's notable buildings and sites. These two gentlemen are registered tourist guides and are well known in Peshawar. 'Prince' is a colourful character who is not only known to the man in the streets but to those holding high positions in government. They are also active in voluntary charitable work.
Walking along the labyrinth of narrow lanes and bazaars in the old city brings you back to the times dating back to Buddhist, Mughal and Sikh periods when traders, travellers, Pathan tribesmen and Afghans mingle to trade their wares or share stories of their travels in the traditional tea-houses with those arriving with their caravans from different parts of the world. Some of these centuries old tea-shops are still doing a roaring business to this day.
Some of the interesting buildings in the old city are listed below:
The Mahabat Khan Mosque that was built in 1670 is a Mughal mosque named after the regional governor of that time. Its open courtyard has an ablution pond and the prayer hall is flanked by two tall minarets. In Sikh times under the governorship of the Italian mercenary Paolo de Avitabile the minarets were frequently used as a substitute for gallows.
The All Saints' Church, located inside the old city, is unique as it looks like a mosque. In the words of one of its founding fathers, Reverend Warthington Jukes, "Its architecture is a successful adaptation of mosque architecture to the purposes of Christian worship.
Also, in the old city is the ancestral house of the famous Bollywood actor Raj Kapoor, and nearby is Dilip Kumar's house.
The Peshawar Club established in 1864 as a small hut for Peshawar Vale Hunt enthusiasts, became the social hub of social life for British families in Peshawar. It was meant exclusively for the Europeans (like the Selangor Club and Lake Club were in KL), a venue for the memsahibs' afternoon tea parties and other social gatherings. After the creation of Pakistan, this institution retained many of its time- honoured club etiquette and traditions. A few years ago, however, the military took over the club adminstration and named it 'Garrison Club'. The club is the cradle of squash in the region. The famous 'Khan dynasty' that has dominated international squash for more than half a century began its modest beginnings here.
Balahisar Fort is the most imposing structure in Peshawar. Built by the Sikhs in 1834, it has been the headquarters of the Frontier Corps since 1907 and is still used by the army. It was here that the Koh-i-Noor diamond, which is now part of the British Crown Jewels was taken from the former Afghan rulers by the Sikhs. It was later acquired by the East India Company after the annexation of Peshawar in 1849 and later presented to Her Majesty Queen Victoria in 1850. (Some of my colleagues from Brinsford might remember of the Koh-i-Noor restaurant we used to frequent in Wolverhampton).
It was also in Peshawar in mid 19th century that the British elite Corps of Guides adopted the Khaki (tan) uniform copying the colour of the cloth of the local tribesmen, a perfect camouflage for Frontier warfare. This colour was later adopted by armies all over the world.
Peshawar is one of the oldest cities inhabited continuously from 4-6 century BC as part of the Persian 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. The ongoing archaeological excavation site at Gor Khatri clearly shows the various levels where different artifacts of different periods are found, some dating back to more that two thousand years.
Also within the Gor Khatri archaeological complex is the Gorak Nath temple constructed in memory of Gorak Nath, a Hindu religious teacher.
Begum Jehan Ara elder daughter of Mughal king Shah Jehan came to Peshawar and constructed a caravansarai in Gor Khatri around 1641 AD. This sarai was used by the caravans as a resting place by those who travelled on the Grand Trade route to Afghanistan and Central Asia and from Central Asia to India.
There are also two antique fire engines parked in the old Fire Brigade station. They were manufactured by Merryweather London in 1919 and 1921. These are among the oldest surviving fire brigade engines in the world.
Darra is the gun factory of the Tribal Areas that we were not able to visit due to time constraint. We are told that the factories started in 1897. In return for turning a blind eye to this illegal Pathan enterprise, the British were guaranteed safe passage along the main roads.. In any case the British believed it is better that the Pathans have inferior weapons of their own making than stolen British-made guns. While the tools are somewhat primitive the forges turn out accurate reproductions of every conceivable sort of weapon, from pen pistols and hand grenades to automatic rifles, Kakashnikov AK-47 and anti-aircraft guns.
Lastly I must mention our visit to the Afghan refugee camp managed by 'Prince' on the outskirts of Peshawar. It is heartbreaking to see small children existing on the barest of necessities and never knowing what the future holds. All were born here and have never ventured beyond the confines of the camp. Many of these children do not have shoes or proper clothes and do not attend school as they are 'forced' to work at the brick factory at the camp to earn some money that help to feed the families.
Some of you may be wondering why I don't blog regularly. The truth is I am blogging using the iPad and most of the places I end up in, do not have WiFi connections and going out to the Internet cafes is not an option. In Pakistan we have power cuts every few hours throughout the day and night. Power cuts take place in all the cities and towns all over Pakistan even in the capital Islamabad. No Malaysian will understand this because in Malaysia we have electricity throughout the day and night. It is frustrating even to watch the TV when the programmes goes off the screen. Try to imagine yourself at the computer and suddenly the power goes off and will come on again two hours later. Not only that, gas and petrol are also in shortage here. After this blog I should be in Iran, and from some sources, it is also not an easy place for travellers. For those following my blog I thank you all very much and do bear with me. I have interesting tales to tell but there is only so much I can do. It is also winter now and the cold adds up to problems as well.
With the colorful Prince
The children at the Refugee Camp near Peshawar
The antique Fire Engine at Gor Khatri in Peshawar
The excavation site in Gor Khatri
Saying goodbye to Friends
The All Saints' Church
That's me and the 'Prince' in his den
The brick factory at the camp
This tea shop has been operating for more than 300 years
The streets are narrow in the old city
Cycling in winter
The Old Caravan Sarai in the old city