Peshawar, the city of valiant Pashtuns, is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) or formerly the North-West Frontier province of Pakistan. Strategically located on the crossroads of Central Asia and the subcontinent, the city was known as the oldest living city in South Aisa. Peshawar has been the hub of Gandhara Civilization and pathway of many great civilizations like the Aryans, Persian, Greeks, Mongols and the Mughals. This culturally vibrant and lively city is the administrative centre and economic hub of KP still retains the glory and old looks of historical streets, buildings and bazaars with just a little change during the past one century. Peshawar is irrigated by various canals of the Kabul River and by its right tributary, the Bara River. There are several tourist attractions in Peshawar to feast eyes with as listed below.
Bala Hisar Fort
Bala Hisar literally means “the raised or great fort” and the name was suggested by Taimor Shah Durrani, an Afghan King. The fort stands on a high mound in the northwest corner of Peshawar city providing a commanding and panoramic view of the clustered city and the surrounding mountains on a clear day. This historic fort was built by the Mughal emperor Babur when he conquered Peshawar in 1526. The royal family lived in this fort before it was destroyed. However, the Sikhs rebuilt a mud fort later and the British replaced it with bricks. The fort can be visited on weekends only and is under the custody of the military. Its incredible architecture and the elbow-shaped rooms of the museum displaying retrieved weapons, apparels, photographs, and a range of other artefacts, are worth a visit.
Built in 1905 during the British Colonial era, the red-brick Peshawar Museum, also known as “Victoria Memorial Hall,” is a two-story building featuring a blend of British, Hindu, South Asian, Buddhist, and Mughal Islamic Architectural style. The museum is one of the most popular museums in south-east Asia for its collection of Gandharan art and currently showcasing about 14,000 items from various civilizations. Major collections include sculptures, coins, household items, weapons, art and crafts excavated from the major Gandharan regions in KPK that include Shah-Ji-Ki-Dheri in Peshawar, Takht-i-Bahi & Sahri Bahlol in District Mardan and later on by Jamal Garhi, and other Gandharan sites excavated by the British archaeologists.
Mahabat Khan Mosque
Mahabat Khan Mosque or Muhabbat Khan Mosque is the finest mosque in Peshawar named after the governor of Peshawar state, Nawab Mahabat Khan bin Ali Mardan Khan, who commissioned this mosque. The mosque was built in 1630 during Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule. Masjid Mahabat Khan is the only structure that stands in a slim ally of the “Andar Shehar Bazaar” in the town, to the west of Chowk Yadgar, and reminds of the glory the Mughal kingdom’s fondness for construction, especially the mosques. The masque was later renovated in 1898 by the British Government. The Masjid is worth a visit and remains open for tourist except during the prayer times, especially the Friday prayers.
Chowk Yadgaar is the central square of the Old Peshawar city and is known as the reunion place for the old men. The original Chowk Yadgar was demolished and a horse-shoe shaped structure was built which too was demolished and the present-day concrete structure was built at the same location. Its old name was Colonel Hastings Memorial (built around 1884-92 in remembrance of the first British Commissioner of Peshawar, Lieutenant Colonel Edward George Godolphin Hastings). The memorial is also a commemoration of the heroes of the war (1965) between Pakistan and India.
The Chitral Bazaar in the heart of Peshawar was famous for its handmade woollen hats, waistcoats and robes embellished with colourful embroidery. It was established in the 1940s and is famous around the country for its expertly crafted woollen wintery stuff. The Chitrali Bazaar has about 500 shops where native Chitrali people make their livings. It used to be a bustling junction for locals and foreigners alike but remained in a slump after 9/11 yet trying to pick up again.
Once a famous convergence point of foreigners in Peshawar, the Brass market has now tapered to only a few shops. Brass utensils used to be part of daily household use but gradually vanished due to their high costs. Historically, people of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa used to present household utensils made of brass to their daughters in dowry but that tradition has also faded gradually because of rareness. However, luckily there are still a few selected artisans producing brassware handicrafts in the form of decorative plates, vases, bowls, and other souvenirs at least to cater to local and foreign tourists. The brass and copperware crafted by old artisans of Peshawar still could not be matched anywhere in the country.
Cunningham Clocktower or Ghanta Ghar
The Cunningham Clock Tower was named after Sir George Cunningham, former British political agent in North Waziristan and later promoted as governor in the province. This masterpiece is locally called Ghanta Ghar which literally mean Hour House, Clock House or Clock tower, built in 1900 in commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. The four-tiered tower was designed by James Strachan, the Municipal Engineer of Peshawar and the foundation stone was laid by Sir George Cunningham himself. The clock displayed in this tower is one of the pair (the second one in England) presented by Queen Elizabeth. You will most likely be able to see the Cunningham Clock Tower within a distance no matter which location in the surroundings you are standing, and this clock tower will also help navigate through the area a bit easier.
Qissa Khwani Bazaar or the Storytellers Street
The Qissa Khwani Bazaar or Storytellers Street is Peshawar’s most famous bazaar. It has a historic significance where traders and travellers, mostly from central Asian states, that would gather here, about 1000 years ago, near the fire while sipping the famous Qehwa (a local green tea) and would exchange tales.
Once a Mughal caravanserai, the archaeological complex of Ghor Khatri, standing on a hill on the top end of Sethi street, is a 200 meters square courtyard with huge Mughal gateways on either side. The complex has also remained a governor’s mansion during the Sikh rule and it also contains a neglected Hindu temple. The many strata in its 15 m below the ground archaeological excavations reveal the history of Peshawar to well before the Greeks and Kushans and authenticate the claim that Peshawar has been one of the oldest living cities of south Asia. The small museum and the fire brigade’s two vehicles on the premises are worth a visit.
In the heart of the walled city of Peshawar, the Sethi Street is surrounded by seven impressive houses (including the main Sethi House currently serving as cultural heritage) called Sethi Mahallah. These unique houses with colourful wooden carved doors featuring an intricate artwork, partitions, balconies, and mirrored and painted rooms, were built by the Sethi family. The construction of these houses reflects a blend of Gandharan and central Asian art and architecture. The Sethi Muhallah is one of the major tourist attractions in Peshawar one must visit. The Sethis were rich Hindu traders having businesses in China, India, Afghanistan, Iran and in several cities of Central Asia. Besides business, the family was involved in considerable welfare work in Peshawar.
The main Sethi house, located at the end of the Sethi street, was constructed by Karim Bakhsh Sethi in 1884. This oriental style highly embellished building presents a unique architecture with easy air moment facilities. Its highly carved wooden doors and windows and its colourful wooden ceilings still boast of its brilliance. The building covering a total of 33 Marlas is currently serving as cultural heritage functioning under the Directorate of Archaeology. Visitors are subject to pay entry fees and there are special charges for still photography and video photography. Museum timings during summers are 08:30-12:30/14:30-17:00 hrs (from 1st April to 30 September) and during winters from 09:00-13:00/13:30-16:00 hrs (1st October to 31st March). Sethi House remains closed on Fridays.
Founded in 1913 by the personal initiatives led by Sir S.A. Qayyum and Sir George Roos Keppel, the Islamia college is one of the oldest institutes of higher education in Pakistan. The prestigious building was also featured on the country’s Rs. 1000 currency note is well worth a visit. The Victorian-style building constructed of red bricks, facing the Jamrud Road, can easily be seen and accessible to anyone. The magnificent building surrounded by manicured gardens presents an atmosphere of a real oasis.
Smugglers’ Bazaar or Karkhano
The Smugglers’ Bazaar or Karkhano falls on the way to Khyber Pass, just on the fringes of Peshawar. A fairly large set up of concrete shops lined up and stocked with imported goods, mostly smuggled from Afghanistan and other countries is a paradise for shoppers to get imported goods on a reasonable price. Major inventory includes cut-price electronics, fabric, and other items of household necessities.
The legendary Bab-e-Khyber or the Khyber Gate is a monument standing at the entrance of the Khyber Pass located to the west of Peshawar city at GT Road which is also the entrance to Khyber Pass that further leads to Torkhum border between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The Khyber Gate is about 16 km from the main city and takes about 30 min to reach. This post-independence structure was built in 1964 by Field Marshal Ayub Khan. The historic Jamrud Fort is located adjacent to the Khyber Gate. There is no decent rest area and the monument is only surrounded by some local Bazar and fruit market around the roadside.
Jamrud Fort is located adjacent to Khyber Pass, about 16km west of Peshawar. The fort was built by Hari Singh Nalwa (1791-1837), lost by the Afghan Durrani Empire, in 1836 to mark the western edge of their empire. Hari Singh Nalwa, the commanding officer of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Sikh Khalsa Army and the founder of Haripur city in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, was responsible for the expansion of the frontier of Sikh empire beyond the Indus River and the western boundary of the empire was Jamrud at the time of his death. The construction of the fort was completed in 54 days with the help of 6000 soldiers and was originally named Fatehgarh to commemorate the Sikh victory over the disunited tribes. The fort was originally built on a high mound from where Khyber, Mohmand, and Bara areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa could be seen. Its construction resembles the Balahisar Fort in Peshawar as its security walls were six yards high with security watch towers duly cannon installed on all of them to keep an eye on outside attackers. There is another separate tower 12 foot high attributed to Hari Singh Nalwa.
When it comes to food, the Charsi Tikka in Peshawar is one of the famous places to visit and try the delicious Afghan dish called Charsi Tikka. This place, also known as Namak Mandi, is well known for BBQ and Karhai offered with salads and the magical Qehwa (green tea). The aroma of outdoor BBQ and the traditional set up is quite unique and attracts people from all walks of life from surrounding cities, including foreign tourists visiting Peshawar who have a taste for rich food.