Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Pakistan's Peshawar: Gandharan relics, warriors and food all wrapped in Pashtun hospitality!

In only a few days Peshawar and its people have won me over! The City of Flowers history, tradition and warm people have more than compensated for the awful dark skies and rain which welcomed me to the provincial capital earlier this week.

Street side stall holder proudly displays his selection of food. Peshawar's food, especially kababs, is divine 
During the last few years, Peshawar has disappeared from the radar of most travelers, Pakistani and international alike. The Taliban Trail of Terror has replaced the Hippie Trail. Still, in the intervening years the city seems to have lost none of its charm. (I must confess my last visit to Peshawar was at least twenty years ago – so long that I don't even remember the exact year!)

For those interested in history and religion, the Peshawar Museum hosts the world's largest collection of artifacts from the Gandharan civilization, which flourished for almost one thousand years, c. 1500 to 500 BC. Gandhara was an ancient kingdom centered around the regions of modern day Peshawar and the Swat Valley. The Gandhara Kingdom was a center of Buddhism, Hinduism and Greco-Buddhism. Greco-Buddhism is the cultural syncretism between Hellenistic culture and Buddhism, which developed between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE.” (Source: Wikipedia)

The entrance to the Peshawar Museum, which houses the world's largest collection of Gandharan artifacts
Other aspects of Peshawar's history can be found in the Storytellers Bazaar or the Qissa Khawani Bazaar. The bazaar dates back at least two thousand years. More recently, in 1930 the Bazaar was the site of a massacre by British colonial authorities of unarmed civilians agitating for independence against British rule.

The imposing Bala Hissar Fort, which sits regally atop a hill, symbolizes the city's strategic and military importance for invaders and defenders as the gateway to India (through the fabled Khyber Pass). It is believed some sort of a fortification has stood on the elevated site since the seventh century. The present structure, used as the Headquarters for the Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps since 1949, was built in the 1830s by the then Sikh rulers of Peshawar.

Peshawar will be done a great injustice if I don't mention the great 'frontier' food found in every nook and cranny of this city. Simply put, anyone leaving Peshawar without trying local barbecue specialties like chapli kababs, seekh kabas or Kabuli pulao cannot claim to have visited Peshawar! Stay away from the fancy restaurants, instead make a beeline for the 'hole in the wall' cafes sprinkled across the city.

Kababs being marinated and barbecued / cooked on coal at a streetside cafe
Perhaps more than the rest of Pakistan, Peshawar has suffered tremendously due to violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists. Nonetheless, Peshawar is a city like no other. A city of warriors, food and people with big hearts. Not surprisingly, despite the recent ravages of terror, the city's soul remains intact. That soul will surely touch any visitor to the ancient Gandharan city of Purushapura (aka Peshawar). 

Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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