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History of Pukhtunkhowa

Khyber Gate (Baab e Khyber) on Jamrud Road in ...
Khyber Gate (Baab e Khyber) on Jamrud Road in Yaghistan looking eastbound towards Peshawar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It runs for over 1,100 kilometres (680 miles) along the border with Afghanistan. Peshawar is its capital, and thePeshawarVale of Peshawar, fertile and well watered by the Kabul and Swat rivers, is its heart. This was also the heart of the ancient kingdom of Gandhara and is rich in archaeological remains. The northern half of the province consists of five river valleys running roughly parallel, north to south: the Chitral, dir, Swat, Indus and Kaghan. These valleys are on the northern edge of the monsoon belt, so are fairly green and partly wooded in their southern sections. Northern Chitral and the upper regions of the Indus Valley are mountainous deserts, where cultivation depends entirely on irrigation. The NWFP south of Peshawar is below the monsoon belt and consists of low, rocky mountains and wide, gravelly plains.
The warlike Pathans (or Pushtuns or Pukhtuns), who live in NWFP and the adjoining areas of Afghanistan, number about 17 million, making themselves a race apart, a chosen people, and no one has ever managed to subdue them. The Mughals, Afghans, Sikhs, British and Russians have suffered defeat at their hands. The Pathans are divided into numerous sub-tribes and clans, each defending its territory and honor. In addition, the Pathans serve as Pakistan's first line of defense along the Durand Line, the border drawn in 1893 by Sir Mortimer Durand, then foreign secretary of British India.


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 kilometres (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.

Qissa Khawani Bazaar

Extending from west to east in the heart of the city is the romantic 'Street of Story-tellers' - the Qissa Khawani Bazaar. 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 colorful native robes and run shoulders with the Western tourists-lost in a world so different, so enchanting.

Bazaar Bater-bazan

'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 bride 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.

Jamrud Fort

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.

Excursion from Peshawar

Warsak Dam

The gigantic multi-purpose Warsak Dam is situated 30 kms north-west of Peshawar in the heart of tribal territory. It has a total generating capacity of 240,000 kms and will eventually serve to irrigate 110,000 acres of land.

The Museum

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, armor, 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.


Situated atop a 160 meter high hill are the remains of a famous Buddhist monastery at Takht-e-Bhai, about 80 kms from Peshawar. This site has produced fragmentary sculptures in stone and stucco that indicate the highly developed sculptural sense of their creators. This site dates back from 2nd-3rd century AD.


Potentially one of the most important ancient sites of Asia is represented by a group if imposing mounds at Charsadda, 30 kms north-east of Peshawar. The site has long been identified with Pushkalavati, the pre-Kushan capital of Gandhara. This city was captured in 324 BC after a siege of 30 days, by the troops of Alexander the Great and its formal surrender was received by Alexander himself. It has been established beyond doubt that this city was the metropolitan centre of Asiatic trade and meeting place of oriental and occidental cultures even as long ago as 500-1,000 BC.

Mahabat Khan's Mosque

This mosque was built in 1630 AD by Mahabat Khan, the Governor of Peshawar, during the reign of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan (1628-1658 AD). It is a fine massive structure with lofty minarets. Situated in the Andar Shahar Bazaar, it is the finest mosque in the city.

Khyber Pass

Khyber PassThe historic Khyber Pass being at a distance of 16 kms west of Peshawar and extends up to the Pak-Afghanistan border at Torkkam, 55 kms away. Starting from the foot-hills of the Slueman Range it gradually rises to an elevation of 1,066 meters above sea level.
Khyber Pass has been a silent witness to countless events in the history of mankind. As one drives though the Pas at a leisurely pace, imagination unfolds pages of history, the Aryans descending upon the fertile northern plains in 1,500 BC subjugating the indigenous Dravidian population and settling down to open a glorious chapter in the history of civilization, the Persian hordes under Darius (6th century BC) crossing into the Punjab to annex yet another province to the Achaemenian Empire; the armies of Alexander the Great (326 BC) marching through the rugged Pass to fulfill the wishes of a young, ambitious conqueror; the terror of Ghanghis Khan unwrapping the majestic hills and turning back towards the trophies of ancient Persia; the white Huns bringing fire and destruction in their wake; the Scythians and the Parthians, the Mughals and the Afghans, conquerors all, crossing over to leave their impact and add more chapters to the diverse history of this sub-continent.

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 92 bridges and culverts. The two or three coaches are 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.

Darra Adam Khel

Darra is the gun factory of the Tribal Areas, located 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Peshawar on the road to Kohat, a drive of about 40 minutes. To visit the gun factories, foreigners need a permit from the Home Secretary of NWFP whose office is in the civil Secretariat on Police Road, but you can drive by bus or car through Darra without a permit provided you do not stop. The permit is free and issued while you wait, but you should get it the day before you plan your factory visit.
The Darra arms 'factory' fired up 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 better that the Pathans have inferior weapons of their own making than stolen British-made guns.
Darra's main street is lined on either side with small forges at which guns are made by hand. the tool are astonishingly primitive, yet the forges turn out accurate reproduction of every conceivable sort of weapon, from pen pistols and hand-grenades to automatic rifles and anti-aircraft guns. The copies are so painstakingly reproduced that even the serial number of the original is carried over. Much of the craftsmanship is very fine, but the reinforcing rods diverted from the building trade. The main street constantly erupts with the roar of gunfire, as tribesmen step out to test prospective purchases.
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