Officially recognised as one of the oldest living cities in Asia, Peshawar’s history and culture has existed – uninterrupted – for at least 2,500 years. The city has for centuries been at the centre of trade between the Middle East, South Asia and Central Asia, and continues to be the city which links Pakistan with the neighbouring country of Afghanistan.
In recent years there has been a significant increase in Peshawar’s population due to internal migration of people in search of better employment opportunities, education, and services. The city is also home to a diverse range of ethnicities as a result of immigration from neighbouring regions. Today Peshawar is a conservative Islamic city and home to more than three million residents. Its location - in a large valley near the eastern end of the Khyber Pass – makes it a stepping stone to mountainous areas such as the Swat Valley, whose snow-tipped mountains are compared (locally, at least) to Switzerland.
Peshawar’s location – in an area of regional instability – ensures it is currently not a popular tourist destination. Nevertheless, the city has many attractions to fascinate visitors, whatever be the reason for visiting.
The historic walled city of Peshawar was once a heavily guarded citadel enclosed within a city wall and sixteen gates. By the 1950s most of the inner city’s gates and walls had been destroyed by Peshawar’s rapid growth and development, but much of the ancient architecture still exists. Most of the houses are made of unbaked bricks with wooden frames, and feature beautifully carved wooden doors and latticed wooden balconies – visit Sethi Mohallah for some of the finest remaining residential architecture.
The inner city is known for its bazaars which include the historic Qissa Khawani Bazaar and the Copper Market. At its heart is Chowk Yadgar (the Square of Remembrance), from where it is a short walk to the numerous goldsmiths and silversmiths of Ander Shehr Street. Also in the walled city are a number of parks and gardens from which the city gets its nickname, the ‘City of Flowers’.
Other sights of interest include the Mohabbat Khan Mosque, the 16th century gateway of Kotla Mohsin Khan, and the historic Bala Hisar Fort.
Fast food outlets are gaining a strong foothold in Peshawar, but visitors may still be keen to try the city’s numerous and traditional Peshawari restaurants.
For the best introduction to the region’s cuisine, try a Chapli Kebab, a flat lamb or beef kebab so named after the ‘chapli’, or typical Peshawari sandal. These, and snacks such as samosa and pakora, are available at restaurants and stalls in the Clock Tower Food Street and the Khyber Bazaar in Namak Mandi, in the heart of the old walled city. The restaurants in Namak Mandi are well known for their Tikka and Karai dishes: meat is ordered by the kilogramme and prepared as Tikka (spiced and barbecued) or Karai (stir-fried then finished with fresh tomatoes and chilli).
Faluda is a sweet dish found at many Peshawar markets, especially the Qissa Khawani Bazaar, while the city is also known for its Kawa, or Green Tea. Kawa is served sweet and its unique flavour is an acquired taste.
The province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa prohibits the sale of alcohol and therefore the city’s nightlife revolves around dining out and enjoying the city’s parks and gardens.
The city’s location in an area of regional instability makes most travel beyond Peshawar inadvisable. Until recent years a Khyber Pass train safari ran from the city, but it is currently under hiatus due to lack of funding and security concerns. The Khyber Pass (including sights such as Bab-e-Khyber, Jamrud Fort, Shagai Fort and Ali Masjid Fort) is only one hour away by taxi but foreigners require permission from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province to enter the area, and these permits are currently prohibited. Security situations can change frequently so consult locals and other people in the know for the latest information.