The area around Peshawar is home to some of the earliest human settlements and played a crucial part in the development of Buddhism and Hinduism. Located at the eastern end of the famous Khyber Pass, the region has played a key part in the ebb and flow of many major empires, from the Ancient Greeks and Persians, then the Mongols and Mughals, through to the days of the British Raj. With so many ancient monuments and archaeological sites nearby, Peshawar is a dream for history buffs.
For a taste of Peshawar’s lively street culture, look no further than its marketplaces. Head to the Ander Sher Bazaar to barter on locally crafted jewelry and precious stones, or else visit the sprawling Qissa Khawani Bazaar in the centre of town near the Cunningham Clock Tower and Chowk Yadgar. Once known as the “Street of Storytellers”, it’s still the ideal place to find practically anything while rubbing shoulders with the locals. Afterwards, head off down the Bazaar Kalan Road to Sethi Street to see some of Peshawar’s prettiest houses – the former homes of successful merchants.
To experience Peshawar’s religious culture, look no further than Mahabat Khan’s Mosque, also near Chowk Yadgar. Built in 1630 and named after the city’s Mughal governor, it’s extraordinarily lavish inside and out, with plenty of guides hovering around the entrance eager to show you around for a small fee. Although overwhelmingly Muslim, Peshawar also has a tiny Christian population served mainly by St. John’s Church, built by the British in 1851.
Peshawar is not a monsoon region like most of Pakistan, but neither is it as dry for the rest of the year. Be sure to pack in preparation for rain. Winters can be quite cool, particularly at night, with January lows averaging around 4ºC and rarely rising above 20ºC in the daytime. Summers can be scorching hot, particularly in June, when daytime temperatures average around 40ºC.
One of the best reasons to visit Peshawar is to explore its surrounding archaeological sites and the bronze age settlements of Taxila and Harrapa are just a day-trip away. Then there’s the Khyber Pass, where you’ll get to visit the ruins of the ancient Sphola Stupa Buddhist monument. Adventure seekers can also go mountaineering or trekking in the Hindu Kush mountains. It’s also quite easy to visit the major Pakistani cities of Islamabad and Lahore.
People and Traditions
The people of Peshawar are well known for being welcoming and hospitable, but it is also quite a conservative city and visitors are advised to dress accordingly, particularly women who would rather avoid unwanted attention. Note that one of the benefits of dressing like the locals is that some places may charge you less if you’re not obviously a tourist. That said, a large portion of the population are well educated and tolerant.
If you’re planning your trip to coincide with the Eid festivities, be aware that one of Peshawar’s quirks is celebrating the holiday a day earlier than the rest of Pakistan!
The west side of Peshawar is home to two historic forts. The 19th-century Jamrud Fort was built by a Sikh general, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa, although his plans faced resistance and construction was never finished. You might not even make it that far though, since the immense Bala Hissar is on the way there. The fortress was first built in 1526 but was destroyed and rebuilt in 1834. Not far from the forts, you’ll find the the oldest higher education institution in the province, Islamia College.
More central sights include the Peshawar Museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of Gandharan art, from statues of Buddha to figures from Greek mythology, as well as a smaller collection devoted to Islamic arts and crafts down the ages. The museum is close to Governor’s House – one of the city’s finest examples of colonial architecture. The expansive grounds are beautifully manicured, but unfortunately you’ll have to admire them from afar unless you have official business there. So head south instead to the Durrani Graveyard to tour the burial sites of Peshawar’s political and military heroes, or southeast to the 300-year-old Chuha Gujar Bridge.