The old city shows its age. But much of its detritus is typical of cities only a century old, where western concepts of street-cleaning and refuse cleaning have long been abandoned.
But if some guide books advice you to follow your nose, there are not referring to Peshawar’s more odiferous alleys and bazaars but simply using a simile for curiosity. If you do follow your fancy you would not go wrong even if you become hopelessly lost.
It’s doubtful if a cartographer could bring any logical order to the city’s maze of streets, overhung with “Julliet” balconies, alleys, and bazaars, but if only makes exploration the more fascinating.
Do not explore by car (the streets are inevitably crowded), but on foot or by rickshaw or tonga (تانگہ). Start by crossing the railway line over the Goal Bridge, between the goal and the Park Hotel. Then turn left at the traffic island into Khyber Bazaar where doctors, quacks, and herbalists tout there wares, while advocates and kerbside letter writers process the endless papers of the endless litigation processes of Pakistan Law.
En route you have to negotiate a “smile-field” of grinning gnashers as you pick your way through upon row of billboards displaying flashing dentures and real-life specimens on pavements and in kiosks.
At the traffic lights just before the Kabul Gate police station you can see the remains of the old Kabul Gate between a section of the old city walls, while the exterior of Lady Reading Hospital is actually constructed from the old walls.
Beyond this spot there is crossroads. Turn left and you plunge into Qissa Khawani Bazaar (قصہ خوانی بازار), Peshawar’s fabled “street of story teller”, which Sir Herbert Edwardes described as “the Piccadilly of central Asia”.
Colourful fruits stall and sweet shops jostle for space along either side of the street together with wayside barbecues selling a bewildering variety of kebabs, grilled meats, and freshly baked unleavened bread.
The central feature of the tall, narrow buildings that line the bazaar are their wooden shutters and delicately-carved wooden balconies and windows, from which hang the inevitable billboards or neon signs.
For centuries, the leaders of trade caravans and their workers gathered in this bazaar and for payment in kind or cash, would get one of the street’s story tellers to recite a tale of love or daring, war or peace. Today it’s more of a commercial than literary enterprise.
Turn sharp left at the end of the bazaar and you enter the Copper-smith’s Bazaar, where you will find perhaps Peshawar’s most famous entrepreneur, “Poor Honest” Ali, surrounded by letters from rich and famous, such as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth (II) and America’s John Kennedy, Elizbeth Taylor, etc. Photographs of him with world personalities beam from every angle. And of course, his finely-graven and beaten brass and copper-ware gleam beckoningly.
Left, after the brass bazaar there is the Peshawar Pottery where every day except on Fridays you can watch a craftsman at his potter’s wheel.
Back in the “Street of Story Tellers” you first pass through the woollen bazaar, stacked with blankets and shawls woven on pitlooms in Swat (سوات) and Kaghan (کاغان) from hand-spun wool with vivid borders of tapestry; and then you come to the Bird bazaar, followed by the fruit bazaar and shops selling all types of chardars (چادر). Not far from here is the grain bazaar where there’s a Pipal tree (پیپل), believed to be an offshoot of the tree under which Buddha preached.
On to Chowk Yadgar (چوک یادگار) of Peshawar which has traditionally been used for political meetings, Peshawar’s version of London’s Hyde Park Corner, where the money changer squat on carpets, their safes behind them. Nearby is a monument to the Pakistan heroes who fell in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war.
West of the square is Andarshah Bazaar (اندریش بازار), the jewellery bazaar where you can find some fine antique silver pieces, tribal jewellery, military brick-a-brac such as old buttons, buckles, and the regimental badges, crests and uniforms of Russian troops in Afghanistan, as well as some not-so-precious gemstones.
There’s also Peshawar’s last remaining Mughal mosque, the 17th century Mahabat Khan (مہابت خان) , named after the man who twice governed Peshawar under Shah Jahan (شاہ جہاں) and Aurangzeb. Almost razed by the fire that raged through the Bazaar in June 1898, the mosque was saved, says a contemporary chronicle, only by the “unremitting efforts of the faithful”.
During the Sikh era an Italian general serving under Ranjit Singh (رنجیت سنگھ) frequently uses its twin minarets as a substitute for the gallows. Extensively renovated this century, the mosque, nonetheless, remains a fine example of Mughal architecture with a central open courtyard and a prayer hall covered by three fluted domes.
East of the square is Cunnigham Clock Tower in Peshawar, built to commemorate the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria but named after Sir George Cunningham, the man who served as political agent in North Waziristan (وزیرستان) before becoming Governor of the NWFP from 1937 to 1948, serving a full year after Pakistan’s Independence.
Nearby is the Meena Bazaar (مینا بازار) of Peshawar for women and, beyond that, a hill lined by houses built of timber and raw brick, considered safer during earthquake than those built of baked Brick. They have elaborately-carved, ornamental wooden doors and balconies.