PeshawarCopyright: Shahid Khan/Shutterstock.com
PeshawarHistorically an important trading centre, Peshawar sits not far from the Khyber Pass, once part of the legendary Silk Route, and an important gateway to the Indian subcontinent travelled by prominent conquerors and explorers. Things remain volatile in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa border province, of which Peshawar is the capital, but recent trends seem to indicate a decline in criminality and a budding resurgence of urban life.
The CitySome say Pakistan is one of the most fascinating places in the world, others (including governments worldwide, at the time of writing) caution against all but essential travel to the country, and its northern regions in particular. Regardless of which school of thought you adhere to, taking necessary precautions and remaining vigilant at all times is prerequisite, and staying up-to-speed with recent developments as they appear in the media is of high importance. Having a local guide to show you around is best, and in some cases an armed guard is assigned to foreign visitors to ensure extra security. The areas of Peshawar of most interest to foreign visitors are the Old Town, University Town, and British Cantonment (with Saddar Road), the last two separated from each other by a railway constructed by the British post-1850. The central square of town is known as Chowk Yadgar, or "remembrance square", located inside the old walled city of Peshawar and sitting at the heart of Peshawar's many roads and bazaars. Peshawar is also known as the birthplace of the Pakistani answer to Hollywood – Pollywood –, but remaining movie theatres where these films are screened are, unfortunately, few and far between, due to bombings carried out by Islamists deeming the films unruly.
NightlifeThere admittedly isn't much in the way of nightlife in Peshawar, and precaution must be taken if you do venture outside after dark (foreign visitors are often advised against it). The city's most common evening pastime is dining, with many restaurants staying open until late in the night (many also serve shisha). The sale and consumption of alcohol is forbidden in all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, although underground booze-fuelled parties do take place, but information about those is, understandably, hard to come by, and admittance is by personal invitation only.
Do & See
Given that most city exploration is done during daylight hours, there is plenty to easily fill a space of a few days. Apart from the must-dos of Peshawar Museum and the Old Town, one unusual attraction is the 1920s Khyber Railway, trips on which are only possible by prior appointment. Depending on their planned time of travel, adventure-seekers might want to look into visiting one of the notorious gun factories in the outlying Tribal Areas (or the infamous Darra Adam Khel), but doing so outside of a guided tour can be highly dangerous and is strongly advised against.
Meat is an essential constituent of Peshawari dining, which comes in two main configurations: as tikka (barbecue) or karahi (a variety of spicy curry). A common way to order is to select the variety and amount of meat, and have it cooked in your presence. Other typical regional dishes include chapli kebab (and other sorts of grilled meats), fried fish, rice-based Kabuli palaw, and further Pashtun specialties. If you're sensitive to spice, make sure to indicate your desired levels of heat when placing an order.
Green tea (or kahwah) is the Peshawari beverage of choice. The age-old recipe dictates that tea be brewed in a large copper container (samovar), with spices like saffron, cinnamon and cardamom added for fragrance and flavor. Nowadays, liberties are often taken with the original recipe, but drinking kahwah remains an indispensable tradition. Another noteworthy treat is the falooda, a sweet dessert drink prepared with rose syrup, basil, jello bits and milk.
Shopping is an art form in Peshawar, where avid bargain-hunters will feel right at home. Haggling is well-expected at markets (initial prices can be easily brought down by at least a third), and is even acceptable at some shops where prices appear to be fixed. Items to look out for include traditional chapli sandals, Afghani pakol (wool hats), pottery, brass and copper wares, quality fabrics, woven rugs, and more. Note that some areas, such as the Smugglers' Market, are best visited with a local guide.