Arriving in Peshawar in the dead of night

Travel Journal Overview: Still on my 40 hour overland train, I arrived into Peshawar alone. A curfew was in place and I was roaming the streets. I also had a little face to face with few interesting characters and a jeep full of guns. Wonderful place.

Streets of Peshawar (click to enlarge)
Streets of Peshawar (click to enlarge)

Arriving into Peshawar Pakistan on a train

10.30pm came and we pulled into another station. I peered outside. A few passengers got off. The train seemed empty. It came across my mind then that there were no announcements nor signs to indicated where I was. Could this be Peshawar? It could easily have been a no name town. I wondered when I would know when to get off. I walked the corridor in search of somebody to ask. Nobody. The carriage was empty.

The train eased off again, and we plunged into darkness. I turned the compartment lights on and left the door wide open. I looked at the map and saw that the tracks indeed ended in Peshawar, but then again this was a Lonely Planet Map. . .

I heard a door swing open as we slowly drew into another platform. The conductor appeared at the door entrance. He looked a little curious to see me there. I waved, and knowing he spoke no English from previous attempts. Pointed outside and said “P…E…S…H…A…W…A..R?”

The conductor grinned. Then nodded! Shit I missed the stop! Then he shook his head from side to side?? Maybe I hadn’t? Then his head began to wobble as if missing certain muscles in his neck. This was my first encounter with the infamous Indian head wobble. Although in this case Pakistani head wobble. And in either case at this moment in time, an unbelievably frustrating sign of neither yes nor no.

Finally as he began to turn away, he waved his hand with one finger pointed out straight in the direction we were headed. “No.”

I took this to mean it was not Peshawar we were now disembarking from, and stared back out into the darkness of my window. I could have been in Afghanistan for all I could see out there.

10 minutes later and we pulled into a completely deserted dark platform. I headed out to the carriage door and peered out into the night scene. No one disembarked the train. No one seemed to be even out there. Then from the shadows of a gate I saw three military types appear. They were walking along the platform and headed past me. I went on gut instinct and ducked back into my compartment and grabbed by bags before re-emerging at the carriage door just as they were passing my.

“Hello guys!” I said with a wave.

The three military chaps all stopped and watched as I hoped off the carriage. The large heavy set man in the center eyes me suspiciously, especially my bags.

I smiled my best fake dumb ass smile and started again. “Hello, Salaam Malekum,” I was greeted back instantly and so continued with the most important question of the night, “Is this Peshawar?”

There was silence for a moment before they mumbled to each other. Then the stocky one turned to me, “No.”

He turned to leave with the others. Bollocks, where the hell was I? “This not Peshawar?” I tried again.

The other two military men ignored me, but the stocky one tried again, “No”.

“Where here?” I asked throwing may hands in the air.

The stocky man scratched at his stubble, “eh, this Cantonment… Army.”

Bollocks again, not only was I not in Peshawar but somehow I’d ended up in a bloody army base in Pakistan during military bloody rule! A light bulb went off in my head. There were two stations in Peshawar, the city platform and the arm base. “Ah, this Peshawar Cantonment!” I announced.

Man selling bottles in Peshawar
Man selling bottles in Peshawar

The three soldiers all grinned and nodded, then hurriedly turned to leave.

So I was in Peshawar after all, only in the Army base part of it. Well at least they did not seem to upset about me being there. I looked at my watch. 11.15pm. I headed over to the nearest gate I could find. The one with another armed military type standing in the shadows. Here we go again.

“Hello there!” I waved at him stupidly. I had the name and address of the Rose Hotel in my hand as I approached him.

The bearded guard seemed quite surprised to see me, and also a lot more helpful than the other three. He looked at the address, and nodded. He knew the place.

His English was poor, but he did manage to ask where I was from and where I had come from. He walked me out onto the main road and explained that I needed a taxi. We both then stared at the deserted road. I smiled and then shrugged. He nodded and then walked out into the center of the road. A small motorbike flew past, and the soldier shouted at him. Then a tiny little white car trundled into sight turning ever so slightly to avoid hitting the soldier. However the soldier stepped across his path again and put his hand out tot stop the car. A brief conversation took place before the car turned around and pulled up beside me.

“This your taxi tonight.” Grinned the soldier, “Please get in for Hotel.”

I laughed and thanked the man very much, then frowned and stared at the man behind the wheel. “How much?”

The skinny man behind the wheel looked up at me, his eyes darting between me and the soldier, “No problem mister, I take you.”

“How much?” I persisted rather stubbornly, before launching into a random conversation with the helpful soldier about cheating taxi men.

HE shook his head rather confusingly, “No problem, it go Hotel.”

I remembered my Quetta taxi and started down at the driver before taking out a 50 Rupee note and waving it at him. “Fifty no more!”

The man waved it off and scurried out, taking my bad and placing it carefully into the back-seat. “Come, come, is fine sir, please.”

I turned and shook the hand of the soldier, thanking him for his help.

Three minutes later on a deserted road in the little white car and we were at the Rose Hotel. I took my bags our and left the 50 rupee note on the seat much to the drivers delight.

The Rose Hotel looked quite nice. But no rooms. Amir the manager there that night said that Ifzal had been in earlier but everything was booked out then too. I asked where there were other hotels, and got the directions of around the corner.

Peshawar’s cool night streets were empty. A few carts were being pulled along my both man and mule, and a few lone figures scuttled by into the shadows. I headed down Cinema Road. Regal hotel also full. Shanan’s Hotel, full. Even two unknown hotels, full. Small things like little portable kebab stalls were still open, and were the majority of hotel doors. Just no room. I began to wonder if something was going on?

I finally wandered into Ali-Haq hotel. No single rooms. I asked about a double, yes, plenty. 350 Rupees. I took it. I set my stuff into my nights lodgings and wondered what the smell was in the room. It had an en suite squat which answered the question. It was gone midnight, my fears of Peshawar were long gone this night and I was enjoying myself. I headed out into streets again in search of one of the Kebab stores I’d seen earlier.

It did not take me long to find one. There perched on a seat above two rows of smoking coals was a one eyed man with a long grey beard serving several types of kebab. He smiled broadly at me as I ordered 3 kebabs at 3 Rupees each. An older man in a Pashtun hat sauntered up to me and ordered a stew before turning to me with a smile and announcing that he was an Afghan.

He walked away and was replaced by a short boy that looked to have segmental progerias, an aging disease of the skin. The boy ordered food with a croaky high pitched voice as a youth with designer clothes and blown dried hair came up to my other side. IT was truly a scene from the Twilight Zone.

I sat down with my very taste Kebabs and naan bread. The blown dried youth was seated on a very short stool infront of me and offered some of his stew. I have to say it was even better than my kebab. I handed him over the yoghurt that came with my bread, and bid him goodnight.

Just as I was approaching my hotel, two large sparkling new white 4×4 pick-ups screeched into the remaining parking spaces in front. I looked on as several people got out and began to hurriedly unload rifles from the back. Seeing this I took a swift footed detour across the road to the solitary roadside shop that remained open and pointed to a random bottled drink. I looked on across the road as the rifles were hastily carried straight into my hotel… lovely.

Once all was quite and unloaded I headed back to my room. Dragged the spare bed over to block the door, jammed the blood stained pillow on my bed and placed it over the squat to try and hamper the fatal smells rising up from it. I pulled my own self provided sheet over my head to block out the still pungent smell and listened on as the closed box like window above my bed did little to block the noise of a blaring TV outside.

Some related links from this website that  you might like: (including a lot more photographs from Pakistan)

Stories: The Pakistani Truck Painters

Pakistan country profile

Resources: How to Guide – Iran to Pakistan overland

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