Getting to know Peshawar

Travel Journal Overview: Peshawar is unlike any other city I’ve been too. It’s a multicultural torn up part of the world that opened it’s doors due to tribal rights. It reeks of tribal law, and an unknown element. It  is perhaps the quintessential border city.

Fruit seller in Peshawar
Fruit seller in Peshawar (click to enlarge)

The TV next door seemed to be on all night, I stayed in Bed until 10am. There was no sign or noise of the gun runner types that had amalgamated in the hotel the previous night. After a brief bucket shower I headed out. The contrast between the streets late last night and now was impressive. Gone were the cold misty shadows, replaced by an exuberance of life similar to the streets of Lagos Nigeria.

Just about every conceivable inch of road was taken up by every conceivable for of transport, the oil based one all bellowing out vast quantities of greys and blacks. Indeed it was this pollution that had the most striking of impacts on the city proper. One literally could not see to the send of a short road due to thick blueish smog.

Old buildings in Peshawar
Old buildings in Peshawar

Noise was everywhere, car horns, revving engines, street merchants and more than anything else the higher pitched revving of auto-rickshaws. These little boxes on wheels seemed to great more noise than anything else. And as I later out were power by LGP gas canisters, so where there smoke was coming from I did not know.

I wandered up my hotels street in search of food. It was here that I guessed a large portion of my hotels bad odor came from. I seemed to have landed myself in a road that on one side was strewn with dozens of oil oozing engines, some stacked as high as 8 feet. While on the other side were an equal number of tannery’s oozing out blood and intestinal juices from various animals. Both black and red liquids amalgamated in various run off along the roadside and in parts were brewing nicely in the rising heat of the morning.

Butchers in Pakistan
Butchers in Pakistan

I headed up to the Khyber Bazaar and dropped by the Rose hotel. They had a room free so I booked it. Then it was out onto a market square where I squatted down by a ground based cookery. Options for breakfast were limited. I ordered liver, onion and tomato along with some naan. I am not a big intestinal organ fan, and this was no exception, but it was passable.

Back to the hotel and I moved by stuff out and over moved over to the Rose. I now had the luxury of an en suite with a cable TV! And a pretty decent restaurant, which served a really good chicken Jalfreezi. It was here I met up with Hussain, a young tour guide. He began to list off his tours: A trip to the gun smugglers market, opium market, Afghan Refugee camps and the infamous Khyber Pass. I didn’t bargain with him yet. I knew that Ifzal from the on-line forum was due any minute so I had time to wait this one out.

Indeed Ifzal did arrive on time. And to my surprise, showed up with two western girls! Tina and Katherine both looked as if they had been in Pakistan for quite some time. They both wore traditional Pakistani clothes, all be it with a western touch. The bespectacled Ifzal was much like I had imagined, of small build with a big smile. Tina I liked immediately, she from Australia and was outgoing. Full of talk about Pakistan and her adventures.

Woman in Burka at the evening meat market
Woman in Burka at the evening meat market

She’d been volunteering with a family in the north for the last six months and was about to head off for further adventures in India. Tina on the other had was quite silent. She was had the air about her of a missionary type, yet was very covert in what she spoke about. If a could have hazard a guess her accent was from somewhere in the north of England. But such information was never confirmed by her avoidance of direct conversation.

As the four of us sat there talking of our travels, I got the feeling that something was not right. Tina was bubbly and largely oblivious to this. Yet it was Ifzal and Tina that were setting this strange mood of edginess and awkwardness. Ifzal was a trekker, or tour guide of the mountains. And this is what he was expecting me to do. I had mentioned it in my emails. But time was of the essence as was cost, so I asked for some photographs and information on the treks he did. To be honest what I saw was not all that great. The photographs were nice, but all of Chitral. I wanted to see other areas, and while technically sound, Ifzal was struggling to inspire me.

That night we met up for dinner at a local place on a balcony overlooking the early night-life of Peshawar. It was much like during day, aside from even more vast plumes of smoke rising up from various food stalls lining the roads. It was all very atmospheric, and the closet I can say that I’ve been to a place that could easily have been to a place half a world away.

Henna dyed donkey in Pakistan
Henna dyed donkey in Pakistan

I wanted to head out myself for my own look around Peshawar the next day. A bookshop was first on the agenda. I still had a rough arrangement with the biker Paul for a Christmas day meet up in Kathmandu. Which was now only one month away. Whether I would get there on time or not I didn’t know, but what I did know is that I wanted some information on India and Nepal. My LP map was truly useless. It would not help a Gerbil make a nest with its paper. Enough said.

Saeed Book Bank on Arbab road was the best I could find. And considering everything, it is pretty damn good. I found no book on India, but did see a single Solitary book on Nepal for 1700 rupees, I grabbed it. I also inquired about a guide book on India, and was pleased to hear they could order me one to arrive in a few days. What’s more it would only cost 500. A fake, no doubt, but it put me at east knowing I would be armed for both countries.

It’s a little strange that prior to entering a new country I always find myself being confronted with information from the residents of the current country I am in telling me about how terrible the place is to get around. This never helps in relaxing back about a place, and always ends up with me getting a guide book that rarely gets used. In all my travels so far I think I made most use of a Multi country European book and the India. Mainly for transport routes and a few main things to see. Its strange that I spend over 2 years in West Africa and never used a guide book once. I guess its a time thing. Less time, the more prior knowledge of where to go.

I met up with Ifzal and Katherine again that evening, Tina had unfortunately left for Islamabad. The strange atmosphere of what I can only refer to as suspicious tension still hung thick in the air. I really did not know what was up with Ifzal and Katherine. All I did know was that it made me tense and very distrustful of them. I got the hint that they were in a relationship together, but then again I could be wrong.

I agreed to go with Ifzal to the Khyber Pass the next day. This was the opportunity Ifzal had to impress me with his guide abilities and convince me he was the man to go with to the North. Either way, this was at last my time to travel to the border of Afghanistan along the path of kings.

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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