This is what Peshawar has been wanting to tell the world for a long time: Come visit.
It wants you to see its heritage trail, which was inaugurated by Chief Minister Pervez Khattak on Monday. The Archaeology department sighed with relief for accomplishing this in a city that saw some of the worst bomb blasts since 2007.
The trail that begins at the historical Ghanta Ghar passes through Bazar-e-Kalan and Sethian Mohallah with seven palatial wooden havelis built by the Sethis 136 years ago in 1882.
The trail ends at the centuries-old archaeological monument Gor Gathri located at one of the highest points of Peshawar city. During their rule, the Sikhs constructed a Hindu temple for Shiva there. It also houses the Serai Jahandad which has been converted into an artisan village, a 17th century Hindu temple and a British fire brigade station with two vintage fire engines dating to 1912.
The government had set aside Rs315 million to conserve the area. It has redesigned 80 new buildings in the traditional style. Their façades were redone in the beautiful lattice woodwork. An underground electricity, gas and sewerage system was constructed and the streets were decorated with lights and flowers. In future, all the linked streets would be redesigned, said Nawazuddin, a research officer with the tourism department. The project did not dislocate any shopkeeper or house as the department plans to encourage locals to exploit the trail economically. “Earlier there was no car park in the surrounding localities, but the locals have made one now,” said Nawazuddin. A wedding hall that was constructed by a minister in the previous government at Gor Gathri has been demolished to make space for parks.
Daud Sethi, whose grandfathers owned the Sethi Havelis, said that there was a time when foreign tourists would make bookings weeks before visiting Peshawar.
Before the year 2000, tourism was a stable industry and source of income for thousands of families. Foreigners were particularly interested in KP as the birthplace of Buddha in Taxila, Takhtbhai and at Jamal Garhi.
“Tourists would come in such large numbers that sometimes they had to stay with local people as they could not find rooms in hotels and at guest houses,” said Ajmal Khan, a tourist guide.
But after 9/11, the once-stable industry suffered with the spread of militancy. “Tourists would visit Khyber Agency to see the historic Khyber Pass every week till late 2006-07,” Ajmal adds.
In the last 18 years, an entire generation has grown up in countries from where we used to get tourists, said Nawazuddin, a research officer at the Tourism Department. “The new generation doesn’t know about the history, beauty, importance and culture of Peshawar and KP.”
When asked why foreigners should visit Peshawar, Nawazuddin replies that Peshawar is the only city that has never been destroyed. “This part of the world is a birthplace of Buddhism, the Mongols came here, the Mughals ruled it, the Sikhs ruled it and the British annexed it,” he said, adding that the most important point is that peace prevailed nonetheless.