PESHAWAR AND THE QISSA KHWANI BAZAAR.
"....As far as the eye reached, flowers were in bloom. In spring near Parashawar the fields of flowers are very beautiful indeed." Jalauddin Babar (from Babarnama).
Peshawar is no more the `Parashawar' that fascinated Babar, and neither is it `Poshapura, The City of flowers' as it was known in A.D 119. The flowers, the orchards and the fields are all gone, and the old canals are dry. Peshawar of today is almost permanently enveloped in a haze of dust and smoke. Budhni and the Bara Rivers that once flowed near the ramparts of the Bala Hisar Fort have deserted Peshawar. Today the Budhni is no more than a sewer, and the Bara River a barely recognizable stream.
`Hind' was the sixth province of the ancient Iranian Empire. The language of the people of `Hind' was `Hind-ko', which is still spoken by the Peshawaris. Since all movement in the subcontinent has always been from North to South, some scholars believe that Hindko was carried south by the successive waves of migrants, travelers or settlers. The rise of the Sikhs brought the dialect spoken by them into prominence, overshadowing the root language, Hindko.
The history of Peshawar has always been linked with the people from the north, who pushed through the western mountain passes en route to India. The colorful yet distinctive culture of Peshawar city is a culture that is alive and flourishing. It owes a lot to the celebrated geniality and hospitality of the Peshawaris. They have always welcomed and absorbed newcomers, until the cultures of host and guest mingled and became almost indistinguishable. Due to the most recent deluge from the North-West, Peshawar is literally bursting at the seams. Yet, slowly but surely the Afghans are being drawn into the mainstream of Peshawar's life and Peshawari culture will benefit by becoming richer, from the innovations.
Almost every conqueror, in the Sub-Continent's history, passed through Peshawar. The Sikhs destroyed it; and the British ignored it, preferring to build a cantonment to the west of the city. Yet, in spite of them all, Peshawar has continued to stand at its present site for over 2000 years. Today it's `olde worlde' allure is augmented by the walled city's crumbling Mohallas and Kateras, all but forgotten by the twentieth century. Steeped in history, it is difficult to choose any one area of Peshawar City that would demonstrate its antiquity and its character. Yet, there is no denying the fact that its most fascinating quarter has always been the Qissa Khwani Bazaar, often called `the heart of Peshawar'. The N.W.F.P. Gazetteer labeled it `the Piccadilly of Central Asia' in its 1931 issue. Merchants from Samarkand, Bokhara, Afghanistan and India have always converged on the Qissa Khwani, the hub of Peshawar's trade with Central Asia. Here, besides silk for salt, and carpets and fur for copper and brass, news and gossip was also exchanged. Tales of the wonderful things the travelers had seen and heard during their journey, always had many listeners, both young and old, mouths agape. The Qahwa Khanas of the Qissa Khwani were always full, whenever a new caravan arrived. The tales were always spun over steaming cups of never ending Qahwa.
Qahwa Khanas are still very much a part of the culture of Peshawar city, far, away. In any case, stories about the fairies of Koh-e-Qaf would be out of place in this busy market place. Yet, there is still something about this overcrowded, noisy, dirty Bazaar that beckons the incorrigible romantic. The enchanting wooden filigree of the older buildings that must have hid many an inquisitive lady, straining to overhear the tales being told; the caravan serais or Balakhanas are still there, only now they are the dignified offices of Peshawar's lawyers; the imposing Royal Afghan building, standing out as something foreign in this medieval street; but what grips one the most is the vibrant, throbbing, pulsating atmosphere of the Bazaar; an atmosphere which cannot be ignored.
There are very few places in the world where imagery, history and trade, the present the past and the future, truth and fiction are so mixed together yet so visible and so appropriate. This is not a place that one can visit and forget in a hurry. This is not a Bazaar like any other Bazaar. This is the Qissa Khwani Bazaar, the street of the story-tellers. When it spins its magic, one is spellbound.
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