Tourists need a permit and an armed escort from the Political Agent (Khyber) in Stadium Road to visit the Khyber Pass. The permits are free and often delivered immediately. From Peshawar to the Afghan border at Torkham is 56 kilometres or a drive of about one hour. The road is open as far as Jamrud Fort, 18 kilometres from Peshawar, and leaves Peshawar past the university, Islamia College and Hayatabad.
The Bala Hisar consists of two high mounds to the left of the road from Peshawar to Charsadda. About 27 kilometers from Peshawar Fort, just before you enter Charsadda, the road turns sharply right to cross a river over a double bridge. On this corner, just before the bridge, a dirt track leads straight on (north) for one kilometer. When this track forks, bear right. The Bala Hisar is to the right of the track.
The Bala Hisar was excavated twice, by Sir John Marshall in 1902 and by Sir Mortimer Wheeler in 1958; the latter cut a trench down through the many layers of mud, stone, and pottery to the bottom of one of the mounds. Pottery shards and attractive round, colored stones are scattered everywhere.
The Bala Hisar was occupied from the 6th century BC. Push kalavati is first mentioned in the Hindu epic story the Ramayana:-Bharata, the brother of Ramachandra, conquers Gandharvadesa (Gandhara) and founds two cities, Taksha (Taxila) and Pushkala (Pushkalavati), named after his two sons.
In about 516 BC, Gandhara became part of the seventh province of the Achaemenid Empire and paid tribute to Darius the Great of Persia. According to the Greek historian Herodotus, Darius sent the explorer Scylax of Caryanda down the Indus to find the sea probably from Pushkalavati, where the Kabul River becomes navigable. Herodotus describes the Gandharans as bearing bows of reed and short spears, and Wheeler's finds bear this out: the earliest layer of Pushkalavati shows evidence of an Iron Age civilization.
Gandhara probably remained part of the Achaemenid Empire for the next 200 years, until its overthrow by Alexander the Great of Greece in the 4thcentury BC. Alexander captured Persia and Afghanistan and then in 327 BC divided his army in two, sending half of it under Hephaestion directly to Gandhara to capture the main towns before proceeding to the Indus to build a bridge. Hephaestion laid siege to Pushkalavati; 30 days later he overcame the city and killed its defender, Astes. He then built a bridge of boats across the Indus at Hund and negotiated the surrender of Taxila. By the time Alexander got to Gandhara, he owned it.
In 322 BC, Chandragupta Maurya rose to power and, some years later, brought Gandhara under his sway. No evidence of the Mauryan occupation has actually been found at the Bala Hisar, perhaps because at this time Taxila, with its famous university, was the more important city. There is a popular tradition, however, that the Mauryan emperor Ashoka built a stupa containing the relics of the Lord Buddha at Pushkalavati, as described by Xuan Zang, the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim, in AD 630. However, the stupa has not yet been found.
The Bactrian Greeks were the next rulers of Gandhara. They arrived from Balkh, in Afghanistan, in about 185 BC and laid out the new cities of Shaikhan Dheri at Push kalavati and Sirkap at Taxila. Shaikhan Dheri lies one kilometre to the northeast of the Bala Hisar on the other side of the river. You can see it from the top of the mound.
The Bala Hisar was occupied until the 18th century, when it was used as a fort (or Hisar), but it was never of much importance after the second century BC.
Jamrud Fort, made of rough stonework and faced with mud plaster, was built by the Sikhs in 1823 on the site of an older fort. The famous Sikh general Hari Singh was killed in battle with Afghans nearby and is buried here. The modern stone arch across the road (Bab-e-Khyber) dates from 1964. Those without permits are turned back at the check post here.
At its mouth the pass is wide and flat, bounded on either side by low stony hills. Every small hillock in the area is capped with a piquet manned by the Frontier Corps. In the 19th century the soldiers used heliographs and semaphore to maintain contact.
The road zigzags up past two viewpoints. The second one has the better view back to Peshawar showing both the road and the Khyber Railway, which threads its way through a string of tunnels on the north wall of the pass.
Shagai Fort, fort round the next corner, was built by the British in the 1920s and is now manned by the Frontier Corps. The road then descends down a small valley in which stand fortified Afridi houses and the Ali Masjid (Mosque). Perched high above the mosque on a commanding spur is the Ali Masjid Fort, which guards the narrowest point of the gorge and commands the entire length of the pass. The road through the gorge is one-way, and hugs a narrow ledge beside the riverbed, overshadowed by high cliffs. Before the way was widened, two laden camels could not squeeze past each other at this point. The return road, and the railway, follow separate ledges higher up on the opposite cliff and offer less exciting views of the gorge.
In the cemetery here are the graves of British soldiers killed in the Second Afghan War of 1879-80 Regimental insignia are carved and painted on the rock faces at several places besides the road, with the Gordon Highlanders, the South Wales Borderers, and the Royal Sussex, Cheshire and Dorset regiments standing in one doughty group.
After the gorge, the pass opens out into a wide fertile valley dotted with fortified Pathan villages and houses surrounded by high crenelated mud walls with watchtowers at the corners and pierced with narrow gun holes round the top.
Sphola Stupa, a Buddhist ruin 2nd to 5th centuries, stands on the right of the road above the railway at the village of Zarai, 25 kilometers from Jamrud. The stupa has a high hemispherical dome resting on a three-tiered square base. Many Gandharan sculptures were found here when the site was excavated at the beginning of the 20th century, some of which are now in the Peshawar Museum. The side of the stupa facing the road has been restored, but the rest of it is crumbling away.
The Khyber Rifles' Regimental Headquarters is up a road to the right shortly after the stupa. Official visitors are often given lunch here and treated to a display of tribal dancing and bagpipes. The old British mess traditions are still upheld and the mess silver and old photos are proudly displayed.
Michni Post, a fortified viewpoint just past Landi Kotal is the briefing point for visitors. There is a model of the pass and a panoramic view down across more triangular cement tank traps (built by the British to counter a supposed threat of a German or Russian invasion from the north) to the border post at Torkham. Everywhere you look you see camouflaged pillboxes.
On the hilltop, directly south (to the left) of Torkham is a ruined, 9th-century Kafir (Hindu) fort. On this ridge, the British and the Afghans fought one of the last battles of the Third Afghan War in 1919. The top of the hill is in Afghanistan, with a commanding view down over the Pakistani installations and forts to the east.
For steam rail enthusiasts, the Khyber Railway from Peshawar to Landi Kotal is a world-famous attraction. The British built it in the 1920s at the enormous cost of more than two million pounds. It passes through 34 tunnels totaling five kilometers and crosses 92 bridges and culverts. The two or three carriages are pulled and pushed by two SG 060 oil-fired engines. At one point the track climbs 130 meters in little more than a kilometer by means of the heart-stopping Changai Spur. This is a W-shaped section of track, at which the train must twice shudder to a stop, wait for the points to be changed, and then back up the next section.
The Khyber train runs on an alternate route between Peshawar and Attock Khurd. TCKP's Abaseen Train Safari comes packed with many attractions! Attock Khurd has a rich historical significance. The old Victorian Railway station was built in around 1880. The train passes through several tunnels on an ancient route. Live narrations, onboard refreshments, and excellent photography opportunities make this journey an unforgettable experience for tourists. The train crosses the mighty river over the old Attock Bridge and makes its final stop at Attock Khurd Railway Station. Contact TCKP TIC for train schedule and details.
There are many archaeological sites to see in the plains of Peshawar. The three most interesting for the general tourist are Takht-e-Bahi (a ruined Buddhist monastery), the Ashokanedicts (two inscribed boulders) and Charsadda (an excavated mound that was once the capital city). These three places can be visited in a one-day outing from Peshawar, or en route between Peshawar and either Islamabad or Swat and Chitral. An interesting loop takes in Charsadda and Takht-e-Bahi on the way up to Swat via the Malakand Pass, and the Ashokan edicts on the way down from Swat via the Ambela Pass.
The Kingdom of Gandhara flourished on the fertile plain of Peshawar from the 6th century BC to the 11th century AD and was at its height from the 1st to 5th century AD under the Buddhist Kushan kings. This was a time of great international activity, and Buddhist Gandhara, at the hub of Asia, traded with China, the Mediterranean and India. Gandhara is remembered chiefly for its Buddhist art. Museums all over the world display the fine stone and stucco sculptures that reflect a prosperous, advanced and gentle Buddhist society.
The first capital of Gandhara was Pushkalavati, the Lotus City, on the banks of the Swat River just north of its junction with the Kabul, at a place now called Charsadda. Under the Kushans the capital moved to Peshawar, and then the Hindu Shahi kings (9th to 11th century) moved it to Hund, on the Indus. After Mahmud of Ghazni conquered the area and converted it to Islam in AD 1026, the name Gandhara disappeared. Only a few ruins and the civilization’s great art remain.
Though there is little to see, it is still exciting to stand on the mound where the Lotus City once flourished and to imagine Alexander the Great's army attacking in 327 BC, to read Ashoka's edicts of 260 BC at Shahbaz Garhi, and to visualise the life of a Buddhist monk at Takht-e-Bahi in the 3rd century AD. These visits should only be made in cool weather from September to April.
The road to Charsadda, 28 kilometres from Peshawar, runs northeast from Peshawar Fort, crossing the productive, well-watered Peshawar Plain where enormous buffalo, known locally as 'black gold', work the land, and tropical sugarcane and cold-climate sugar-beet grow side by side.
River View is a private wayside family resort on the right hand side about 8 kilometres from Peshawar. Some of the attractions include fishing and boating.
Pushkalavati (the old name for Charsadda), on the banks of the Swat River, was the capital of Gandhara from about the 6th century BC to the 2nd century AD. Even after the capital moved to Peshawar, Pushkalavati remained a centre of pilgrimage until the 7th century, thanks to the presence of an important Buddhist shrine.
Pushkalavati Museum: Houses a fine Gandhara Collection.
Ghani Dheri: A museum dedicated to Ghani Khan, the famed Pashto poet, artist, and philosopher, is near the Pushkalavati Museum.
The Buddhist monastery of Takht-e-Bahi is 14 km northwest of Mardan on the road to Swat. A direct road runs from Charsadda to the village of Takht-e-Bahi. Turn left (north) at the crossroads in Charsadda, and after exactly two km turn right on the surfaced road, which leads through rich irrigated farmland. Keep to the main road and after 22 km you come to the main Mardan-Swat road. Turn left here and proceed one kilometre to Takht-e-Bahi.
To get to the ruins cross the level crossing in the centre of the village of Takht-e-Bahi, and after 500 metres turn right at a sign reading 'Archaeological ruins of Takht-e-Bahi 3 km' in English. Cross the railway, turn left at the gate of the sugar mill, and a little further on turn right down a dirt road. You will see the ruins of a large Hindu Shahi fort on top of the hill to the right. Continue on to the end of the track the ruins of the monastery are straight ahead. It is a steep walk 500 meters up the hill to the site, and a further 500 meters to the top of the hill.
Takht-e-Bahi is the most impressive and complete Buddhist monastery in Pakistan. From the top of the hill behind the monastery you can see down across the plains as far as Peshawar on one side, and up to the Malakand Pass and the hills of Swat on the other.
The monastery and stupas at Takht-e-Bahi were founded in the 1st century AD and abandoned in the 6th or 7th centuries. Surrounding the monastery on the ridge above it to the south, and on the spurs to the east and west are the ruins of private houses, some three storeys high.
You approach the monastery from the east. On the right, just before you enter the main monastery, is a two-storey block of four monks' cells. In each cell are two niches for the monk's lamp and belongings.
The first court you enter is the court of stupas, which is surrounded on three sides by open alcoves or chapels. The excavators estimated that originally these all contained single plaster statues of the Buddha, either sitting or standing, dedicated in memory of holy men or donated by rich pilgrims. The largest statues must have stood ten metres high, and all would have been gilded or painted. Around the walls of the chapels, and on the partitions between them, were carved friezes in high relief showing scenes from the life of the Buddha; these were carved on slabs of stone and attached to the walls of the shrines with iron nails.
The remains of 38 votive stupas and some more chapels are scattered haphazardly around the centre of the court. These were also built as offerings by pilgrims, and were full of gilded and painted statues and relief's depicting the life of the Buddha. One unusual stupa is octagonal.
The monastery court is to the north of the stupa court and up some steps. The monks' cells range round three sides. Originally there was a second floor containing 15 more cells. According to the Buddhist pilgrim Xuan Zang, the walls of the cells were plastered and painted in different colours and the wooden doorposts and lintels were decorated with carvings. In each cell are two niches for the monk's lamp and belongings, and a small window. A water tank in the southwestern corner of the court was probably filled by rainwater draining off the roofs. The kitchen and dining room are to the east of the monastery court. Stairs lead up from the kitchen to the second floor. On the outer wall of the kitchen are two projecting buttresses, which may have been the latrine.
The court of the main stupa is to the south of the stupa court and up some steps. The main stupa stands in the center. The excavators estimate that it was originally about ten meters high, with its umbrellas projecting higher. The square base was surmounted by a hemispherical dome, and all would have been decorated with gilded and painted statues of the Buddha and scenes from his life. This court is also surrounded on three sides by roofed alcoves or chapels that once contained statues of the Buddha.
The assembly court is on the north western corner of the complex, surrounded by high walls. This secluded court was the monks' meeting place. The two modern cemented water tanks in the centre of the court were built by the excavators to hold water for workers.
The chapel contains two tiers of ornamental trefoil panels divided by pilasters and may have housed a small stupa to commemorate some especially holy or rich person.
The ten vaulted chambers underneath the court were used either for meditation or storage. The entrances into the western underground chambers have arched doorways. Two more arched doorways lead west from these rooms out to a large open court; it is not known what this was used for.
In the covered area south of this court are two small, elaborately decorated stupas that were in perfect condition when they were excavated in 1910. Today, little of the red and gold decoration remains despite the protective shed.
Private houses are scattered up the hill above the monastery and for more than a kilometer along the ridge. Some houses are built around a central court, but most are two storey with one small room set on top of the other. Each is entered by a low door and lit by one small sloping window. The staircases, flat slabs of stone protruding out of the wall, are located outside.
From Takht-e-Bahi you can either continue north up to Swat or turn south to Mardan, 14 km away, and continue east on the ancient trade route.
Shahbaz Garhi is 13 km east of Mardan on the road to Swabi. Down a dirt track to the right, a few hundred meters before the left turn to Rustam, are the famous Ashokan inscriptions, carved on two rocks about 300 meters to the left of the track at the base of the hill. Look across the field before you reach the school for the cement pillars that once supported a corrugated iron roof over the rocks.
The Ashokan inscriptions date from the 3rd century BC and are the oldest surviving writings of any historical significance in the subcontinent. The Mauryan emperor Ashoka (reigned 272-231 BC) ruled over most of the Indian subcontinent from his capital at Pataliputra (now Patna) on the Ganges in India. He was a Buddhist and tolerant of all religions. Ashoka ordered a series of edicts to be inscribed on rocks all over his empire; two of these are in Pakistan, at Shahbaz Garhi and at Mansehra. At Shahbaz Garhi 12 edicts are carved on one rock, two on another. Ashoka describes his remorse at the destruction and slaughter that occurred when he overthrew Kalinga in eastern India. He says in the future he will conquer only by righteousness and dharma, and that, wherever he may be, whether eating or in his lady's apartments, whether on horseback or in the pleasure orchards, he will always be available to hear the petitions of his people. He tells his subjects that it is their duty to honor their parents, relatives, and friends, to give alms to the priests and poor, and not to be extravagant.
He forbids the slaughter of animals and suggests that instead of going on hunting trips people should go on pilgrimage. He points out that many religious rites are useless, and that showing self-control, respect, and generosity are the best ways of gaining merit. And he commands everyone to show religious tolerance to people of other sects. He orders hospitals to be founded for the treatment of both humans and animals, and medicinal herbs to be planted to ensure a ready supply. He also commands that fruit trees be planted along the roadside and wells dug for the refreshment of travelers. The Shahbaz Garhi and Mansehra.
edicts were both inscribed in Kharoshthi, the local Gandharan script; those at Kandahar in Afghanistan were written in Greek and Aramaic; those further south were inscribed in Brahmi.
Shahbaz Garhi was once an important city at the junction of two major trade routes, the main road from Afghanistan to India via Pushkalavati and Hund, and the trade route from China via the Indus Valley and Swat, which connected to the more northern route from Afghanistan via Bajour and Dir.
It is now difficult to trace the outline of the ancient city. Its center was at the modern road junction, and the three modern roads now pass through what were its three main gates. Two Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Sun Yung and Xuan Zang, visited it in AD 520 and 630 respectively and wrote of a thriving Buddhist center surrounded by stupas and monasteries.
Shahbaz Garhi was important to the Buddhists because of its association with Prince Sudana, or the Buddha in one of his previous incarnations. Sudana means 'of noble charity; the area is still popularly known as the Sudana Plain.
It is doubtful that Gautama Buddha ever visited this part of the world, but Buddhists believed that he lived here in previous incarnations. Old folk tales and pre-Buddhist holy places were woven into new legends focussing on the Buddha, and sites all over Gandhara were identified with these so that they became prosperous centers of pilgrimage.
From Shahbaz Garhi you can continue north on a surfaced road to Swat via the Ambela Pass. . The road east leads to Swabi, where it forks left to Tarbela and right to Attock. From Swabi to Islamabad is 119 km via Attock, 90 minutes, and 137 km via Tarbela, two hours, but you now need a permit to drive across the top of the Tarbela dam. A ford before Tarbela could prove difficult for cars during the monsoon.
Mardan cantonment was laid out in the British era. It remained the permanent headquarter of the elite Queen Victoria's Own Corps of Guides. The Guides' Fort was built by Hodson in 1854. The Guides were originally raised at Peshawar in 1846 at the site of the present day Mission Hospital and later moved to their new premises in Mardan. It is now the headquarter and center of the Punjab Regiment of the Pakistan Army. The former Guides Mess, Guides Cemetery, and the Memorial Arch in memory of Major Louis Cavagnari, next to the Lutheran Church are the main places of interest.
This garden is located 35 kilometers from Peshawar on the Grand Trunk Road. The attractively landscaped and colorfully planted botanical garden of the Centre of Plant Biodiversity covers an area of 100 acres at Azakhel, Nowshera. It is a repository of rare and endangered species.
Cherat is a small cantonment and a former hill sanatorium a few miles South of Nowshera and Mardan on the other side of the Grand Trunk Road. It was discovered by Major Coke whilst exploring the area in 1853. It is 1,350 meters (4,500 feet) above sea level and was first used as a sanatorium for British troops in 1861 and was declared a cantonment in 1886. There are many surviving British-era military installations, hospitals, cemeteries, and a church here. A cliffside near the old parade ground has many regimental crests carved in the rock. Presently, Cherat is the base of the commandos or the elite SSG and serves both as their headquarters and training school. It has a small military museum. The lofty location commands spectacular views of the Peshawar Valley on one side, and on the other of a portion of the Khwara Valley in Peshawar District, and of Kohat District as far as the Indus River. (Special permissions may be required to visit the cantonment areas)
By air: Peshawar is linked by air to a dozen Pakistani towns and cities (including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad Rawalpindi), and also to Europe via Dubai and Doha.
By train: Peshawar is the last stop on the national rail system. For sleepers and air-conditioned class you must book two weeks in advance to be sure of a place. Peshawar Cantonment railway station is more convenient for tourists than Peshawar City Station.
Daewoo Luxury Coach from/to Islamabad (3 hours), Lahore (6.30 hours), air-conditioned, comfortable with hostess, and food and drink served. Recommended. Tel Peshawar 091 111 007 008.Book one day in advance. Buses run every hour.
Many other bus and minibus services run between Peshawar and Islamabad, Lahore, the valleys of Swat, Dir, and Chitral to the north and, for the adventurous, the desert towns to the south beyond Kohat. Ask TCKP or your hotel for information. When you get to the bus station, it is not difficult to find someone to help you find the right bus.
By Private Transport: There are four roads between Peshawar and Islamabad. The most direct and recommended route is the M1 Motorway (155 kilometers, two hours). Another is the old Grand Trunk Road route via Attock and Nowshera (167 kilometers, three hours). The most historically interesting is via Tarbela Dam, Swabi, Mardan and Charsadda (242 kilometers, five or six hours) Tarbela Dam may be off-limits for security reasons check for the latest information. Finally, the most attractive drive is through Fateh jang, Kohat and Darra (232 kilometers, five or six hours). Darra is in the tribal territory and foreigners need a permit to stop there, though they are usually allowed to drive through.