Peshawar derives its name from a Sanskrit word "Pushpapura
meaning the city of flowers. Peshawar’s flowers were mentioned even
in Mughal Emperor Babar's memoirs.
Peshawar, the great Pathan city, Hoary with age and the passage of twenty-five
centuries, redolent with the smell of luscious fruit and roasted meat
and tobacco smoke, placid and relaxed but pulsating with the rhythmic
sound of craftsmen's hammers and horses' hooves, unhurried in its pedestrian
pace and horse-carriage traffic, darkened with tall houses, narrow lanes
and overhanging balconies, intimate, with its freely intermingling crowd
of townsmen, tribe’s, traders and tourists - this is old Peshawar,
the journey's end or at least a long halt, for those traveling up north
or coming down from the Middle East or Central Asia.
The formalities of dress and manner gave way here to a free and easy style,
as men encounter men with a firm hand-clasp and a straight but friendly
look. Hefty handsome men in baggy trousers and long, loose shirts, wear
bullet studded bandoleers across their chests or pistols at their sides
as a normal part of their dress.
The fortunes of Peshawar at inextricable linked to the Khyber Pass, the
eastern end of which it guards. The pass seems to have been little used
in prehistoric times, and even in early historic times it was generally
shunned as too narrow and thus too prone to ambush. Not until the powerful
Kushans invaded Gandhara and pacified the area in the first century AD
did the Khyber become a popular trade route.
Peshawar owes its founding 2,000 years ago to those same Kushans. In the
second century AD, Kanishka, the greatest of the Kushan kings, moved his
winter capital here from Pushkalavati, 30 kilometers (20 miles) to the
north. His summer capital was north of Kabul at Kapisa, and the Kushans
moved freely back and forth through the Khyber Pass between the two cities,
from which they ruled their enormous and prosperous empire for the next
the Kushan era, Peshawar declined into an obscurity not broken until the
16th century, following the Mughal emperor Babar's decision to rebuild
the fort here in 1530. Sher Shah Suri, has successor (or, rather, the
usurper of his son's throne), turned Peshawar's renaissance into a boom
when he ran his Delhi-to-Kabul Shahi Road through the Khyber Pass. The
Mughals turned Peshawar into a 'city of flowers' (one of the meanings
of its name) by planting trees and laying our gardens.
In 1818, Ranjit Singh captured Peshawar for his Sikh Empire. He burned
a large part of the city and felled the trees shading its many gardens
for firewood. The following 30 years of Sikh rule saw the destruction
of Peshawar's own Shalimar Gardens and of Baba's magnificent fort, not
to mention the dwindling of the city's population by almost half.
The British caused the Sikhs and occupied Peshawar in 1849, but as much
as Sikh rule had been hated, its British replacement aroused little enthusiasm.
More or less continuous warfare between the British and the Pathans necessitated
a huge British garrison. The British built a paved road through the Khyber
Pass, they also built numerous forts and pickets to guard it.