Up the Khyber Pass!! Oohh!
Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
135Trip End Ongoing
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We got to our chosen hotel, which, I might say, was great. Huge room, very clean with great views over the carpet repair roof next door. Satellite tv and constant hot water! We spotted that Alexander the English guy was still around so we went and said hello to him and wandered out to try and get into the Fort. It's a huge place with massive ramparts and guns still in place. There's been a fort or royal residence here of some sort since the 1500's but the current place was built in the 1830's by the Sikhs. Unfortunately it's occupied by the military and they just weren't going to let us in. Even with Alexander looking very local in his black shalwar kameez, his 'asalaam aleikum' and handshake, they just wouldn't budge. Spoil sports.
David and I went off to do some other exploring and an Afghan carpet seller found us and offered us tea. Not being ones to decline a free tea offer we accepted and went to look at some carpets. The poor chap couldn't drink though - Ramadan! He did have some nice pieces and the prices were reasonable but we would need to think more. He invited us to dinner but we'd already made arrangements with Alexander so we declined. He insisted that we come back the following night though, for a traditional Afghan meal. Of course we accepted! What? You think we're going to turn down a free dinner?! Not on your life nelly!! But really, a home cooked dinner is always better and you also get to talk to the locals and learn a bit more about their life and culture. That night we had dinner with Alexander. It was fab. I love Pakistani food!!! I had the best chicken qorma! So good, and the naans were fresh and hot straight from the oven.
I'd booked a trip up the Khyber Pass for the next day. David was really excited for some reason (!?).
In the morning we farewelled Alexander, he looked great in his complete traditional outfit. Shalwar kameez, hat, scarf and shoes. He was off to Afghanistan. We've met one other guy that visited. I'd like to go too but I don't think I'll chance it right now.
Armed with our cameras and me with my bloody headscarf we were ready for the Khyber. It was a bit of a drive and then we came to the point where a big sign said 'Welcome to Kyber Agency', then the next sign said 'Entry of Foreigners is Prohibited Beyond This Point'. We were right though, we'd got our guide (Prince) and our armed guard in the car in front. Cool. Our guide book says all sorts of things about the area of the Kyber Agency being a lawless and wild place, so I half expected to see people wandering round with huge guns and grenades. I was a bit disappointed when it all looked the same as where we'd just come from. There was a brick gate way with some information where we stopped to take some pics and read a bit. We were going into the mountains where we could see lots of old watch towers and old British Forts which the Pakistani military still occupy. We stopped for some photos with the guard at various points and at a police stop. The old forts are huge. We stopped at an old mosque that Prince said was 1000 years old and across the road in the river bed were 'dragons teeth' which were concrete teeth laid down by the Brits during the war to stop the German tanks (I don't think they ended up coming that way though). I didn't think they looked big enough to stop tanks. We stopped at Ali's hand (Ali is a relation of Mohammed) which is also at the thinnest point of the Khyber Pass and there is also a huge foot print, said to be Ali's, next to Ali's water (the river). Story goes, very basically, that Ali was threatened by a goddess so he put his hand up to stop her staff from hitting him and that is now where the big rock shaped like a hand stands. It's huge and has survived a few tremors. It pretty much looks like it's going to fall off and I wasn't too pleased when the car parked underneath it. I got out quick sharp!! We kept going until we reached a point where we could go no further. We didn't have Afghan visas so had to make do with looking at the boarder in the valley below. We took a few pics and had a turn at holding the AK-47 which is actually really heavy. It was too expensive to shoot off a round though. And that was it. Our trip up the Khyber. David had been right. It didn't hurt a bit!!
Back in Peshawar we went to find out what the guys on the roof next door were doing to all the carpets. Quite simple, they were stretching them back into shape after either washing them or repairing them. We were nabbed by another younger Afghan guy who invited us back to his shop. David had found a new cricket loving/carpet seller friend. He invited us to stay for dinner but we had already accepted with the old Afghan carpet man so he insisted we come for a traditional meal with him the next night!!
Next morning we went off to have a look round the bazaars. Peshawar has a great feel. It's hectic, like most Pakistani cities we've visited but it's kind of more friendly. There are loads and loads of Afghan refugees that fled when the Russians went in about 26 years ago. They've continued to come over as the situation wasn't great during the Taliban times either. There were hardly any women about and those that we saw wore burkas. But the men were all saying hello and asking where we were from. There are lots of different bazaars to wander through. The tea and spice bazaar with it's fantastic aromas, the copper and gold bazaar dazzling the eyes with sparkling jewellery, the cloth bazaar for men, the shoe bazaar, the shit bazaar where they sell junky stuff. They sell all sorts of Christmas decorations, sparkling tinsel, dangling bits to decorate the taxis, buses and rickshaws with. Explosions of colour everywhere! I love this place! We went to the women's bazaar where they sell the most beautiful material for shalwar kameez outfits, wedding outfits and whatever. There is some really over the top, gaudy stuff out there too and possibly the some of the ugliest stuff I've ever seen, but mostly lovely, flowing rivers of material. All sorts, silky beaded, or embroidered with gold, cottons, nylons. Anything. I'm not an expert on materials but I'll take a good guess!! The beads I love. We came across some guys beading and embroidering some material. I really wanted to buy some. This guy came up to us and just wanted to chat. He showed us around the streets of the old city and to some really old Sikh houses that were almost falling down (but still lived in) with elaborately carved pillars and door and window frames. There was a walkway about three stories up connecting houses across the street to one another. He explained that they had been used by women about 25 years ago when women weren't allowed in the streets without a male relative accompanying them. I asked who did the shopping etc and he said the men had had to everything outside the house. The women hardly went out at all. So I asked him if he could see the advantages of letting women outside on their own. He pretty much had to agree. He was getting married in a month's time. It was an arranged marriage and when I asked if he knew this woman already he said yes, for his whole life. So I assumed it was a friend of the family. It was sort of, but his cousin! It is very common in Pakistan to marry within your family. Personally I think it could lead to all sorts of difficulties, and it's a bit too close to home for me, but each to their own. He showed us to a huge old caravanserai that had been used as police post, fire station and governor's mansion. Now it's being developed into a park and tourist site. There were some boys playing with some cute little fluro chicks but they were chased away by a park warden. We said goodbye to the cousin marrying guy and went off ourselves. We came across the Cunningham Clocktower, built for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. This guy came rushing up to us and said his name was Shaquille Afridi and he wanted us to come and have tea with him. Cricket lover David joked and asked him if he knew Shahid Afridi (for all you non-cricketers out there he's a big hitting batsman for the Pakistan cricket team). He claimed he was his cousin!! The people you meet! We had to turn him down because we had stuff to do before going to dinner with the young Turkman Afghan.
Dinner was fantastic again. He'd cooked up a storm! Afghan rice with chicken and vegetables, fresh chapati, fruit, tea and sweets. We spent the whole night talking cricket and watching cricket. Well, David and the boys talked cricket. I just ate. It was great. Eventually we had to leave. They had to be up stupidly early to eat before the sun came up (4am - Ramadan) and we had to get an early bus up to the mountains!
Even though there weren't that many women around I loved Peshawar. They have great peanut brittle and chicken qorma. I'd like to come back and buy some dangly, sparkly stuff.