Where the Extraordinary is the Norm

Peshawar, Pakistan
June 22, 2019

Close to the border with Afghanistan, the city of Peshawar has had a checkered history in its long life. And it shows. The old clock tower and the fire brigade station date from the British days but there are plenty that are yet older. The sprawling quadrangle that was once a caravan serai is now a park, within which is a Hindu temple. The old buildings have a grace despite their sport peeling paint and broken shutters. There seems to a push toward renovation though, in some parts of the city. Traditional wooden windows and balconies adorn newly re-furbished buildings in food street. Perhaps in a few years Peshawar will re-invent itself.

The many gates that once were the sole entryways, now stand alone, looming over chaotic traffic. Within are the bazars, still segregated by trade. The lane crowded with bookshops, the street where pet birds are for sale, the jewelers, metalsmiths and the tailors all have their own areas. The milkman still delivers door to door on his motorbike and the cobbler has had the same corner ear-marked for years. Huge blocks of ice are shaved by hand and delivered as businesses hum.

Falooda and Peshwari ice cream are common treats and among the many street foods are chunks of fish and huge pans of biryani and pulao.

On the streets are mostly men. The women few that I see are all draped in their shuttlecock burkas although I did see a couple enveloped in chadors. Even young girls are draped head to toe. This is a man’s world where women belong indoors. For me to be found wandering alone is no doubt odd. Smiles from younger people, happy to pose for a photograph are mixed with quizzical looks from most older men. The reception seems to thaw a tad in conversations, but this is no effusive welcome. My questions or greetings are answered, albeit grudgingly. The taboo on photographing women is very much in vogue.

I had read and heard of Peshawar’s open gun market. Most of it seems gone now but along the main street are a row of shops. Guns of every shape, size and caliber are for sale. Men walk in, browse, inspect bullets and make purchases much as we would clothing or books or any number of miscellaneous objects. Bizarre it may be for me, but it seems the norm in Peshawar.

There are many interesting sights to see in Peshawar, but my visa clock has run out. Perhaps next time I will do this city justice.

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