A day in Peshawar – the world’s 2nd most dangerous city in the world!
“Peshawar in North western Pakistan is the second most dangerous city in the world, only behind Barquisimeto, Venezuela”, according to many sources including www.defence.pk
It goes on to add “Peshawar, Pakistan is another dangerous place in the world. With tribes and warlords fighting for supremacy, Peshawar is not safe, especially for foreigners. Although the city boasts amazing landmarks and breathtaking parks, targeted attack on security forces and suicide bombings, unfortunately, make Peshawar one of the world’s most dangerous cities to visit.”
Last week I spent the day in Peshawar, and whilst I probably didn’t have the ‘normal’ experience, it was certainly far from feeling dangerous, but was actually one of the most amazing days I have had in Pakistan thus far.
The day started off from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, where I ran into Aussie cricket great Glenn McGrath before leaving the hotel, so things must have been destined for a great day. My Pakistani friends where very jealous of this and claimed him as my cousin, so I will take that!
It was arranged for me to get into the traditional Shalwar Khameez clothing, with the Shalwar being the pants, and the Khameez the top, to attempt tp make me look a bit like a local. Once sorted we began the trip by heading on the 2-hour drive to Peshawar along the freeway. A quick tollgate pass through and we were on our way.
The first thing that I noticed was the amazing countryside, very much like country Australia or UK. It was very green agricultural land, lush with crops. Mountains also surrounded us along the way before we hit the outskirts of town, some 30-40 kilometres out. Here, I must admit, there was a slight sense of ‘unease and uncertainty’ as to what I was about to endure. I did have thoughts and dreams the night before of kidnap attacks and being held hostage, but I also knew that this was my mind playing tricks and paying attention to western media perceptions. This may have been assisted by the news of 2 suicide attacks in the 3 days prior to me going. So to say I was all ‘gung ho’ and confident would be wrong…
My travel companion had family connections, which helped. We had the choice for gunmen to accompany us, but we opted not to, a thought that I felt good about, as it would probably draw undue attention to us. Our first stop was into a highly secure area of the KPK Government Ministry where we met with my colleagues brother, the Minister for Tax and Excise and we had a lovely green tea and chat in an official looking set up around the room you so often see with dignitary visits in this part of the world. I even ‘played Minister’ at his desk and made a few military and taxation orders!
This area was very secure with checkpoints, machine gunmen and car checks to get in, and a clear no go zone within the Cantt area (military contentment).
Following this, we left the security and ventured through town, a normal hustle and bustle Pakistani town, but still with a sense of animosity about ‘what if’ in the back of my mind. It was time for some work, so that killed several hours before we had lunch.
I had been told by many Pakistani taxi drivers in Dubai several weeks earlier that I had to have ‘Charsi Krai’ a famous dish from a famous location in Peshawar. This wad brought to us, instead of going there (for security perhaps) and it lived up to its name. A lovely dish with herb flavoured rice and grilled and stewed lamb pieces…amazing…
More work followed which took us all around town, and now I was feeling comfortable in this city, even wandering around as we stopped in the local car market to get our wipers changed.
The city has a lot of old remnants which are now military sites such as the old Bala Hisar Fort, which would be great to visit, but not possible.
It was time to make our way back, but not before a few detours…..
The first was to get some local handmade Peshawari shoes. The store was closed but a couple of calls had the owner and rider appear 10 minutes later to open up (I guess a call from a Ministers brother has some clout, which was good for us). The guy was awesome,his shoes were amazing and we took over his shop, bought hand made shoes and saw how he made them from scratch using car tyres. I even had a crack at pretending to make my own.
Our next stop was for some material to get some tailor made Shalwar Khameezes in different colours (they are so comfy to wear), and as is often very common, quickly a crowd soon gathered to see this strange ‘white man’ in such a place in their town.
We then went to a local Kofta shop, one which I would never venture into without being taken there, but as I sat, I was shown how the bread was baked in the fire pit, then went next door to the hand made fried koftas with freshly baked break – awesome food…
So after a full on day, the most hair raising and potentially dangerous part of which was the trip there at speeds in excess of 180kmh (as far as speedo went), I had my Peshawar experience, and survived.
My take outs. Yes it probably is dangerous, being so close to the Afghan border opens it up to all sorts of people coming in an out, which must be a challenge to manage. There are terrorist and factional issues there. There are suicide bombings. There are kidnappings. But I saw no sign of danger from my trip. Again, it helps going there with a local I am sure, and one with local plates and good connections, but we still drove around un-escorted and potentially vulnerable.
I look forward to my next trip there, as long as it is with others. I am not sure the family would want to visit for a weekend, but, like a lot of things in Pakistan, you cannot always label a place based on western media reports. As I said to my friends, Pakistan has negative connotations in the media because of things that happen, but there are 182 million people here, so there are bound to be some bad eggs…It is like saying don’t go to Sydney, Paris, the USA or Belgium because of an attack…look at the statistics per head. YOu cannot rule out a city or country with millions in it due to events that effect dozens or hundreds of people.
There are places in Australia I would practice caution in too….the key is to be vigilant and aware and avoid potential issues, but in today’s world it is the fear of the unknown and randomness of attacks…something we all have to learn to live with, and not let us stop living!
Until next time….Aussie in Lahore..