Government initiative focuses on restoring Peshawar's heritage

By Syed Ansar Abbas


Visitors enjoy the Sethi House in Peshawar on October 18. [Shahbaz Butt]

PESHAWAR -- The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has launched an initiative to help restore and preserve the heritage of Peshawar now that security has improved in the area.

The Peshawar Revival Plan, approved in January, is aimed at promoting tourism as well as reviving the city's infrastructure, economy, music and culture.

Decades of terrorist activities devastated Peshawar, where deadly bombings were routine.

A car bombing near the Qissa Khwani Bazaar killed more than 137 people and wounded more than 210 in October 2009, an assault that traumatised the city's residents.


Visitors on October 18 view photos displayed in the gallery of Ghor Khuttree museum during a Peshawar city tour that the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Culture and Tourism Authority organised to highlight the importance of historical places in Peshawar. [Shahbaz Butt]


Visitors enjoy a walk on the heritage trail of Peshawar city October 18. [Shahbaz Butt]


The ancestral home of Bollywood actor Raj Kapoor is shown in this October 11 photo in Peshawar. [Shahbaz Butt]

Another suicide bombing in December 2012 at Dahki Nalbandi near Qissa Khwani Bazaar killed KP senior politician and former minister Bashir Ahmad Bilour and seven other citizens.

While the city is still healing from those wounds, the provincial government aims to use the Peshawar Revival Plan to restore its previous prestige now that troops have cleared many extremist elements from the area.

After ridding the city of terrorists, the KP government is focused on "giving its full attention toward the city", said Shaukat Yousafzai, the KP minister of Tourism and Culture, October 30.

"Peshawar once was a centre of business and attracted tourists," Yousafzai said. "The government is keen to restore the city's past glory."

Preserving historical heritage

The revival plan involves several initiatives being carried out by working groups.

Under one initiative, the KP government will purchase the ancestral houses of Dilip Kumar and Raj Kapoor, Bollywood actors, and convert them into museums.

The KP government will use funds allocated in the first phase of the revival plan to buy the houses, said KP Information Minister Kamran Khan Bangash.

"Eventually they will be open to the general public to highlight the heritage of Peshawar," Bangash said.

Both houses, situated near the historic Qissa Khwani Bazaar, will join the Sethi House as a historical landmark.

The KP Archaeology Department purchased the Sethi House in 2017 and is preserving the historic haveli, which now welcomes visitors on a lively street in Qissa Khwani called Sethi Mohalla. The construction of the Sethi House began in 1835 and was finally completed 49 years later in 1884.

Sethi Mohalla is representative of how elite Peshawaris traditionally used to build their houses, said Nawaz Uddin, research officer at the KP Directorate of Archaeology.

"There are seven havelis of the Sethi family, who once were the richest family in the city," Uddin added. "These havelis are rare architectural masterpieces and combine the art and architecture of Gandhara and Central Asia, while their design is inspired by the vernacular architecture of Bukhara, Uzbekistan."

Meanwhile, as part of the Peshawar Revival Plan, the first "cultural heritage trail" has been built in the province and is open to the public. Its aim is to attract tourists while preserving the architectural heritage of the city.

Under the project, workers have repaired and restored the historic buildings of Bazaar-e-Kalan to preserve the local architectural style.

The KP government meanwhile is preserving the ancient site of Ghor Khuttree, a Hindu temple built during the Mughal Empire in the 16th century and which stands on one of the highest points of Peshawar city, said Uddin.

"The complex boasts a museum and an excavation site that is more 2,000 years old," Uddin added. "This place is holy for Hindus and Buddhists, and it will attract more tourists."

"We plan to promote religious tourism through exhibitions, online portals and printed books about such sites in Peshawar and KP," he said.

A better image

Other working groups are focusing on various areas of Peshawar.

Tahir Khattak, who is heading another working group under the initiative, will give recommendations for urban development and the environment, as well as how to improve infrastructure, increase traffic efficiency and upgrade the city's drainage system.

The initiative will declare a bridge in Choowa Gujjar on the outskirts of Peshawar, which dates back to the Mughal Empire, a heritage site under the initiative, according to Ayesha Bano, chairperson of another working group.

The government is intent on restoring the lost glory of Peshawar, said Bano, who is a member of the KP Assembly from Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the ruling party.

"Though there are many challenges, we have started work on the initiative, and within a month we will complete our report about recommendations under the Peshawar Revival Plan," he said.

"We also will give recommendations on ridding the city of drug addicts and beggars in order to establish a better image."

Forty years ago Peshawar was a favourite destination for tourists before terrorists took hold, said Dr. Ali Jan, chairman of another working group under the programme.

The revival plan will restore the city's heritage and image, Jan said.

"The image-building of Peshawar is underway. The government is acquiring historic and making resorts for tourists," Jan added. "Peshawar is an historic city and has the potential to attract tourists."

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