Peshawar, in the north, is one of the cities known for its cultural heritage and rich bio-diversity. Bygone are the days when it was once seen as a dangerous city due to the wave of terrorism, but now peace is fully returned to the city as well as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. It is one of the cities surrounded by areas that are well-known for their splendid natural beauty and particularly it is a cradle of civilizations. I wonder that this city is yet to be over-crowded or fully reckoned with as a tourist hub of Pakistan despite having such rich heritage and jewels of the past. Capital of the KP province, this place was also known as Puruṣapura in the Sanskrit language which meant “city of men”.
It might sound an exaggeration to say the oldest city, so let me enlighten you with some historic facts about this city. Peshawar’s recorded history dates back to at least 539 BCE, making it the oldest city in Pakistan and certainly one of the oldest in the world. As per historic references, Peshawar is the oldest living metropolis in this part of South Asia. This is a place where ancient traditions meet the modern ones with harmony and warmth, a city with vibrant antique bazaar having the hustle and bustle of the life in them amidst the old city and rich cuisines which are still famous world over. Despite all these attractions, it is yet to be a highlight as a heritage city of Pakistan and needs to be turned into a tourism hub.
Today let me take you to a treasure that is hidden inside this city and I am sure you will be pushed to visit this ancient site.
The word Bala Hisar is derived from Persian and means “elevated or high fort”. The name was given by the Afghan Pashtun King Timur Shah Durrani (1773–1793) and up till now, it is known by the same name, albeit the name was changed during the Sikh rule. This historic Bala Hisar fort situated on a high mound in the northwestern corner of Peshawar city. The fort was used as a royal residence for the Durrani Empire and was rebuilt during Sikh and British rules.
The fort used to be noticeably away from the old city of Peshawar, but now with the construction of new buildings space between the old city and the fort has been covered. However, the fort’s position on a high mound gives a powerful and panoramic view of Peshawar and the entire valley which gives an enchanting panoramic sight. If you happen to be in Peshawar on a clear sunny day, you will see the mountains around the Peshawar valley. View of the valley from this place is a feat to the sour eyes.
This fort covers an area of approximately 10 acres (40,000 m2) and the height of the fort is about 90 feet above ground level. The interesting fact is that the main entrance of the fort directly faces the ancient route to India and one of the important one strategically back in the days.
The past of this fort is of interest to many and worth telling. Like Lahore Fort or many other forts in this region, Bala Hisar fort also witnessed the ups and downs, construction and destruction, zenith and depths during the reigns of different conquerors, invaders and kings in the past because Peshawar had always been a premeditated city and had a vital importance for invaders and kings. Bala Hisar fort was built by Babur in 1526 after capturing Peshawar. Historic references tell us that after the overthrow of the Mughal Emperor Humayun by the Afghan King Sher Shah Suri, the Afghans destroyed this fort.
When Mughal Emperor Hamayun was staying there he decided to rebuild the fort before going on to Kabul and wanted to use it for his conquest of India at a later stage and thus Emperor Hamayun himself supervised the rebuilding of the fort, which was soon completed.
The fort was destroyed in a battle between the Sikhs and the Afghans but soon after the occupation of Peshawar by the Sikhs in 1834, Hari Singh Nalwa commenced the reconstruction of the fort and named it Sumergarh. Hari Singh Nalwa installed a plaque over the gate of the fort that said, “This Sumer Garh was built in the city of Peshawar by the exalted Maharaja Ranjit Singh Bahadur in Raja Bikramjit Sambat 1891 with the blessing of Almighty God”.
When the British Raj took over the region, just like Lahore fort they reconstructed the outer walls of the Bala Hisar in 1849.
After independence, this fort became the house of the Frontier Corps and it is said that The Frontier Corps settled in the fort since 1948 while those were raised from the tribal belt under the British rule with the Khyber Jezailchis, now Khyber Rifles, and the Viceroy Lord Curzon placed the Frontier Corps Headquarters at Bala Hisar Fort in 1948, and till now the fort houses the same and most of the existing barracks and military installations date to the British period.
There is an interesting military museum in the fort that offers an amazing account of historic happenings. The museum in Bala Hisar fort open for the public with special permission and has recovered weapons, uniforms, photographs, and other artifacts of that century and are the rare remaining. A ceremonial changing of the guard takes place routinely for ten minutes before sunset.
Bala Fort is in the magnificent city of Peshawar, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), Pakistan and unlike most of the tourist attractions here which are away from the Peshawar city, Bala Fort is at the heart of the city.
If you are traveling from the federal capital, Islamabad, it takes two hours and twenty minutes from there and if you travel from Lahore, it will take six hours. Transport from either city is easily available for Peshawar.