Reliving heritage

Published April 8, 2024

IT is fair that Peshawar, arguably the oldest living city in South Asia with an ancient past dating back to the 5th century BC, is home to the Qissa Khwani Bazaar, the oldest marketplace in the region. Thus, news of the metropolitan government’s recent decision to restore the splendour of this market, once the Piccadilly of the region, under the Peshawar Uplift Programme’s Phase-II, came as a breath of fresh air. Situated in the centre of the city, it has watched the Greeks, Scythians, Mauryans, Kushans, Mughals, and the British ride to India through the Khyber Pass. Qissa Khwani, in its heyday, was also a merchant encampment for caravans from India and Central Asia. Although dimmed and pitted by time and terror attacks, the fabled bazaar promises to draw local and foreign tourists to its ancient architecture, woodwork, artisans, culture of storytelling and conversations over classic Peshawari cuisine and trademark qehwakhanas, and a white marble monument in the bazaar’s heart, which was built in the memory of the martyrs of the Qissa Khwani massacre in 1930.

The mission to ‘uplift’ has to be executed with a vision to provide an experience of Peshawar’s ancient identity through a place of primary heritage. Qissa Khwani Bazaar should come alive as a bustling open-air promenade, lined with restored and lit-up historical buildings and qehwa shops alongside full-fledged flower streets, which have dwindled over time. Literary accounts that chronicle balakhanas once occupied by dancers and musicians must not be overlooked as references in order for godowns to regain their glorious facades. Moreover, the authorities ought to encourage tea gardening in Malakand and Hazara Divisions through incentives for investors and cultivators so that qehwa vendors can continue with their centuries-old businesses. With the Cultural Heritage Trail template in place, aided by committed architects, curators, craftsmen and restorers, there is no reason for Qissa Khwani Bazaar to fall short when it comes to expectations.

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2024

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