From the Punjab to Peshawar, Pakistan, December 2022

You only ever hear bad things about Pakistan- a fertile breeding ground for terrorists. I first had the idea to explore Pakistan for myself after reading Michael Palin’s book ‘Himalaya’. Then my Afghan guide filled my head with stories of Peshawar- a frontier town at the bottom of the Khyber Pass that buzzed with the comings and goings of travelers from Central Asia. It seemed like a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle from my journey along the Silk Road. And so for the last week I have set foot across northern Pakistan.
Modern Pakistan is an arbitrary result of the disintegration of the British Indian Empire. The Muslim Indians to the west petitioned strongly for self-governance and the obvious solution was for some cartographer back in Old Blighty to draw a line down the map. All the Muslims were compelled to jump to the left of the line and all of the Hindus to the right. The reality of the partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947 was a climate of fear and chaos that led to the massacre of over 2 million people from both sides. The tensions remain today.
The ancient history of the region is rich and has drawn me here. The Indus Valley civilisation in the South dates back to the Bronze Age. The region in the north was part of Gandhara – a crossroads that saw Alexander the Great march through, the rule of Persian kings and then the crucible of Buddhism which flourished in the region with monasteries and teaching centres in the 1st and 2nd centuries. Later came Genghis Khan and Tamerlane and then the golden period of rule by the Mughal Emperors. Built by the same emperors Pakistan has Mughal architecture to rival the Taj Mahal.
Travelling in Pakistan has been about untangling the history, marvelling at Mughal aesthetic, walking narrow alleyways of the old cities in Lahore and Peshawar, tea houses with ancient samovars, the frenzied drumming of Sufis, the characters with long beards and big moustaches, hot paratha breads fried fresh on the streets and the gracious welcome in typical Muslim style of people who are grateful that you have come to explore their misunderstood country.
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