a Peshawar back street

Bleaching all colour from the world, the intense dazzling light of a hot dry summer bounces around a small but busy back street in Peshawar, Western Pakistan. Dust, wood smoke and the general comings and goings of humanity can soften harsh light such as this.

Canvas awnings provide some respite from the heat of the sun. Considering the stifling temperature, everybody seemed far too over dressed to be comfortable. Women in this conservative Muslim town were fully covered by the purdah.

AA tourist (me) emerges into the blinding light. Little covered alley ways like this tunneled below and between buildings to connect one of Peshawar's main roads with a back street situated at a much lower level.

I'm wearing a little clay Buddha figure around my neck which was given to me by a novice monk in Bangkok. It was supposed to protect me from all sorts of misfortune which I've no doubt it did. Stomach upsets were another matter however.

On my return overland journey back from Europe via Peshawar, I recall feeling a little ill here. I brought a ticket on an East bound train. For some stupid reason I climbed up onto a luggage rack above the passengers' heads so that I could stretch out a little to let my stomach settle. As the time for departure approached, the carriage got more and more crowded. With such a crush of bodies, I soon realized I was destined to be trapped up there for a six hour ordeal. There are times when Asian trains stop for hours in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason. This train was no exception. Without a breeze moving through the carriage, I stewed. The wire mesh of the luggage rack left me with quilt-like dimpled skin for days.



A Chaiwallah does his rounds. Lots of chai (tea) as hot as you could drink it was the most refreshing thirst quencher in the terrific dry heat of the subcontinent.

This sweet teapot, once hopelessly broken, had been lovingly repaired with little metal staples. The patience and craftsmanship that went into its restoration was amazing to behold. Why, we would have thrown it away long ago, but the repair was a job, a livelihood and food in the mouth for someone with these kind of skills. Who knows what tasty bacteria inhabited those fissures. A most delicious brew indeed.

My memories of Peshawar are vivid. It was the last town of any size before entering the Khyber Pass and Afghanistan, Pakistan's neighbour to the West. Although not a particularly large town, it was cosmopolitan in its own way bustling with peoples from the various surrounding hill tribes.

The simple local hotel I stayed at in the middle of town was built directly next door to a Mosque. Around its minaret, just outside my window, were its loud speakers pointing to the four corners of the globe. I'm sure my Muslim friends will forgive me but at 4:30 am in the morning I was rudely awakened by the distorted and highly amplified sound of the muezzin clearing the phlegm from his throat!

Actually the call to prayer or 'azan' always sends tingles up and down my spine whenever I hear it. A pious Moslem prays five times a day. Solat Zohor, just after midday, Solat Azar, around 3-4pm, Solat Maghreb, just after sunset while there is still colour in the evening clouds, and Solat Suboh, the morning prayer to mark the beginning of a new day just as the sky begins to lighten. This morning call is slightly different from the others with lines to intone those of the Islamic faith to wake up and get out of bed. It is a reminder of their duty to God.

One of the most extraordinary and beautifully haunting sounds I've ever heard was the morning call to prayer in Medan, Sumatra 1976. There were little mosques on practically every corner of this Indonesian town and each had its very own muezzin.

I awoke to wonderful soundscape of human voices singing in Arabic. At first a single distant voice, then another joined it, only nearer this time, and another in the mid distance, then another. Almost like way a cockerel gains confidence that morning is indeed approaching when others accompany it to greet the new day.

Some of these voices were amplified, others were simply using cupped hands as a megaphone to call out across the roof tops of Medan, their glorious intertwining voices from different points of the compass coming in and out of synchronization, layer upon layer. I could hear perhaps fifty voices at once from the family home where I was staying. There would have been hundreds in the town.

The main street of Peshawar, 1974.
Virtually no vehicular traffic except the Vespa based three-wheeler.
I wonder how much it has changed?

or a vegetable marketor a vegetable market