Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is full of historical places as the area has remained a bastion of ancient civilizations. It is said that Aryans were the first ones who invaded this place about four thousand years ago. Later on, the Persians invaded this area around 500 BC. After Persians, this area remained under Greeks, Mauryans, Huns, Guptas and then under Muslims. The province has diverse traditions, architect and culture as it has been part of many ancient kingdoms. In the recent history, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has remained part of the Mughal dynasty and later on ruled by Britishers. All these civilizations have left their impression in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through their traditional architect, some of which still remains to this date etched with ancient memories.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has taken various initiatives to preserve these historical sites, however, young generation is generally unaware of these sites due to various reasons. The region has mostly remained neglected or no-go area due to terrorism. However, the situation has considerably improved in the province and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government is taking various steps to attract tourists to historical destinations of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Some of the famous historical sites of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are in tribal areas. Khyber district is one of the tribal districts which has numerous historical sites and can be an attractive tourists site.
Khyber Pass is a mountain pass in the northwest of Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan. It connects the town of Landi Kotal to the Valley of Peshawar at Jamrud by traversing part of the Spin Ghar mountains. Khyber Pass was the route used by many invaders to conquer India, starting from Alexander, the Great to the Mughals and then Afghans. Throughout the history, it has remained an important trade route between Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. Due to its geographical importance British government has made many military pickets to oversee the Pass. The Pass is still used for trade between Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Khyber Rifle Mess
During the period of British rule, it was one of the eight “Frontier Corps” or paramilitary units recruited from the tribesmen of the North West Frontier, serving as auxiliaries for the regular British Indian Army. The Khyber Rifles were recruited from Afridi tribesmen with British commanders. The headquarters of the Khyber Rifles was at Landi Kotal. Its prime role was to guard the Khyber Pass. After independence the paramilitary force was absorbed in Pakistan forces. The Khyber Rifle Mess built by Britishers is a well-kept historical site which has many historical antiques of the past century. The Mess has been visited by various world famous leaders and personalities. The walls of Khyber Rifle Mess are adorned with photographs of these dignitaries which includes Queen Elizabeth of England, Princess Anne, the Shah of Iran, Margret Thatcher, Jaqueline Kennedy and Lady Diana. Among Pakistani dignitaries, starting from the founder of the nation Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and Fatima Jinnah, perhaps every president and prime minister has been to this historic place.
The Landi Kotal Cantonment has also a very strange but interesting tree which to this day remains in chains and bears a board “I AM UNDER ARREST”. In 1898, British army officer James Squid saw an old banyan tree lurch towards him. In a state of drunkenness, he ordered a soldier to arrest the tree immediately. To this day, it stands fettered and forlorn in the Landi Kotal army cantonment area which is a symbol of draconian British Frontier Crimes Regulation Laws.
Shagai Fort is the traditional guardian of the Khyber Pass. It is located 13 kilometers from Jamrud in Khyber Agency. It was built in 1927 by the British forces to oversee the Khyber Pass. The Fort is currently manned by Pakistani military and paramilitary troops serving as headquarters for the Khyber Rifles. The Fort is an attractive British Era structure and is worth visiting place.
Ali Masjid Fort
Khyber district has a historical mosque called “Ali Masjid” named in memory of Hazrat Ali (RA), the cousin of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Ali Masjid is the narrowest point of the Khyber Pass. In 1837 Afghan amir, Dōst Mohammad Khān built a fortress near the mosque called Ali Masjid Fort. However, it was destroyed and reconstructed numerous times in various historical battles. Ali Masjid has witnessed intense battles between the British and tribals both in the first Afghan war in 1842 and the second Afghan war in 1879. In the late 19th century, like other historical places, Ali Masjid fort was reconstructed by British government to oversee Khyber Pass.
The fort is divided into an old colonial block and a newer block. There is also a hospital nearby, which is carved inside mountain. The top of the fort gives such a commanding view of the surrounds that in a conflict, it can become impossible for the opponents to evade unharmed from the area.
Tale of Train
The Khyber Railways was originally planned by the British in the late 19th century as a strategic project to counter suspected Russian invasion of the sub-continent via Afghanistan in the era of ‘The Great Game’. Queen Victoria’s government in a bid to fight it out in the barren lands of Afghanistan constructed this track. However, in 1907, both sides signed an agreement to remain restricted to their borders. The Khyber Railways was still commissioned as an efficient way of moving troops at short notice.
In 2010, Pakistan Railways began a feasibility study to rebuild the Khyber Pass railway and to possibly extend it further west to Jalalabad, Afghanistan. However, work has been stalled due to the security situation in Afghanistan. In 2016, the Afghan Ministry of Public Works began a survey of the railway line from the Pakistan border to Jalalabad. Afghanistan has also put forth proposals and requests to further extend the railway to Kabul. The efforts to revive the project shows that the railway track is still very significant and is maintaining its relevancy through the ages.
The number of tourists visiting tribal districts has increased gradually since the restoration of peace in the region. Tourism has emerged as an important sector that can serve as an engine for mustering sustainable economic growth in the most underdeveloped areas of Pakistan i.e tribal districts.
While talking to one tourist Aleena Mahsud who has recently visited the area, claimed that “I did not believe that I will be able to witness such a crowd in the area, which was considered a no-go zone a year ago. KP government needs to take concrete steps to change perception of Tribal Districts to attract national and international tourists. This will not only project a softer image of KP but also help locals earn livelihood from tourism industry.