Fort Bala Hisar – a little known wonder in Peshawar
Peshawar was once seen as a dangerous city due to the wave of terrorism, but peace has gradually returned to the city as well as the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province. It is now time for the media to highlight the other side of Peshawar, which is the cradle of civilizations. I wonder why this city could not be turned into a tourist hub of Pakistan despite having such rich heritage and jewels of past. Capital of the KP province, this place was also known as Puruṣapura in Sanskrit language which meant “city of men”.
Let me tell you an interesting fact about this city. Peshawar’s recorded history dates back to at least 539 BCE, making it the oldest city in Pakistan and one of the oldest in the world. As per historic references, Peshawar is the oldest living metropolis in this part of Asia. This is a place where ancient traditions meet the modern ones, 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, we failed to highlight Peshawar as a heritage city of Pakistan and could not get tourism there.
Today let me take you to a wonder hidden inside this city and I am sure you will be pushed to visit this ancient site. It is the Bala Hisar Fort or the Qila Bala Hisar in the Walled City of Peshawar.
The word Bala Hissar 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 till now it is known by the same name, although the name was changed during the Sikh rule. This historic fort Bala Hisar sits 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 is mesmerizing. 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 another mesmerizing sight.
This fort covers an area of about 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.
According to historic references, a Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, during his visit to Peshawar somewhere in 630 AD, found a royal residence and called it with Chinese word “Kung Shing”, which is used for its significance and is explained as fortified or walled portion of the town in which the royal palace stood.
Let me tell you a brief but interesting past that this Fort has. 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 because Peshawar had always been a premeditated city and had a vital importance for invaders and kings. Babur first built a fort here 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 also an interesting military museum in the fort which is open to public with special permission and has recovered weapons, uniforms, photographs, and other artifacts. . A ceremonial changing of guard takes place daily ten minutes before sunset.
Though the fort has lost its past glory but the reflections of the bygone days can still be determined through its corridors, parapets and some rooms. The imposing Bala Hisar Fort and its bleak ramparts still appear to monitor movement along the Grand Trunk Rd.
During the October 2015 earthquake few parts of the fort collapsed but were soon reconstructed. The plaque placed on the fort states that it is the oldest monument of Peshawar and ages to 2000 years.
Recently the KP Assembly passed a unanimous resolution asking the Frontier Corps to handover the historical fort to the civil administration so it can be open to the public and converted into a tourist spot. I think developing old places of Peshawar into tourist spots will improve tourism and build a positive image of the city before the international media and world. This is need of the hour otherwise we might lose the importance of one of the ancient civilizations of the world.