The Qissa Khwani bazaar in Peshawar continues an old practice of telling stories.
During Ramadan, at PESHAWAR’s famous Qissa Khwani bazaar, people told stories and drank traditional Peshawari Qehwa (green tea) while eating chappli kebab. This has been going on for hundreds of years.
Qissa Khwani is one of the oldest markets in South Asia. It has a lot of food shops, hotels, and Qehwa Khanas that bring in a lot of people who like to eat traditional foods like chappli kabab, paye, mutton karahi, fried fish, kabuli pilau, and kabuli pulao at Iftar parties.
“I came with my family to my favorite restaurant, Qissa Khwani, to eat its delicious chappli kebab and paye with its famous Qehwa at Iftar, which my father set up for family members here on Sunday,” Fahim Khan of Nowshera district said.
He also said that the delicious fried fish, chicken roast, kulfi-falooda, and popular qehwa added color to the Iftar parties. “This was my second Iftar of this Ramadan, and I will come back on the 29th fast of Ramadan for a big Iftar party with my friends and family.”
Fazl Rehman, the owner of the famous Mohmand Qehwa on Shah Wali Qatal Street in Qissa Khwani, said, “People come here in groups and with their families for Iftar parties to enjoy the delicious traditional foods.”
But the market is full of people for more reasons than just the wide range of delicious food.
Another interesting thing about the market is that it has a long history of telling stories, which may have given it its name.
Rehman says that people enjoy the centuries-old custom of telling stories while drinking his popular Qehwa at the old bazaar.
People who sit at the bazaar until sehri tell stories about ancient culture, music, art, politics, and social rules while sipping hot Qehwa.
In the past, the Qissa Khwani Bazaar, which is in the heart of Peshawar City near the historical Chowk Yadgar, Ghanta Ghar, and Balahisar Fort, was a key trade and cultural center where merchants from the subcontinent, Afghanistan, and Central Asia stayed the night and talked about love, culture, art and architecture, music, and traditions before going to their own places.
The bazaar starts at Kabuli Gate and is only eight to ten minutes away from the Khyber Bazaar BRT stop. It takes visitors back to the beginning of time with its centuries-old buildings, shops for artists, restaurants, and Qehwa Khanas.
During the bazaar’s heyday, trade caravans from Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Kabul, Dushanbe, Ashgabat, and Tashkent would stop there to dump their goods before continuing on their way.
Alexander the Great, Mehmood Ghaznvi, Zaheeruddin Babar, Nadir Shah, Ahmed Shah Durrani, and his grandson Shah Zaman were among the great warriors, attackers, and kings who marched through the famous Khyber Pass on their way to India.
“Making Qehwa is my hobby, which I got from my father in 1970. This Ramadan, my son joined us,” Rehman said with pride.
He said that Qahwa is what most of his customers ask for. But Sheen Da Payo, which is what people in the area call Qahwa with milk, was a special iftar item at Qisakhwani.
After Pakistan was made, he said, the tea stalls in the market became places where people talked about politics and shared their ideas about the country’s political situation.
He talked about the elections between Fatima Jinnah and Gen. Ayub Khan, the Pak-India War in 1965, the OIC Lahore Summit in 1974, and a number of sports and cultural events, such as the 1992 cricket world cup. These were some of the most talked-about things at the bazaar’s many tea shops and stands.
“The history of Qissa Khwani is thought to be as old as the history of Peshawar,” Research Officer of Museums and Archeology Department Bakht Zada Khan told APP.
“Recent archeological excavations at old Gor Khatri have revealed the city’s history. Peshawar is now known as the “Oldest Living City” in South Asia, with a history that dates back to about 539 BC.
He said that the Gor Khatri dig was the deepest and biggest in the world. The 20 layers of dirt showed that this old city was inhabited from the British to the pre-Indo-Greek times.
So, the unique practice of telling stories and drinking Qehwa became a big part of Qissa Khwani culture and has stayed that way for hundreds of years.
Foreign and local tourists can also see the ancestral homes of Bollywood stars like Yousaf Khan aka Dalip Kumar at Mohallah Khudadad, the Haveli of Raj Kapoor’s father Prithvi Raj, and Shah Rukh Khan’s family home at Shah Wali Qatal at Qissa Khwani.
“Peshawar’s Qissa Khwani and Dilip Kumar sahib are inseparable,” said Faud Ishaq, who used to be president of the Sarhad Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and is Dilip Kumar’s nephew.
He also said that you could tell how much Dilip Kumar loved Peshawar by looking at his will. In it, he said that he wanted his family home to be used for the good of the people of Peshawar.
The Haveli of Raj Kapoor’s father, Prithvi Raj, is a major tourist attraction near Qissa Khwani. He moved to Mumbai in 1930, where he dominated the South Asian film industry as both an actor and a producer. He started the first Bollywood dynasty, which lasted for about four generations.
Shah Wali Katal Qissa Khawani was where Taj Muhammad Khan’s house was. He was the father of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. His famous son had fun with his family there.
Also, the arched white marble monument that was put in the middle of the market to honor the people who died in the Qissa Khwani massacre in 1930 by British troops remained a big draw for many.
Herbert Edwards, the British Commissioner of Peshawar, loved Qissa Khwani a lot. He called it the “Piccadilly of South Asia.” During colonial rule, the British sent “Qissa Khawani Gazzattee” collectors into cities to find out what people thought about administrative choices.
Ismail Ali said, “I’ve been selling Chappli Kebab at Qissa Khwani for the past 25 years. A lot of people buy it and take it home to share with their families at Iftar parties, while others prefer to eat it at hotels during Iftar dinner.”
He said that the number of tourists coming to Qissakhwani dropped sharply from 2001 to 2013, when terrorists attacked this cultural center of Peshawar and killed many important people, like Senior Minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour in 2012 and CCPO Malik Muhammad Saad Shaheed in 2007.
He said that the terror attacks and lockdowns at Covid-19 hurt the Qehwa and Chappli Kabab businesses in this area.
“We kept doing business even when people were afraid to go to this old market because it was bad for business,” he said.
He said that this year, more tourists are coming to Qissakhwani because people from Punjab, Swat, Chitral, Nowshera, and Dir Upper are traveling there in large numbers.
Waris Khan, who works for the central government, said, “I came from Karak to Qisa Khwani bazaar at iftar to eat Chappli Kabab and drink traditional Qehwa.”
He said, “My trip to Peshawar won’t be complete until I see this historic street.”
Shaukat Ali Khan, Chairman of the Central Organization for Traders in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said, “This place is what makes Peshawar what it is. Serious work needs to be done to preserve its cultural heritage, architecture, and artwork, and keeping its beauty and primitive heritage could bring in a lot of money.” (KP).
He said that importing green tea, most of which comes from Vietnam, costs about Rs50,000 per 50 kg.
He also said that this amount could be saved by making it easier for businessmen and farmers to grow green tea in upper KP, especially in Malakand and Hazara divisions.
He asked the government to help investors buy machinery for growing tea, picking it, and taking care of Qissakhwani by giving them special financial benefits.
In 2018, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government finished the “Cultural Heritage Trail” project in Peshawar. Under this project, a 500-meter-long trail from the ancient Ghanta Ghar to Gor Khatri and the views of 85 heritage buildings, including the famous Sethi House at Mohalla Sethian, were fixed up and saved.
The trail starts at the historic Ghanta Ghar and goes through the old Mohallah Sethian, where the Sethi family built a number of beautiful houses in the 1880s that have been kept.
A plan is in the works to make Qissakhawani look like it did hundreds of years ago. This would teach new generations about the history of the market when it was the center of trade between the subcontinent and Central Asia.