If you travel to Peshawar, get used to the idea that you will see guns anywhere and everywhere. Here in the west, we take it as a threat to our security, but most people weilding a rifle on their backs or an AK-47 are security guards themselves. Often times they are hired by residential communities to patrol the streets all night, or to guard shops, banks and hotels at night. Not all of them are in a security guard uniform, of course.
I have been to Peshawar twice, and lived there for numerous months in both occassions. The only time I have ever seen a gun fired was during a marriage celebration. I found that most houses have a handgun for safety, mostly because the houses only have a partial-roof and their vulnerability to thieves exists.
Sometimes one of the most confusing things about Peshawar for a traveller is adapting to the language. Sure, Urdu is the national language but no one ever told me before I went that anyone other than a school-aged kid didn't know Urdu.
Pashto is the language spoken in and around Peshawar. There are many forms of the dialect since it is spoken throughout NWFP, some Balochistan, and the Qandahar-Jalalabad-Kabul areas of Afghanistan.
Afghani Farsi or Dari is also very commonly spoken in Peshawar, mostly because of the influx of Afghan refugees. There are many citizens who come from the north of Pakistan to Peshawar for work, and they speak Chitrali, which is very different from both Pashto and Farsi.
Best piece of advice - purchase a small travel Pashto book to have handy with you. The one I bring with me is:
Pashto English English Pashto Dictionary Phrasebook
by Nicholas Awde, and Asmatullah Sarwan
Aside from the helpful phrases, even just the basic understanding of common nouns would be extremely helpful to anyone visiting the area. Be prepared to encounter few people who can grasp a good understanding of the English language. I found myself using hand-gestures a lot in Peshawar to get a point across.
A white, 22-year old Canadian female travelling in the most conservative part of Pakistan was truly an experience. We have to be mindful that this is an Islamic country, and the best way to avoid unwanted attention as a woman, is to cover up like the locals.
BURQAS - Even as a Muslim myself, I found it strange to adapt to the countless burqa-clad women walking like blue shadows - as if they were in Taliban-run Afghanistan. I lived as a local with my husband and his family and through many unstaged interviews I found most of the older women wear it by choice. Most of them that wear it are happy to wear it, it prevents them from being treated unfairly due to being old/young, and allows them to travel about unnoticed. All the women that are in an accordian-like blue burqa are Afghani refugees, they see it as a symbol of their nationality. Pakistani burqa-ed women are in different colors, a plain fabric that reaches to the ground.
CHADOR - most Pathan women choose to wear a chador outside - basically a big sheet that you can wrap around your head, body, and lift it so it covers your nose and mouth. I wear this when I am in Pakistan, as they are certainly cooler than a burqa or banan.
BANAN (also known in arabic as an Abaya) - These are often what the Muslim women in the Middle East wear as their overgarment outside. It is a loose-fitting black coat that covers the whole body. It comes with a matching hijab to cover the hair, and a NIQAB (to leave only a slit for the eyes open). Many young Pakistani girls find this as the fashionable way to dress, and some styles are elaborate with beading and gorgeous embroidery. Heatstroke warning - these are very hot, especially if black.
No matter which form of hijab you choose to wear in Peshawar, the tried and true method is to make sure that your nose and mouth are covered. This can be an inconvenience for non-Muslim women tourists, but I assure you, you will divert any unwanted attention and the high prices from the vendors that come with "knowing you're a tourist".
Yea, we got hit by another car while taking a taxi. Our driver was pretty mad, and although there was some pushing, no fight erupted or even exchange of info or cash.
His beat up cab wasn't damaged too badly anyway.
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