Bala Hisar is a heavily-guarded fort that is located now centrally (in Old Peshawar it would have been in the north-western corner). It was built in the 16th century and has seen a long history through Mughal Emperors, the Sikhs and the British and has been destroyed and rebuilt again at least once. It is used today by Frontier Corps, or "fauji" as the locals call them.
All you need to do is look at Bala Hisar from afar to appreciate its beauty. Visually you can tell it has been around for centuries, and provides a majestic view over Peshawar and surrounding valley.
I had the privelege of being granted permission to enter Bala Hisar Fort and have a guide appointed - but I did this with a huge risk - they did NOT know that I was a foreigner.
Bala Hisar is only open to foreigners from a special letter of entry granted from the Ministry of Interior from Islamabad. My husband has a family member involved with the Government of NWFP and we were granted permission to enter due to the family contact. This is a very rare occurence to be allowed in.
Beyond the gates is a steep road that winds up to the top. It is lush and green in there, with several buildings and what seem like rooms for the FC members to live in. There are multiple cannon look-out points that have an excellent view of the Fly-Over, Lady Reading Hospital and the city itself. It is pristinely quite on Bala Hisar, it makes you forget that 92 feet below is the constant hum of auto-rickshaws, horns, and pedestrians crossing the streets unwarily.
Our guide (who wishes to not be mentioned as it was a risk to his employment by allowing me take pictures and even be there) showed us the gallows room where criminals were hung - having being last used I believe in 1960 or so. The basement is the old "doctors room" where it is said the doctor would remove the recently hanged criminal and pronounce them dead and issue a certificate. This room is eerily cold and many guards say they hear sounds now and again.
In the center of the grassy area, stands a moderate sized exquisite mosque. It has a massive slab of marble situated outside and used for prayer when the mosque fills capacity inside. It was beautiful to watch a man pray so peacefully knowing that not far below us, was a bustling city on the old Silk Road.
A great end to my trip to Bala Hisar was the "Museum" they have. It is several rooms along a corrider. Each room has its own theme, some being "Generals of Pakistan", "recovered weapons", "Frontier Corps uniforms", etc. They finally have a Souvenir Room with some neat gift-type collectables. I recommend the oldest picture of Bala Hisar taken, which you can purchase framed for 1000 Rs.
The name Balahisar is of Persian origin and most likely given by Afghan Ruler Taimur Shah Durrani (1773 - 1793). The origin of the fort is not clear, but it is as old as the city itself, 2000 to 2500 years. The main entrance faces the old route to India. A Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang, visited Peshawar in 630 AD, and he has described it as a royal residence of the city. According to Dr Dani, a channel of the old Bara River surrounded it once.
Historically Peshawar has always been a city of strategic importance, frequently mentioned as the seat of Ghandhara civilization. Subuktagin captured Peshawar in 988 AD, Mahmud of Ghazni in 1001 AD, Ghori in 1179 AD, and then came Babar in the 15 century and established the Mughal empire. Afghan King Sher Shah Suri destroyed the fort after the overthrow of Babar's son Humayun. Upon his return Humayun rebuilt the fort.
Ahmed Shah Durrani of Afghanistan finally took it from the Mughals and made it a residential palace. His son Taimur made Peshawar his winter capital. After his death in 1793, Shah Zaman lost it to the Sikhs in 1834, who destroyed it. Then Sher Singh on orders from his father Ranjeet Singh, rebuilt the fort. An inscription from the Sikh period still survives on a gate.
The British annexed Punjab in 1849 after defeating Ranjeet Singh's son, and extended their rule to Peshawar. At the time Balahisar was a mud fort, the British reinforced it with bricks and gave it the present day look. Till 1947, the fort also housed the treasury.
On 14 August 1947, the Pakistan flag hoisted over Balahisar, and the following year it became the Headquarters of the Frontier Corps (FC). A small museum has also been opened inside the Fort, which has a nice display of weapons, dresses, and photographs relating to the FC.
The Balahisar Fort has been opened to tourism, however prior appointment is a necessary convenience. It would be prudent to take a conducted tour.
The Mongol Emperor Babar built this fort in the 16th century.
In 1818 the Sikh King Ranjit Singh rebuilt it, later on it was used by the
British soldiers and now it is the headquarter of the Pakistan army. That is the reason it can't be visited, you must be satisfied with a view from
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