I knew I had wanted to visit Peshawar before I even set foot in Pakistan. Part of my interest was due to the long and robust history the city holds, and the other part was because others had told me not to. As an offbeat traveler, a place like Peshawar was exactly what I was looking to explore.
As Peshawar has only re-opened to tourists in recent years, naysayers touted that it was far too dangerous to visit- “Especially as an American!”
In all my travels, a rule I’ve liked to follow is to never take negative advice from those who haven’t set foot in a place themselves. How could people who’ve never even visited Pakistan (or South Asia for that matter) have a viable opinion about one of its cities? Let’s be real: they can’t! So onwards to Peshawar I went.
Peshawar – the City of Flowers
After a long but comfortable bus ride from the relatively liberal and tourist-friendly cultural epicenter of Lahore, my partner and I made our way out of the Daewoo bus and quickly called ourselves a Careem (Pakistan’s version of Uber). I had heard a thing or two about the unbelievable hospitality of Peshawar and its native Pashtuns, but certainly didn’t expect to experience it within literal minutes of disembarking from the bus.
Our Careem driver was fluent in English and he enthusiastically chatted with us as we trundled down the darkened streets. Though we were heading to our Couchsurfing host’s home, our driver insisted we make a stop:
“The best chapli kebabs in Peshawar- you must try!”
I rolled out of the car and into a brightly lit roadside shop. The middle-aged owner’s crinkly green eyes and beaming smile eagerly welcomed the three of us inside the small but cozy shop. Though he didn’t speak much English, our driver translated that he was more than happy to see foreigners here.
Within moments, juicy chapli kebabs (spicy mutton patties) were spread out in front of us, but not without a touch of incredible hospitality. Though the kebabs are typically eaten with naan bread, he had concocted us some chapli kebab burgers because “western style.”
Our driver then asked if I wanted some tea, or kahwa as it’s called in Peshawar. Thinking it was there in the shop, I agreed. If you spend any time in Pakistan, you’re sure to become a tea addict too- it’s unavoidable. As it turned out, there was no tea in the store. That didn’t stop him, though.
Within 15 minutes I were sipping on my first cup of steaming, yellow-green kahwa – though there was none in the shop, the owner ran home to pick up a fresh batch from his wife.
To think I had been in the city for barely an hour and already found myself awash with more hospitality and kindness than I could expect to experience in an entire year back home.
A Hefty Dose of Pashtunwali
Our lovely introduction to Peshawar was hardly a one oft experience. From the moment I stepped into Muneeb’s (our Couchsurfing host) home, I was treated like family. Long conversations over cups of kahwa, Afghani naan dipped in honey and traditional chai capped our evenings and started our mornings.
Muneeb showed us around his beloved city, a city that felt a bit like stepping back in time. Wooden Havelis, mosques dating back centuries, and famous monuments that held importance to the Silk Road were just some of the relics Peshawar had to offer. Though it was barely 6 hours from Lahore, it felt like an entirely different world.
I’ve yet to visit Afghanistan, but meandering about Peshawar felt closer to the videos and photos I had seen of its neighbor than to Lahore. I quickly understood why other travelers had raved about this place.
As wonderful as the vibe of the city felt, the real reason I can’t wait to return to Peshawar is the people. The Pashtuns are known to live by a code of ethics known as Pashtunwali- of which showing extreme hospitality and respect to guests is a major part. No matter where we wandered throughout the city, we couldn’t walk past somewhere without being asked for kahwa or “cold drinks,” the famous term for sodas in Pakistan.
If I had listened to the fear mongers back home, I would have missed out on what ended up being one of my favorite places in Pakistan. Now isn’t that something?
When you go:
Peshawar is well connected to Lahore and Islamabad via private (or local) bus service that should cost no more than $8 USD.
The city has a thriving Couchsurfing community and is great to be seen with a local, however, a few affordable hotels do exist.
If you’re on a super low budget, check out Al-Ibadat Hotel for about $5 USD a night. For something fancier, the Emaraat Hotel is about $20 USD a night.
Written by: Samantha Shea
Samantha is a self-proclaimed South Asia addict who has been on the road for seven months so far. She blogs about her indefinite budget-backpacking adventure where she shares guides and stories to help and inspire you to visit offbeat places, too. Check out her backpacking guide to Pakistan at: