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Khyber Agency

 

Khyber Agency has an area of 991 square miles. The majority of the tribes in this agency are Afridis, of which there are eight major sections. However, there are important pockets of Mallagoris (Mohmand) Shilmanis, and Shinwaries. Shinwaries live on both sides of the Pakistan Afghan border but are predominantly in Afghanistan. The Afridis are famed as the tribe that control the Khyber Pass and also as the inhabitants of what is still one of the most inaccessible areas, Afridi Tirah. This strategic situation has enabled the Afridis to force every conqueror in history passing through the Khyber to come to terms with them. They have a formidable battle record for strategy and tenacity in the mountains. They once annihilated an entire Moghul army of Aurangzeb's.

 

Khyber is a Hebrew name of a fort. It was in the battle of Khyber near Madinia Munawwarah, where Hazrat Ali (RA) showed great chivalry and that is why, Khyber was founded in the present Khyber Pass by the Pathans, on settlement in 8th century A.D. Similarly, Ali Masjid was founded in the memory of Hazrat Ali (RA).

 

Khyber Pass has very rich history, Buddhism spread through this pass to Afghanistan and the stupas at Ali Masjid and Sphola bear witness to it. Many a battles were fought here by the Afghans against the invading armies. Amir Taimur built a prison in the pass, which is visible from Michi Post. Akbar the Great built a fortress at Kafirkot, near Charbagh. The Mughal Army of Aurangzeb was massacred near Landikotal in 1672 AD. The Sikhs built a strong fort at Jamrud where General Hari Singh Nalwa was killed in 1837.

 

The agency headquarters are in Peshawar in winter when the tribes migrate to the comparatively warmer Khajuri plains just beyond the Bara market town (5 miles from Peshawar). New water schemes on the Bara River are converting the semi arid and barren Khajuri Plains into valuable land for cultivation and habitation. Brick houses are appearing at a rapid rate. The summer headquarters are in Landi Kotal on the international border. Jamrud (deriving its name from the Iranian emperor Jamshed who ruled here some 2000 years ago) sits at the mouth of the Khyber Pass about ten miles from Peshawar. A Sikh fort that looks remarkably like a battleship still dominates the Jamrud area. The Kuki Khel Afridis live here. Shahgai fort, ten miles from Jamrud, with its squash courts and swimming pool, is one of the best maintained and striking on the frontier. Ali Masjid (Hazrat Ali, the son in law of the Holy Prophet is said to have prayed here) is the highest point and key to the pass.

 

 The Khyber agency is the only afghan outpost to be annexed by the british. Its recorded history is long and colourful and begins with the arrival of the achaemenians, followed by the greek legions of Alexander the great, who were in turn succeeded by a series of invading hordes who thundered through on their way to the lush valley of Peshawar, tapering off with the british Indian expeditionary forces who marched in so bravely and stumbled out so disastrously. Numerous memorials were carved on the rock faces to the british Indian regiments who gradually wrested the pass from the Pathans and the afghans.

 

The Afghan border at Torkham is 56 kilometres (35 miles) from Peshawar, about an hour’s drive. The road runs west from the cantonment and through University Town, after which the fields on either side of the road are covered with refugee camps. After the camps are the compounds of Pakhtoon tribesmen, their high mud walls furnished with turrets and gun slits, their entrances guarded by huge corrugated-iron gates.

 

Places to See

Jamrud Fort:

 

Jamrud Fort, 18 kilometres (11 miles) from Peshawar and at the mouth of the Khyber Pass, is as far as a visitor can go without a permit. To proceed further, foreigners require a permit. This permit is free of charge and can be obtained by applying at the Political Agent’s offices. Let alone foreigners, even Pakistanis have to apply for this permit if they need to visit. Jamrud Fort is visible from a distance like an old battleship. Looking ruggedly majestic with its jumble of towers and loop hole walls, the fort contains the grave of its builder, the famous Sikh General Hari Singh Nalwa, who died here in action against the forces of the Amir of Kabul in 1837 AD. The fort; coarsely constructed of stone daubed with mud plaster, was built by the Sikhs in 1823 on the site of an earlier fort. The modern stone arch spanning the road dates from 1964.

 

The Khyber Pass:

 

The most famous pass of the world, the Khyber Pass, is 16 km from Peshawar. It has been, throughout history, the most important gateway to the plains of the South Asian sub-continent both for migration and invasion. Starting from the foot-hills of the Suleiman Range at the Jamrud; 11 miles from Peshawar, it extends beyond the border of Pakistan at Torkham, 36 miles away and it gradually rises to an elevation of 1,066 meters above sea level. The pass is 1 ½ km at its widest and only 16 meters at its narrowest.

 

It is not the view but the idea of the place that attracts so many people to the Khyber. The Khyber isn't at the border of Afghanistan but it stretches through the Suleiman Hills for miles on both sides. In Peshawar, you're in Government administered land. The area behind the Smuggler's bazar gives way to the Khyber Agency, one of the seven agencies which make up the Tribal areas. Signboards appear by the roadside warning motorist snot to wander off the main highway because in these Tribal areas, Pakistani Law gives way to Tribal law a few metres off the main road. Hence visitors must be accompanied with an armed escort at all times.

 

The pass itself is about 25 miles long. The Tatara range dominates the entire pass and is clearly visible from Peshawar and its environs. The first political officer was Major Cavagnari, appointed in 1879 and the first Political Agent, Major G. Roos Keppell (1902).

 

The eastern end of the pass is wide and flat, bounded on either side by low, stony hills. Every small hillock in the area is capped with a picket manned by the Frontier Force. The road zigzags up, passing two viewpoints that look back into the Vale of Peshawar, until it reaches Shahgai Fort, which was built by the British in the 1920s. It then starts down into a small valley in which stand fortified Pashtun houses and the Ali Masjid. Perched high above this mosque on a commanding spur is the Ali Masjid Fort, which overlooks the entire length of the pass and guards the gorge that is its narrowest point. The road here hugs a narrow ledge beside the river bed in the shadow of high cliffs on either side. Until the way was widened, two laden camels could not squeeze past each other, and even now the road is one way. The return road and the railway follow separate ledges higher up on the opposite cliff, affording a less exciting view of the gorge. Throughout the way, little stone army forts & scattered concrete "Dragon's Teeth" act as a reminder of WWII fears by the British of a German tank invasion of the subcontinent.

 

You will rarely see any women apart from the nomadic tribeswomen, who are usually dressed in red or maroon. The black and grey tents of the nomads bnug the snad, while camels wander around grazing on the sparese vegetation. You will also see children, young shepehers and shepherdesses and their flocks of sheep and goats. Except for the nomads, all the men appear to be literally armed to the teeth.

 

Khyber Pass has been a silent witness to countless events in the history of mankind. As one drives though the Pas at a leisurely pace, imagination unfolds pages of history, the Aryans descending upon the fertile northern plains in 1,500 BC subjugating the indigenous Dravidian population and settling down to open a glorious chapter in the history of civilisation, the Persian hordes under Darius (6th century BC) crossing into the Punjab to annex yet another province to the Achaemenian Empire; the armies of Alexander the Great (326 BC) marching through the rugged Pass to fulfil the wishes of a young, ambitious conqueror; the terror of Ghanghis Khan unwrapping the majestic hills and turning back towards the trophies of ancient Persia; the white Huns bringing fire and destruction in their wake; the Scythians and the Parthians, the Mughals and the Afghans, conquerors all, crossing over to leave their impact and add more chapters to the diverse history of this sub-continent.

 

Ali Masjid:

 

Near the narrowest point of the pass, about 15 Km from Jamrud is Ali Masjid and a large fort and a british cemetry. The valley walls bear insignia of British regiments that have served here. In the cemetery here are the graves of British soldiers killed in the Second Afghan War of 1879. This was the famous battle of Ali Masjid. Regimental insignia are carved and painted on to the rock faces at several places along the road, with the Gordon Highlanders, the South Wales Borderers, and the Royal Sussex, Cheshire and Dorset regiments standing in one doughty group. After the gorge, the pass opens out into a wide fertile valley dotted with Pashtun villages. True to form, however, these villages look more like forts, with high, crenellated mud walls running between watch-towers pierced with narrow gun slits.

 

The Ali Masjid Fort is located at the narrowest portion of the Khyber Pass, through which only a loaded mule or Camel could pass till as late as the mid nineteenth century. The fort was built by the British in 1890. The ruins of a Buddhist Stupa can also be seen in the area. There is also a mosque and a shrine in the memory of Hazrat Ali (RA), who visited this place according to a local tradition. There is also a huge boulder which carries the marks of a hand believed to be that of Hazrat Ali (RA). Even Khyber was named after the Khyber of Arabia, where Hazrat Ali (RA) accomplished a great deed of valour.

 

Shpola Stupa:

 

Shpola Stupa, a Buddhist ruin dating from the second to the fifth centuries AD, stands to the right of the road and above the railway at the village of Zarai, 25 kilometres (16 miles) from Jamrud. The Stupa has a high hemispherical dome resting on a three-tiered square base. Some beautiful Gandharan sculptures were found here when the site was excavated at the beginning of this century. Some of the finds are now in the Peshawar Museum. The side of the Stupa lacing the road has been restored.

 

Landi Kotal:

 

Landi Kotal, at the end of the railway line and eight kilometres (five miles) from the border, is a smugglers’ town. It is 7 km away from Ali Masjid and is situated 1200 m above sea level. Electrical goods, cloth and drugs are the main commodities in the bazaar below the road to the left. However, with the growth of the Smuggler's Bazar near Peshawar, this area lost its status of contraband city. But it is still full of shops selling weapons along with electrical goods, etc at unbelievable low prices. The road forks here: right to the Khyber Rifles’ headquarters, left to the border. A viewpoint beyond the town looks out across tank traps of closely packed cement pyramids to the border post at Torkham (Also known as the 'Dragon's Teeth'), the last oasis of green before the barren brown of the Afghan plain.

 

Michni Post:

 

The last point "tourists" are allowed to go to is the Michni Checkpost where journalists and VIPs get briefed. Just beyond Michni Checkpost at a journey time of around half an hour is the Border at Torkham, which leads to Afghanistan.

 

Torkham Checkpost:

 

The immigration and customs checkposts are at Torkham; the border town here, which has shops, hotels, cafes, restaurants, banks, bakeries and government offices, most of the buildings are low roofed and seem to huddle together as if for security. A barrier consisting of a waist high barbed wire fence with an opening is now part of the scenery in landti Kotal. There was also numerous signs including a welcome to Pakistan sign a warning to get to Peshawar by nightfall and a small lboard on the afghani side with a few propaganda posters plastered on it in urdu.

 

Kafir Kot:

 

On a hilltop to the left of Torkham is the ruined Kafir Fort, a Hindu relic of the ninth century AD. On this ridge in 1919, the British and Afghans fought one of the last engagements of the Third Afghan War. The top of the hill is now Afghan territory, with a commanding view down on Pakistani installations and forts.

 

The Khyber Train

 

For rail enthusiasts, the Khyber Railway from Peshawar to Landi Kotal is a three-star attraction. The British built it in the l920s at the then enormous cost of more than two million pounds. It is said that when the British built the railway, the tribesmen used to travel free whereas others had to pay. It passes through 34 tunnels totaling five kilometres (three miles) and over 92 bridges and culverts. Total length of the track is 42 km. Two or three coaches are pulled and pushed by two oil fired engines. At one point, the track climbs 130 meters in little more than a kilometer (425 feet in 0.7 miles) by means of the heart stopping Chungai Spur. This is a W-shaped section of track with two cliff-hanging reversing stations, at which the train wheezes desperately before shuddering to a stop and hacking away from the brink. The Pakistan government has dubbed it as 'The Khyber Steam Safari Train'. Tourists in bundles apply for the ticket which is booked by appointment only. Groups of 20 to 45 passengers can book one bogey for an all day outing to Landi Kotal and back; a ride lasting ten to eleven hours.

 

The Khyber train currently runs only by appointment. Groups of 20 to 45 passengers can book one bogey for an all day outing to Landi Kotal and back, a ride lasting ten to eleven hours, for US $ 1,000. But you can easily see the train at rest at Peshawar Station.

 

Warsak Dam

 

The gignatic multi-purpose Warsak Dam is situated 30 kms north-west of Peshawar in the heart of tribal territory. It has a total generating capacity of 240,000 kw and will eventually serve to irrigate 110,000 acres of land.

 

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