Peshawar is the closest major city (pop. 567,000) to the Khyber Pass, an important gateway between East
and West. Since the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the city has been transformed into an Afghan ministate. Three million
refugees have come to the city to escape the fighting across the border, and many still live in sprawling camps on the outskirts
of town. Some have set up successful businesses and display little intention to leave - it's easy to spot their ubiquitous
four-wheel-drive vehicles in the area. The Afghan war and its refugee population in turn begat a potpourri of charity workers,
journalists, spies, arms dealers and drug traffickers - in other words, exactly the people Kim encountered in Rudyard Kipling's
novel of the same name.
The city still has a Wild West feel to it, even though it has become extremely conservative.
Foreign women are especially likely to meet with hostility. Peshawar has many bazaars (don't miss the lizard skins at the
Qissa Khawani Bazaar), as well as the Peshawar Museum (which contains the Gandhara Buddhist sculpture), the Mahabat Khan Mosque
and the Balahisar Fort.
The Khyber Pass , 34 mi/55 km west, can be seen on a two-hour round-trip
that passes the towns of Landi Kotal , which has an infamous smugglers' bazaar, and Torkham ,
where Pathan tribesmen (devout Muslims, fierce warriors and resourceful smugglers) freely cross the Pakistan-Afghan border.
On the trip, you'll also see mud-plastered villages, watchtowers, buses overflowing with local residents and tiny shrines
marking long-ago battles with the British. The badges of various British and Pakistani regiments are painted on the walls
of the pass. The road winds through the pass alongside a railway built with great engineering skill by the British.
police will assign an armed guard to tourist groups visiting the pass: The main threat now comes from drug traffickers who
live in the ungovernable remote areas, some in sumptuous villas guarded by U.S.-made antiaircraft missiles. We found the Khyber
Pass to be a fascinating trip. The Kohat Pass is less known but equally spectacular. If you go, allow at least one night in
Peshawar (two, if you're going to the Khyber Pass). 100 mi/160 km west of Islamabad.