By Fakhar Alam
PESHAWAR, (APP):Known for its architectural wonder, heritage value and glorious history world over, Balahisar fort has become main centre of attraction for general public and tourists to see rare view of its various primitive places and architectural designs of this great national monument.
Spreading over an area of 15.4 acres and built of red bricks with 92 feet height, Balahisar fort has been opened for tourists and general public for two days in a week since December 29, 2018 in line with the directives of Prime Minister Imran Khan.
Visitors who travel through historic Grand Trunk (GT) road in Peshawar city can’t remain unimpressed while passing under its shadows of huge battlements, frowning structure and glorious primitive past.
Impressed with its architectural beauty and glorious primitive history, Founder of the Nation, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, King Raza Shah Pehlawi of Iran, Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah, Mrs John F Kennedy and Lady Diana were among the few dignitaries who visited the fort on different occasions.
Situated opposite Jinnah Park (old Cunningham Park), the fort reminds the visitors of numerous actions of the past rulers, conquerors and kings of various dynasties.
There are different opinions about the origin of the fort but mostly Mughals were believed to be the architects of the present fort.
“Balahisar seems to be as old as the Peshawar City itself,” Muhammad Asif Raza, In-charge Peshawar Museum told APP.
“The archaeological excavations recently conducted at Gor-Kathri Peshawar revealed that the city of Peshawar is more than 2500 years old and on the basis of numismatic evidence Peshawar could be termed as one of the oldest living cities in South Asia,” he said.
The main entrance of Balahisar directly faces the GT road that links Peshawar with Afghanistan and Central Asia on the west and extends towards Pushkalavati (Charsadda), Hund and Taxila on the east.
Renowned historian, Dr A.H. Dani in his book “Peshawar-Historic City of Frontier” wrote that when Hiuen Tsang, a Chinese traveller, visited Peshawar in 630 AD, he spoke of a “royal residence”.
He said Chinese word “Kung Shing” used for its significance and is explained as fortified or walled portion of the town in which the royal palace stood. Hiuen Tsang then makes a separate mention of the city, which was not fortified. This shows that the royal residence formed the nucleus of a Citadel, which must have been further protected by a moat.
Peshawar had always been a strategic city due to its geological location and its capturing and ruling over t was of great importance for invaders, monarchs and kings in the past.
In 11th century AD, the Hindu ruler, Raja Jaipal of the Hindushahi dynasty was defeated in the vicinity of Peshawar and Mehmud Ghaznavi garrisoned the fort with his army.
It was later redesigned and built by Mughal emperor Zaheeruddin Babar in 1526 and was later used by Hari Singh Nalwa as royal residence for Maharaja Ranjeet Singh during the Sikh rule during 1818-1848.
Afghans’ Durrani rulers used it as their winter camp residence in the early 19th century. The Afghan rulers named it “Balahisar” a persian name, meaning high fort while the Sikhs renamed it as Samargarh in 1834 but the name remained unpopular.
Balahisar was destructed and reconstructed several times by conquerors, worriers, invaders and kings.
According to renowned historian Abul Fazl, the Afghans had destroyed the fort after their King Shershah Suri overthrow emperor Humayun.
Hamyun rebuilt it before proceeding to Kabul and wanted to use it for his conquest of India at later stage. As his officers did not want to stay back, Hamayun himself supervised the rebuilding process.
Nizamuddin Ahmed in Tabaqat-e- Akbari records that in 1585 AD a fire broke out in Balahisar as a result of which merchandise loaded on 1000 camels was destroyed.
It also saw the vigour of Nadir Shah when he entered India via historic Khyber Pass and after treaty with Mughals, Nadir Shah was appointed as Governor of Peshawar and his residence court used to be in Balahisar.
The fort also remained the residence of Afghan king, Ahmed Shah Durrani and his son Taimur Shah Durrani. After the death of Taimur in 1793 AD, the Durrani Rule was weakened and the Sikhs rose to power in Punjab.
The Sikhs captured Peshawar and the fort in 1834 following the battle of Nowshera. Firstly, the Sikhs destroyed the fort but later regretted and Hari Singh Nalwa ordered to rebuild it. However Sher Singh, on the orders of his father Ranjeet Singh, had erected the fort with unbaked bricks.
On the entrance of the main courtyard of the Balahisar fort, a Sikh period inscription on marble slab can be seen on an arch gate. This is the only inscription available today in Balahisar, which reads, “Victory to
Porak. This was built by Raja Bikramajit and was named Samir or Samar Garh.”
In 1902, British rulers had reconstructed Balahisar after annexation of Sikh Shahi areas in 1849. At that time the fort had mud walls and was not sustainable. The British replaced the structure with red bricks and the present shape was given to this historical monument of Pakistan.
The British kept its troops in Balahisar till the cantonment was laid out. When the Afridi tribesmen launched a massive attack on Peshawar city in 1930, the fire of British artillery dispersed them from Balahisar. Balahisar has the honour of hoisting national flag on the morning of August 14, 1947 and the headquarters of Frontier Corps (FC) was later shifted to it in 1948 till to date.
According to FC officials, Balahisar fort will remain open for general public including tourists, students and families on every Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 4pm.
“I came with my family to visit this historic fort, which was always a source of inspiration for me,” said student Ehtisham Khan from Nowshera district while talking to APP.
He expressed gratitude to Prime Minister Imran Khan for taking a bold decision of opening the fort for general public and tourists. “The PM has made my dream a reality,” he said.
Like Ehitisham Khan, hundreds of thousands of people and tourists along with their families are coming to the fort to spend some times in a secure environment.
They are also taking keen interest in ancient weapons, dresses, antiques, agriculture tools, utensils , foot wears and musical instruments of different Pakhtoons tribes such as Afridi, Shinwari, Kohistani and Chitrali display at the fort’s museum. The aerial view of Peshawar city’s from rooftop of Balahisar is worth watching.