Established in 1906 by the British in what was then the Victoria Memoral Hall, the Peshawar museum now houses over 4,000 artefacts and an impressive collection of Gandhara art.
One of its key features is that an entire gallery is dedicated to the Gandhara civilisation, and showcases the history of Gautama Buddha through sculptures and carvings. The museum also features donations from Iran, as well as a number of coins dating to the 6th Century BC.
However, it is as quiet as a library, with barely a visitor in sight. Visitors to Peshawar Museum have slowed down to a trickle – only 1,200 people visited the museum last month – and foreign tourists are a rare sight now.
However, the head of the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums for Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa, Saleh Moham-mad Khan, has a different goal in sight. His aim is to see 24 museums open in the province. As of yet, they have managed to open eight, including those in Swabi, Chitral, Bannu and Mardan. While some of the museums house relics that were excavated from nearby sites, others will be ‘cultural museums’ and will showcase items related to the lifestyle of those areas.
Khan takes a lot of pride in his work, citing his 30 years of association with the museum. “The workers here, we are like a family,” he says.
Saleh Mohammad Khan also mentions that their frequent visitors include a number of students doing their masters degree in Gandhara art, who are helped by the meticulous galleries.
The directorate also has a number of projects underway, including looking at archaeological sites, and establishing museums and historical houses. One such project was buying one of the old houses in Peshawar, Sethi House, restoring it and converting it into a museum.
When asked whether the Peshawar Museum has faced problems of thefts, Khan vehemently denies it. “We have never had any such problem in Peshawar,” he says, dismissing any reports to the contrary as false.
What is their secret? “You have to consider this place as your own,” he says. “Having guns, for example, cannot stop people from looting. After all, people rob banks while armed security guards watch. We look over this place as if it was our property.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2010.