The Chitrali Bazaar in Peshawar is famous for its handmade wool products, which come from the northern areas of the country. But this bazaar has a long history as well as a distinctive legacy of its own. In its colonial past, this area was known as the “Bazaar e Husan,” a slang word for red-light area, where the business elite of the city and army officers all used to come to relax, have a good time, and to watch dance performances, as well as other entertainments.
But the local residents never liked that side of the bazaar, so they launched a movement to abolish the area’s identity with being a red-light district. Finally, they succeeded in converting the bazaar’s name. The name was changed to the‘Islamabad Bazaar,’ just to show such activities would no longer be tolerated, and it was also converted into a centre for the preaching of religion.
It was then named the Islamabad Bazaar, even before the establishment of Islamabad as the capital city of Pakistan in 1960. It is at the heart the city, near to the famousQissaKhwani Bazaar, or the bazaar of storytellers.
Sadiq Ameen, 54, who was the president of this bazaar for more than a decade shared its history. “Initially, a single craftsman from the Chitral region came here, with the traditional handiworks and started his business. This was appreciated by the natives of Peshawar, as they were keenly interested in buying warm clothes made from the Chitrali wool. Slowly and gradually,other artisans followed in his footsteps, and began to make different traditional clothing, which includes Chitrali clothes in traditional woollen fabrics, Pakol or traditional headgear, as well as Chitrali Chugha , or embroidered robes, as well as woollen coats, shawls and waistcoats. Now there are more than 400 shops which are mostly owned by Chitralis,” he said.
Summer in Pakistan is much longer than the winter. This is the reason why business is in full swing at the bazaar in thefour months of winter, from November to February. Numerous people, including foreign visitors, visit this bazaar to buy traditional clothing, to keep themselves warm from the freezing conditions. During these four cold months, shopkeepers and stallholders earn extra, as compared to the rest of the year.
Abid Rahi, a bazaar shopkeeper for 20 years, said, “it was, and it is, a traditional hub of woollen dress, depicting the culture of thenorth of the country.” And recently in the bazaar, the old-fashioned buildings are being replaced by new concrete plazas. “Indeed, I understand, this is the need of the time, but at the same time, I believe our traditional architecture which is symbolically associated with the Chitrali bazaar is being lost”, he added.
He said, “entirely, it is the responsibility of the state to preserve such an important heritage which is affiliated with our history and culture”.
Zia ud Din, another retailer who has a third -generation family business in this historic bazaar, told a story. “In old days, we didn't have any telephone except only one in Noor Ahmed bulbul's shop. Whenever there is any family, friends or trade call, he used to inform the person concerned, so every communication took place at his shop.” But things are much changed now, all kinds of conversations and trades are being carried out through Whatsapp chat. Inflation is growing day-by-day, and wool prices are fluctuating, and it is not possible for an ordinary working man to purchase quality woollen stuff for himself and for his family.
This escalating trend of price hikes also affects the business. “Each month, we have to pay the heavy electricity bills, rent and other utility bills. Circumstances are getting worst for all those who are engaged in this business. Government should take notice of the current situation it will help us to grow our business more positively. It is not only the matter of business, but we are contributing to promote our culture and traditions on both national and international level,” he said.
Tourist Adam Goodheart from the US, who visited the bazaar said, “I purchased a waistcoat and Pakol (traditional headgear), which will help protect me against the cold weather, and at the same time, I think it is a great souvenir from Pakistan.”
A walk-in customer, Muhammad Ramzan, came to the bazaar to purchase some traditional outfit for his friends in Quetta, in the southern part of the country. Ramzan said that inflation compelled him to buy fewer items, but still he believes the traditional woollen items are a perfect gift for family and friends.
The handmade Chitrali hats and other woollen items are much more -long lasting than machine manufactured items. Although the replicas of these textiles and woollen fabrics are available in the market, which are much cheaper, but then one has to compromise on the quality. There is a high demand for these traditional items throughout the country, as winter hits its high point. These woollen products are also exported to the different countries of the world, indeed they are also a reasonable source of revenue generation, not only for the exporters, but also for Pakistan’s government.