Bridges have long fascinated people. Be it the 300 metre-high Zhangjiajie Glass Bridge in China connecting two mountains, the iconic tourist favourite Brooklyn Bridge in New York or the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in Italy, considered one of the oldest in the world which survived World War II, bridges draw crowds to awe and inspire them with the feats of human achievement.
It may not be wrong to say that bridges capture the human imagination like no other form of infrastructure does, perhaps because their inherent function appeals to the most fundamental of human emotions – the need for connection.
However, by that token, the Bab-e-Peshawar Flyover, constructed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led provincial government, is neither an engineering marvel nor an architect’s dream design boasting state-of-the-art technology. It is just an innocuous three-span bridge designed to manage the traffic flow between Hayatabad and Karkhano Market. Yet, in recent days as Independence Day nears, it has become a go-to spot for entertainment-starved locals.
As soon as the sun sets and the scorching Peshawar temperature starts to take a dive, locals throng to the bridge to celebrate independence.
Men stand on the bridge with national flags in their hands or tied to the back of their parked motorbikes or cars as national songs blare from the vehicles, while families with kids and senior citizens sit in the green belt built along the sides of the bridge.
Although it is officially called Bab-e-Peshawar, locals have dubbed it ‘selfie bridge’ because almost anyone visiting can be seen with their phone out, posing of a selfie with the bridge and the Peshawar landscape in the background.
An inner-city getaway
On a recent visit, a group of young men were seen doing the traditional Attan dance as a man, who said he hailed from Punjab, played a dholl for the revellers. Saleemur Rehman one of the Attan dancers said he and his friends had decided to come to the bridge since there was no other place in the city for them celebrate the upcoming Independence Day.
Rehman said he will also organise a huge gathering at the site on the night of August 14 to celebrate independence with zeal.
Independence Day is celebrated in the city but mostly on the official level, locals aren’t allowed to attend those functions. This year too, the main celebratory function will be held in the Civil Secretariat where the chief minister will be the chief guest; commoners aren’t allowed in for security reasons.
In this situation, the bridge has become somewhat of a symbol of independence for city dwellers marred by years of terrorism and yearning for community spaces for recreation. There are no barriers to accessing the bridge – it’s a free space, for now.
Asmat Khan, who visited Bab-e-Peshawar on Friday for his independence celebration, said the government arranges events on August 14 for its own officials when the most pressing need is to arrange celebratory events for the public instead.
There is a serious lack of picnic spots in the city. There are a handful of spaces but they are mostly reserved for families so young men end up just heading to the bridge instead even though it is a risky-trek. Since there are no footpaths for pedestrians on the bridge, locals just take the walk up and enjoy the view as cars and other vehicles go whizzing by.
Khan expressed concern about the potential for road accidents taking place in such an environment. He said since the public has taken such a liking to congregating on bridge the government should either ban gatherings in groups there or make the surrounding green belts more accessible.
Till the government figures out what to do about the bridge visitors’ safety, young Peshawarites will continue to flock there enjoying a much-needed respite from terrorist attacks and celebrating their freedom.
Published in Express Tribune by Izhar Ullah on 13 Aug, 2017