From the beginnings of antiquarian interest in South Asia scholars were drawn to the ancient region of Gandhara, which broadly correlates with the Peshawar Valley and its surrounding areas. Gandhara or people from the region are mentioned in the Rigveda, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, and the accounts of Classical historians make it clear that it was one of the three far eastern provinces of the Achaemenid Persian Empire from c.530-330 BC. Major inscriptions, including the Asokan edicts at Shahbaz Garhi, are known from the region, and it is the home of a rich tradition of Buddhist art dating to the Kushan period. Chinese pilgrims like Faxian and Xuanzang visited during the 1st millennium AD, and the remains of several major monuments that correlate to sites visited by these travellers have now been identified.
The precise limits of Ancient Gandhara are not clear, but it is generally believed that the province was centred on the Peshawar Valley, which is outlined in the centre of the image above. At times Gandhara is also likely to have included the Swat Valley to the north, and these two valleys are linked by a series of passes shown with orange lines above. We know of several capital cities in the Peshawar Valley, the earliest being Pushkalavati, which has been identified as the Bala Hisar at Charsadda, while the subsequent centres were Purushapura (Peshawar) and Udbhandapura (Hund). On the other side of the Indus River lies Takhshashila the ancient city of Taxila, which is also believed to have been a capital of Gandhara at various points in time.
The Bala Hisar (or Hisar Dheri) at Charsadda was first identified as ancient Pushkalavati by Sir Alexander Cunningham (1871: 89). Rising to a total height of c.24 m above the plain, it is potentially one of the most important archaeological sites in the NWFP, and has been subject to excavations by Sir John Marshall and J. Ph. Vogel (1904), Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1962) and a collaborative team from the Universities of Peshawar and Bradford in the mid-1990s (Ali et al. 1998; Coningham 2004; Young 2003; Coningham et al. forthcoming). In 2006, a new collaborative project from the Universities of Peshawar and Cambridge reopened excavations at the site and plan to continue work in coming years (Investigating ancient Pushkalavati; visit http://www.arch.cam.ac.uk/pushkalavati/ ).