Heritage tourism: A driving force to bolster economy, promote interfaith harmony

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Heritage tourism: A driving force to bolster economy, promote interfaith harmony
Heritage tourism: A driving force to bolster economy, promote interfaith harmony

By Fakhar Alam

PESHAWAR, Sep 16 (APP): Known as the home to ancient civilizations of Mohenjo Daro (2500 BC) of the Indus Valley Civilization and Buddhist Ruins of Takht Bhai (Ist CE) of Gandhara Civilization, Pakistan is a unique country, full of fairy tales havelis, dizzyingly beautiful minarets, historical forts, elaborate mausoleums and ancient archaic ruins, leaving in erasable traces on the minds and in hearts of millions of visitors every year.

 Following the reopening of the tourism sector by the incumbent government in the wake of significant reduction in COVID-19 cases in Pakistan on August 7, the tourists thronged to archaeological rich KP to explore around 2,000 heritage sites and 30,000 relics of the Gandhara Civilization.

  The Bhuddist Ruins of Takht Bahi (Throne of Origins) and Neigbouring City Remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol and Jamal Ghari in Mardan included in the UNESCO world heritage list in 1980, was also attracting thousands of tourists to explore this architectural wonder before moving to the scenic Swat, Dir, Chitral, Shangla and Malakand.

 The monastic complexes of the ruins are spectacularly positioned on various hilltops ranging from 36.6 meters to 152.4 meters height with a covered area of about 33 hectares. 

The monastery was in continuous use till 7th century (CE) composed of an assemblage of buildings constructed of stone on Gandhara patterns in diaper style using local dressed and semi-dressed stone blocks set in a lime and mud mortar. 

The Neighbouring City Remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol located in a five kilometers distance from Takht Bhai’s monastery, was a small ancient fortified town of Kushan period. It was constructed on an elongated mound of nine meters height on 9.7 hectares surrounded by portions of a defensive wall in diaper style characteristic dates back to the first two or three centuries (BC).

The boundaries of Sahr-i-Bahlol are well defined with a part of fortification walls still intact. Both these historical sites had been declared as protected monuments under an Ancient Preservation Act (1904) of the colonial era and Antiquity Act (1975) of the Government of Pakistan.

To control urbanization at Bahlol, the KP government has declared the entire mountain area of 445 hectares as “Archaeological Reserve.” Two new museums have been constructed in Abbottabad and DI Khan and work on two others in Kohat and Haripur districts were expedited.

Upon completion, the number of museums would rise to 16 in KP. The Cultural Heritage Trail project has been completed in Peshawar by the former PTI Government under which about 500 meters long trail from ancient Ghanta Ghar to Gor Gathri was renovated including centuries-old buildings and houses to restore the original grandeur of Peshawar being home of the 2,500 years old civilization.

 The heritage trail starts at historical Ghanta Ghar and passes through ancient Bazaar-e-Kalaan and primordial Mohallah Sethian famous for scores of beautifully designed  architectural houses constructed by Sethi Family in 1880s. Sethi House, an architectural wonder at Peshawar has been purchased by the government keeping in view of its historical importance.

Completed at a cost of about Rs 301.5 million, the heritage trail project has immensely helped renovate and refurbish facade besides outer appearances of 85 heritage buildings of Mughal, British and Sikh periods. Ali Mardan Khan Valley in Peshawar cantonment built during colonial era has been renovated besides ancient inns of Mughal period at Gor Kathri in Peshawar City.

  Likewise, about 1868 ancient houses, monuments and religious places were placed in the protected list including Amlokdara, Barikot, Stupa in Saidu Sharif, Bhudkada, Godara and Panar in Swat besides a monument at Chacha Younas Park in Peshawar.

The first ever KP Antique Act 2016 has been passed by the former PTI Govt, empowering the Archaeology department to protect and conserve historical buildings besides countering the menace of smuggling of antiques and artifacts.

 Talking to APP, the spokesperson of Tourism, Sports, Archaeology, Museums and Youth Affairs of Tourism Department said that PDWP has approved a Euro 6 million project funded by the Italian government to promote heritage tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Under the project, Heritage Field Schools (HFS) and conservation laboratories would be set up in Haripur, Swat and Chitral.

The international experts would train KP police and officials of the department about use of the latest technology for conservation and protection of heritage sites, artifacts and antiques. Misal Khan, Information Officer (Rtd) who visited these ancient sites along with his grandsons and granddaughters while talking to the agency  said “Takht Bhai and Sahr-i-Bahlol monuments were an identity of Pakistan and a source of great knowledge for lovers of archaeology, history, civil engineering, architecture, students and young researchers.” 

Latifur Rehman said that the PTI government has decided to revive the famous century-old Khyber Steam Safari train service to promote cultural and heritage tourism in the province.

He said the magical experience of golden times through an exciting train excursion to historical sites of Takht Bhai and Attock Khurd from Peshawar was being revitalized.

 The spokesperson said, “The Safari train would run on two routes: Peshawar-Attock Khurd (184 km) and Peshawar-Takht Bhai (162 km).

The tourists would enjoy live instruments, music, camel ride, scavenger hunt race and traditional games besides witnessing the historic Victorian railway station built in 1880 at Attock Khurd and traditional Chapli Kabab at Peshawar-Takht Bhai route.

 Latifur Rehman said the KP Chief Minister has approved revival of Safari trains that would be executed soon through KP Tourism Authority and Pakistan Railways, adding that Pakistan Railway has been taken on board.

He said efforts were being made to upgrade infrastructures within a year in these archaeological rich areas to promote heritage tourism.

The feasibility studies to upgrade facilities for tourists on archaeological sites including Takht Bhai, Jamal Ghari, Peshawar Museum, Bhamala and Hund Museum Swabi were completed, he added. 

He said that a state-of-the art museum has been constructed at Hund Swabi from where Alexander the Great had crossed Indus River in 327 BC.

Hund is also famous for Mehmood Ghaznavi’s invasion in 998, which marked the beginning of Islamic era and end of Gandhara Period.

Around 3000 artifacts, antiques and other precious articles including 900 of Gandhara Civilization were preserved at Peshawar museum for tourists, archaeologists, students and followers of Buddhism, he added.