Articles Religious tourism to attract foreign investment, alleviate poverty

Religious tourism to attract foreign investment, alleviate poverty

Religious tourism to attract foreign investment, alleviate poverty

By Fakhar Alam

PESHAWAR, May 02 (APP):Internationally known as home to Indus Valley and Gandhara civilizations, Pakistan is a unique country having plenty of ancient archaeo-religious sites, ancient mosques, fairy tales havelis and dizzyingly awesome minerates, which are leaving inerasable traces on hearts and minds of tourists every year.

Being a home to ancient civilizations of Mohenjo Daro (2500 BC) of the Indus Valley Civilization and Buddhist Ruins of Takht Bhai (Ist CE) of the Gandhara Civilization, Pakistan is an archaeo-religious sites rich country having historical mosques, elaborate mausoleums, forts, shrines and worship places for Sikh, Hindus, Christians and followers of Buddhism being visited by millions of visitors and pilgrims of different schools of thought annually.

Pakistan’s six stunning cultural heritage sites, which have been granted world heritage status by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) including Mohenjo Daro in Larkana Sindh, Takht Bhai in Mardan KP, Taxila (1000BC) in Rawalpindi, Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens in Punjab, Makli monuments at Thatta Sindh and Rotas Fort (16th century) in Jehlum Punjab, are attracting millions of domestic and foreign tourists, historians, Sikhs, archaeologists, architects and Buddhists pilgrims from across the world especially from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Turkey, Nepal, Bhutan, Korea and Japan every year due to their spiritual attachments with these ancient establishments.

Tourists and archaeology lovers’ travel would remain incomplete without visiting the archaeological-rich KP to explore its about 2000 religeo-heritage sites, 30,000 relics of Gandhara Civilization and UNESCO world heritage site of Takht Bhai, Sahr-I-Bahlol and Jamal Ghari in Mardan district. The tourists could not remain unimpressed while visiting the ruins’ monastic complexes of Takht Bhai that are spectacularly positioned on various hilltops ranging from 36.6 meters to 152.4 meters height with a covered area of about 33 hectares.

Its 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 at a five kilometers distance from Takht Bhai’s monastery, is 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.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has declared the entire mountain area of 445 hectares as “Archaeological Reserve” to control urbanization at Sahr-I-Bahlol, attracting tourists, monks and Buddhists from across the world.

A 15-member high level delegation comprises Special Advisers and Assistants to Sri Lankan President and Prime Minister, scholars, monks and others important personalities, has recently visited Takhbai, Sahr Bahlol, Jamal Ghari and offered their religious rituals there.

The delegation also visited Swat Museum and others archeological sites in Swat and highly appreciated measures taken by KP Government for preservation of Bhamala Archaeological sites in Haripur, Takht Bhai, Swat and others of the Gandhara period. The delegation members were of the opinion that Pakistan can become an attractive tourists destination for citizens of Sri Lanka where about 72 percent of population was followers of Buddhism.

Noor Khan, In-charge Peshawar Museum told APP that renovation and expansion work on colonial era building of Peshawar Museum has entered into last stage of completion and would hopefully be inaugurated after Eid.

“Peshawar Museum is the world’s lone Gandhara art Museum where about 30,000 antiquities including 900 artifacts of Gandhara Civilization and the complete life story of Lord Buddha were preserved.”

Dr Abdul Samad, Director Archeology and Museums KP said conservation work for restoration of iconic white-architecture of Mohabat Khan mosque built by Mughal Governor, Mohabat Khan in 1630 on 30,155 square feet, has been expedited to promote religious tourism in KP. Besides preservation of historic Islamia College Peshawar’s mosque founded on March 2, 1912 by Fazal Wahid alias Haji Sahib Turangzai, he said the contract for conservation of historic mosques at Kalam, Pishmal and Odigram was awarded.

Dr Samad said a 2,000 years old Buddhists fresco paintings found first century AD coins and three fresco paintings at Abba Saib Cheena Swat, which believed to be used for religious and education purposes, were discovered. Buddhist stupa ‘Bhamala’ in Haripur was preserved and lighted heritage branding were installed. He said a survey for exploration of new historical archaeological sites was in progress in the province including merged areas where 91 more sites were unearthed including Bazeera, Amlook Dara and Abba Saib Cheena in Swat. “A survey for archaeological sites in merged areas started where about 2,000 years old Shapula Stupa has been discovered in Khyber district”, he added.

Taj Muhammad, Assistant Director, Archeology and Museums told APP that Swat Museum, ancients’ monuments of Takht Bhai, Sehri Behlol, Sawal Dher, Jamal Ghari Mardan and Havalian Buddhists Monastery in Haripur’s control had been taken over by KP Government after the 18th Constitutional Amendment where facilities for tourists were improved. He said that the first ever KP Antique Act 2016 has been passed by the provincial government empowering the Archaeology department to protect and conserve historical buildings besides countering the menace of smuggling of antiques and artifacts.

A museum was constructed near historical site 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 beginning of Islamic era in the region. He said construction of two new museums in DI Khan and Abbottabad were almost completed where ancient antiquities depicting the area’s culture would be put on display besides two more museums in Kohat and Haripur were in pipeline.

Following completion of these four new museums, he said the number of museums would increase to 16 in KP where 10 new museums were already established including three in Peshawar, one each at Charsadda, Mardan, Lower Dir, Swat, Bannu and two in Chitral. Besides Penaflex and signboards of 91 archaeological sites in Swat, 62 Information signboards at Takht Bhai, Jamal Ghari and Shahbaz Ghari, 50 at different archaeological sites and two at Swat motorway were installed and consultants for showcase layouts of Peshawar and Kalash Museums was hired.

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