Religious tourism resumes in Pakistan – Telegraph Nepal


Aamir Latif, Pakistan

Pakistan is only 75 years old, but it is located in a region that has been home to the world’s three major religions – Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism for centuries.

The Muslim state of South Asia (Islamic Republic) is home to dozens of revered pilgrimage sites – dating back 5,000 years – not only for followers of the three religions, but also for some other prehistoric religions, including Aryan, Brahmanic and ancient Iranian and Greek. .

Religious tourism in Pakistan is now picking up thanks to improved law and order and government awareness of the economic and political importance of this sector.

“Religious tourism in Pakistan has shown an upward trend over the past three years due to improved law and order and change in government attitude,” said Abdul Samad, director of archeology from the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, which borders neighboring Afghanistan and is home to most of the religious sites belonging to Sikhism and Buddhism.
The Pakistani military has launched a series of attacks on militants, particularly in the northwest tribal region along the Afghan border since 2014, claiming to have cleared 90% of the area of ​​terrorists.
According to Interior Ministry figures, there has been a 70% drop in the number of terrorist attacks in the country since 2014. Khyber Pakhtunkhawa province is home to 70% of the country’s sites sacred to Sikhs and Buddhists .
While Punjab, the most populous province in the country, and the southern province of Sind are also home to several sites related to the three religions.

Once known as the heart of the Gandhara civilization, Takhtbai or Takht-i-Bhai (Throne of Origins) – a picturesque little town located about 160 kilometers (99 miles) from the capital Islamabad – is the site most visited by Buddhists, who flock to see the ancient monastery dating back to the 1st century, according to Abdul Samad.

The region of northern Afghanistan and Pakistan has been the center of Gandhara civilization for centuries.

Large to medium-sized stupas of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, and other northern heritage sites Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan to the tribal belt of northwest Pakistan, and from the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan to the tourist valley of Swat are reminders of the vanished civilization of this region.

L ocated some 27 kilometers (17 miles) from Islamabad, Taxila – also known as Tukshla in ancient times – is another holy site, which includes a mesolithic cave and the archaeological remains of several Buddhist monasteries.

“We have seen a significant increase in the number of tourists from Japan, China, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong and even Myanmar in recent years,” said Irshad Khan, director of Taxila Archeology MuseumTold Turkish Anadolu Agency.

“There is no decline in the number of visitors from Buddhist-dominated countries despite the ongoing violence in Myanmar,” Khan said.

“Buddhist heritage sites are fully protected and we consider them our own,” Khan said. Pakistan is home to some 1,500 Buddhists, according to the government-run Bureau of Statistics.

Punjab is home to the five most important pilgrimage sites for Sikhs.

They include the birthplace of Baba Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion who was born in 1469 in Nankana Saheb district and Gurdwara (monastery) Punja sahib in the town of Hasan Abdal, where Guru Nanak’s handprint is said to be imprinted on a rock in the monastery.

Both sites are visited annually by thousands of Sikhs from neighboring India, Europe and America.

The Katas Raj temple in the northeast of Chakwal district and the Sadhu Bela temple in the south of Sukkur district are the two most visited religious sites by Hindus all over the world. Hindus – Pakistan’s second largest minority after Christians – also worship the water of a lake in the Katas Raj temple as they believe the lake was filled with the tears of Shiva, one of the main deities of the Hinduism.

Hindus make up 2% of Pakistan’s more than 200 million people. The sapex court of Pakistan recently ordered the government to stop the establishment of industrial units near the Katas Raj temple as they damage the heritage site. “Pakistan is a sacred place for us because of the sites revered by Hindus.

Thousands of Hindus from India and elsewhere love to visit these sites,” Yahd Shutar Lal, head of a 107-member Indian delegation that recently visited the Sadhu Bela temple, told Anadolu Agency. “If more visas are granted, the number of visitors could increase by several times,” he added.

More than 1.8 million foreign tourists and delegates visited Pakistan this year, more than triple the number since 2013, Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (TDCP) statistics revealed, without specifying how many visitors came for purely religious purposes.

In India alone, more than 8,000 Sikhs and Hindus have visited their religious sites in the current year according to statistics.

The government, according to local media, plans to upgrade existing facilities to attract 30,000 tourists from the Sikh diaspora alone a year.

In addition, the TDCP is considering a plan to bottle water from Punja Sahib, which is treated as respectful by Sikhs, Mukhtar Ali, a PTDC spokesperson told Anadolu Agency.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government in the recent past held a three-month meeting Gandhara Art Exhibition in Seoul in an attempt to attract Buddhist tourists from South Korea, Abdul Samad said.

“Pakistan has great potential for religious tourism.

What we only need is [improved] law and order and proper marketing of what we have to offer,” Ali said.

The PTDC plans to hold roadshows and seminars at Pakistani embassies around the world to attract religious tourism, which has itself become a huge industry, he added.

“If law and order is further improved and we manage to carry out our promotion plans, Pakistan can double the existing figures (of religious tourism) within a few years,” he said.

# Thanks to the eminent author from Pakistan: Ed. Upadhyaya
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