Pakistan’s rich Buddhist heritage is one of the most underrated aspects of the country’s vibrant culture. In order to celebrate this unique component of Pakistan’s history, the Center for Culture and Development (CCD) has organised a five-day ‘Gandhara Festival’ at the Taxila Museum. This event will be open to the public from Oct. 6 to 9, 2021. Let’s explore all about the Gandhara Festival and its significance in terms of Pakistan’s tourism sector.
Gandhara Festival: Buddhist Tourism In Pakistan
Pakistan has been regarded as one of the pioneer countries for the spread of Buddhism in the South Asian region. While countries like China, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are considered to have the largest practicing populations of Buddhism in South Asia, they all credit the spread of this belief system to Pakistan. Hence, you’ll find a large number of Buddhist Sites in Pakistan, spread across the country.
While Taxila City is primarily known for its Buddhist relics and stupas, you’ll find the presence of Buddhism from across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, all the way to Sindh. Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is primarily known for its Lotus Buddha, a carved Buddha seated on a lotus flower, which is attributed as the place from where Buddhism spread to China. This, along with Takht-i-Bahi is known as the ancient Gandhara Kingdom, dating back to the 1st Century AD, and is known as one of the largest and most advanced civilizations of its time.
Takht-i-Bahi is an ancient Buddhist monastery, and is right next to the ancient fortified city of Sahr-i-Bahlol, in the modern-day city of Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. These two sites are also considered to be two of the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites located in Pakistan.
Moreover, during 2015, in the Haripur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, archaeologists discovered a Buddhist complex with Buddhist sculptures and coins dating back to the 2nd to 5th centuries. During excavation, precious coins of the Kushan period were also unearthed.
Later in 2017, a 1,700-year-old statue of a “sleeping” Buddha was also unearthed. After being nominated, this site is now considered to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Some of the most popular sites for Buddhist tourism are:
- Shpola Top
- Shah ji ki Dheri
- Shaikhan Dheri
- Sahri Bahlol
- Jamal Garhi
- Gangu Dheric
- Mohra Moradu
- Brahmanabad at Sanghar
- Siraj-ji-Takri at Khairpur
- Kahu-Jo-Darro at Mirpur Khas
- Sudheran Jo Thul at Hyderabad
- Thul Hairo Khan
- Bhaleel Shah Thul at Dadu
- Thul Mir Rukan at Nawabshah
- Kot Bambhan Thul at Tando Muhammad Khan
In addition, you’ll find traces of Buddhism in Sindh, however, they mostly comprise ancient relics that have been preserved at the National Museum Karachi and Sindh Museum, Hyderabad.
The presence of Buddhist heritage sites and their accompanying relics are a testament to the country’s rich cultural heritage. It also goes to show the reverence with which heritage tourism is received in the country. This is important for not only domestic travellers but also international visitors as well. It gives a sense of belonging to the locals, whereas for the international tourists, it is historically significant in terms of understanding one of the greatest historical civilizations in the world.
Now, let’s see what’s in store at the five-day Gandhara Festival.
What To Look For At Gandhara Festival
This five-day event will feature exhibitions, panel discussion, and storytelling sessions at the Taxila Museum. The purpose of the event is to integrate the tangible and intangible cultural legacy of the Gandhara Civilization into Pakistan’s local tourism. In this way, Pakistan will see it as an effort towards sustainable tourism, which is the need of the hour as the country pushes to expand its tourism base.
Earlier this year, the incumbent government announced plans of developing a Gandhara Trail. According to the plans issued, all the Buddhist sites were to be mapped out, properly developed with lodging facilities, as well as transportation so the visiting monks or tourists could cover every single site in the country, with relative ease. However, the plans were stalled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the outbreak, earlier this year in April, a group of Sri Lankan monks visited Pakistan and toured the historical remains at Takht-e-Bahi, KP. The delegation was led by Dr. Walpola Piyananda, adviser to the Sri Lankan president and chief monk in the United States, who took the monks on a week-long pilgrimage to all the major holy sites in Pakistan. While talking to media, Dr. Abdul Samad, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s director of archaeology and museums, labelled this as the first step towards institutionalizing ‘Gandhara Tourism Trail’ in the country, and within months, it has been realized.
In addition to this, the South Korean Ambassador Suh Sangpyo has also recently announced plans of an MoU signing worth USD 4 million between Pakistan and South Korea, for the promotion and preservation of Gandhara Buddhist heritage, in the country. This is part of the Korean Buddhist Tourism project that has been under discussion ever since 2019.
Under the present conditions, the Gandhara Trail will be launched from Taxila, Swabi, Peshawar, Khyber, Mardan and end at Swat. The government expects delegations of monks to come in from Thailand, Korea, Sri Lanka, India, China, and even the US. This will greatly enhance Pakistan’s position in the region as a hub for religious tourism. In addition, under Al Beruni Radius, heritage tourism in Pakistan has been further strengthened. If you liked this blog, please don’t forget to read our detailed piece on the most famous Hindu Temples and Jain Temples in Pakistan.
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