Pakistani villagers unite to save Buddhist site

IANS, Nov 20, 2007

Islamabad, Pakistan -- Residents of a village in northern Pakistan have come together to protect an ancient Buddhist site, asking a mine owner to stop using dynamite as this was putting the relic at risk.

<< Image of a similar Buddha fresco destroyed in Swat, Pakistan

'We will never let anyone destroy it,' Dawn Tuesday quoted Inayat Khan, an elder of Babozai village as saying.

The Kashmir Smast, as the site is named, dates back to the fourth century. It comprises a series of natural limestone caves situated in the Babozai mountains in the Mardan Valley of the North West Frontier Province (NWFP). Smast is the Pushtu word for cave.

According to the 1897-1898 gazetteer of Peshawar district: 'The name may be derived from the fact that the gorge here is fairly and picturesquely wooded, and this may have suggested Kashmir'.

Inayat Khan said that a man named Habibullah Khan had got the mines near the site leased in his name and constructed a road to make them accessible.

When the residents of Babozai village protested, Habibullah agreed not to use dynamite in the area but he had now broken the pact.

Some 300 villagers had also marched to the site to demand that the mine owner stop blasting in the area.

Inayat said that since the site was the property of the local people, the government should take it over to ensure its proper protection as smugglers were active in the area.

He also claimed that a local of the area had recently found an extremely rare bowl with a lion's face at the site and had sold it for Rs.2.20 million.

The gazetteer described the site thus: 'There are three chambers in the limestone rock, of which the first two open into each other, and the third is reached by a winding flight of steps.

'The length of the first two chambers from the entrance is 322 feet, and the height of the first about 60 feet, and the second about 100 feet. The width of the first cave is 81 feet and of the second 90 feet, and between them is about 40 feet.

'The third cave is 80 feet high, and above 80 feet in diameter, with an opening in the roof which admits light and air, so that the air throughout is pure.