Pakistan puts Buddhist tourism back on track

Sify News, Mar 30, 2010

Lahore, Pakistan -- Tourism in Pakistan, affected by Islamist violence since 9/11, is expected to get a boost with the promotion of the major Buddhist heritage site that cradled the first century Gandhara civilisation.

Led by monks from Thailand, the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) is on its first official visit to the country for promotion of the site. Its main attraction is Taxila or Takshashila university that dates back to the reign of the Kushan dynasty. It was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1980.

'Pakistan can be a great Buddhist pilgrimage destination in the world,' WFB secretary general Phallop Thaiarry was quoted as saying by Xinhua news agency after the delegation visited the famous archaeological site 32 km from Islamabad.

President Asif Ali Zardari has given his nod to the international Buddhist organisation to preserve and develop the Gandhara heritage and to promote inter-faith harmony and tourism in the country.

The kingdom of Gandhara lasted from the 6th century BC to the 11th century AD. It attained its height from the 1st century to the 5th century AD under Buddhist Kushan Kings.

A proposal for the promotion of the ancient site has been made before the Pakistan government, a monk said.

The WFB offered to promote Gandhara heritage in Pakistan's renowned universities and institutions and the translation of literature on Gandhara in Thai Language.

'The existence of large number of Buddhist stupas and monasteries in Gandhara is very sacred for Buddhists and an important part of our historic culture,' Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's federal minister for minorities, said.

'The government always takes care of these sacred religious sites and welcomes tourists to Pakistan,' he said.

Besides Taxila, other neighbouring districts of Mansehra, Swabi, Mardan, Swat, Peshawar and Khyber Agency also possess similar sites, including edicts of emperor Ashoka (304 BC-232 BC).

Tourism to these sites flourished during 1990s, when a large number of scholars, pilgrims and cultural enthusiasts from across the world flocked to Pakistan. But it dropped drastically after the 9/11 terror attack.