The Punjab Department of Archeology and Tourism (TAD) has announced that it will begin work to revive and promote religious tourism in Pakistan. To this end, a comprehensive plan was presented to restore 11 religious sites, sacred to various religions. The announcement of such a plan is nothing new to the incumbent government, as its tourism policies focus primarily on socio-economic improvement, as well as defending and celebrating the country’s rich cultural heritage.
This is the first time that any government has dedicated itself to reviving religious tourism, and in many ways, Pakistan’s tourism sector is expanding for the benefit of the people.
REVIVING RELIGIOUS TOURISM IN PAKISTAN
Pakistan is home to a number of ethnicities, cultural festivals, religious sites and languages. This diversity is what gives the country its uniqueness, rooted in centuries of settlement by nations that have passed through these regions. Settlers came and developed their places of worship, accustomed the locals to their rituals and for decades contributed to the many cultural flavors celebrated under the umbrella of being Pakistani.
You will see a number of celebrations throughout the year, such as Holi, Christmas, Easter, Diwali and the like, which are celebrated in conjunction with Eids. This eclectic mix of festivities is something that has been consecrated in the very spirit of Pakistan.
Present-day Pakistan is divided into four provinces, which are further divided into districts, tehsils and cities.
Thousands of years ago, these provinces, districts and cities were part of great civilizations. Harappa in Pakistan is home to the oldest known man-made society, the Indus Valley Civilization, which is a significant cultural resource for the country. This is a protected area, however most of the sites weren’t so lucky. Low maintenance, many historic religious sites have fallen victim to decay. For this reason, the government at various levels is working hard to restore all those sites.
The new proposed plan by the Punjab Tourism for Economic Growth Project (PTEGP) will mainly cover these 11 sites:
- Gurdwara Nankana Sahib, Rohri Sahib, Sacha Sauda
- Katas Raj temple
- Taxila Museum
- Bibi Jawindi Uch Sharif
- Darbar Khwaja Ghulam Farid
- Qila Kohna Qasim Bagh
- Mata Kaur Sahib
- Tilla Joggian
- Bhai Karam Singh
- Choa Sahib
In addition, the PTEGP is also working to rehabilitate six roads leading to religious sites for a total cost of PKR 833 million. Maharaja Ranjeet Singh’s birthplace in Gujranwala was also set aside for conservation.
As several sites have already been restored and are living proof of Pakistan’s religious harmony, let’s explore each one and understand what they mean for the local population.
POPULAR PLACES FOR RELIGIOUS TOURISM IN PAKISTAN
Over the years, many of Pakistan’s heritage sites have been restored and kept in good condition so that people can practice their religion openly. These include:
This is a sacred place for Sikhs, as the founder of Sikhism, Baba Guru Nanak developed the first commune here in 1504. To serve the Sikh community in India and Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated this corridor on November 9, 2019. . By virtue of this, Sikhs from India are allowed visa-free entry to Kartarpur and the motel facilities also allow them to stay here.
Among other things, visa-free entry from India has strengthened Pakistan’s reputation for inter-religious harmony internationally.
The Gurdwara of Nankana Sahib is another sacred place for Sikhs, located in the Nankana city of the district of the same name. It is named after the first Sikh guru, Guru Nanak, who was born in the city and began preaching here. Gurdwara Nankana Sahib may be a sacred place for Sikhs, however, it also has sentimental value for people of other faiths who regularly visit the place. The prime minister laid the groundwork for Nankana Sahib University here in October 2019.
Gurdwara Panja Sahib
This Gurdwara is located in Hasan Abdal in Punjab. As the name suggests, it is famous for its hand imprint, which belongs to Guru Nanak. The Gurdwara was named Panja Sahib by Hari Singh Nalwa, a famous Sikh general, who is also believed to have built the first Gurdwara here.
It is one of the three holiest sites of Sikhism, after Nankana Sahib in Sheikhupura and the Golden Temple of India. In April, Sikhs from all over the world come here to celebrate the birth of Khalsa, purity.
Gurdwara Nankana Sahib and Panja Singh are very similar in design and architecture. Once you visit it, you will find that the similarity in design translates into unity among believers of Sikhism.
This city is located in present-day Punjab and was founded under the Kingdom of Gandhara. Therefore, it has special significance for Buddhism. Originally called Takshashila, meaning “the city of cut stone”, it had been ruled by several different empires, each of which wanted to benefit from the convenient trade route it offered in South and Central Asia.
There are a number of excavated sites and attractions in this city that tourists visit regularly. These sites include; Bhirmound, Sirkap, Sirsukh, Dharmarajika Stupa, Kunala Stupa, Mohra Moradu Stupa, Jaulian Stupa, Jandial Temple, and Taxila Museum. In 1980, the city of Taxila was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the government made concerted efforts to keep its sites protected.
Katas Raj Temples
Shri Katas Raj temples are a complex of several temples, connected by walkways in Kallar Kahar, Punjab. Combined, these are also called Qila Katas. The temple complex surrounds a pond, Katas, which Hindus consider sacred. Many believe it was created by Shiva’s tears as he wandered the world after the death of his wife, Sati.
In addition to Shiva’s story, several important traditions have been linked to these temples. The area around Katas Raj has special significance for Hindus, as several springs in this region contain stories that have religious significance.
These are some of the many famous temples in Pakistan which are highly revered by the Hindu community in Pakistan. The sites are open to the public and people of all faiths visit this city regularly, as it contains remnants of past civilizations.
Sadho Belo Temple
Sadh Belo is a temple located on the Indus River near Sukkur. This island temple is the third largest temple in Pakistan, as the whole complex is made up of eight smaller ones, along with a library, dining rooms, a huge garden, as well as rooms and residences for monks, travelers, or pilgrims.
Sindh Hindu community members regularly visit this temple. Sometimes pilgrims from across the border also come to visit. For non-Hindu visitors, permission from Pakistan Hindu Panchayat is required to enter the premises. As this is an ancient temple, in 2013, the Waqf Board of Pakistan oversaw major renovations and repairs on the site.
These religious sites have existed for centuries and over the years the various governments of Pakistan have worked to keep the sanctity of these places intact. However, the current government has now realized that further efforts are needed to revive much older sites, which have been important in the region’s history. The particularity of the current government’s plans is the way in which the excavation and restoration of these sites have been linked to restoration tourism. Therefore, various dynamic tourism initiatives have been launched across the country.
PLANS TO IMPROVE RELIGIOUS TOURISM IN PAKISTAN
Among the many initiatives, Al Beruni Radius is a unique political initiative, recently launched, which aims to revive religious tourism in the country. The “Heritage Trail” at the “Al-Biruni” point of Nandana Qila de Jhelum will pass through the Fort and Temple of Nandana, the Temple of Katas Raj Shiva, the Salt Mines of Khewra, the Fort and the Temples of Malot and Takht- e-Babri. A similar tourist trail is now being launched under the name of Gandhara Trail, which will cover and rebuild ancient Buddhist sites.
But that is not all! Pakistan recently launched a dedicated tourism channel, Discover Pakistan. The government is also about to launch Brand Pakistan, a platform for local and international influencers to launch extensive advertising campaigns, which will use digital channels to highlight Pakistan’s tourist attractions.
Are you interested in seeing how religious tourism will develop in Pakistan?