‘Pakistan could receive millions of religious tourists annually’

Published January 20, 2017
Buddhist monks from Thailand visit the Taxila Museum on Thursday. — Dawn
Buddhist monks from Thailand visit the Taxila Museum on Thursday. — Dawn

TAXILA: Pakistan has the potential to become a centre of attraction for Buddhists because of the Buddhist artefacts and religious sites from the Gandhara civilisation in Taxila and the Swat Valley, the head of a delegation of Thai monks said on Thursday.

Phrakrupaladsuvaddha Nanrah magun Duangkid, the head of a four-person delegation from Thailand, was speaking during a visit to the Taxila Archaeological Museum and the site of the ancient Julian Monastery and Stupa, also known as the Taxila University. Thai Ambassador Suchart Liengsaengthong was also present.

The monks, who belong to the Wat Nyanavesakavan, or the Nyanavesakavan Temple, are on a pilgrimage, at the invitation of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) managing director Abdul Ghafoor Khan.

Mr Duangkid said there are over 500 million Buddhists around the world, concentrated mainly in the Far East, and if Pakistan’s Buddhist heritage is properly showcased it could attract religious tourists.

He said Pakistan could receive millions of tourists annually if there is peace and infrastructure in areas where the ancient sites and relics are located.

He also praised the Pakistani government for preserving the country’s Buddhist heritage, adding that it was “an exciting experience to tour Taxila”, which he called a sacred place.

The Thai ambassador told the media that the Kingdom of Thailand is ready to provide technical support to restore and preserve ancient Buddhist sites. He said the monks’ visit is the first step to promoting religious tourism to strengthen cultural relations.

Mr Liengsaengthong said the Thai embassy will invite four chief monks to visit Pakistan for a pilgrimage to showcase the country’s rich cultural heritage.

“Although we have over 65 years of diplomatic relations, our cultural connection goes back over two millennia to the Buddhist Gandhara period,” he said. He expressed the hope that bilateral relations would improve between Thailand and Pakistan because of the centuries-old cultural bond.

The ambassador also lauded the government for preserving Buddhist sites and said Thailand is looking forward to broadening its relationship with Pakistan. He added that despite limited resources, Pakistan has preserved archaeological sites well.

“I feel proud to be here at the ruins [of what was] the cradle of the Gandhara civilisation, and happy to see it was properly preserved. I will also tell others about this rich cultural heritage,” he said in response to a question.

The monks were received by the curator of the museum, Nasir Khan, who briefed them on the chronology, significance and history of the Taxila Valley. He told them Taxila is one of Pakistan’s six world heritage sites, and was added to the World Cultural Heritage list in 1980.

The pilgrims toured the museum’s various galleries, and were informed by the curator that the site includes a Mesolithic cave, four settlement sites, a number of Buddhist monasteries from various periods, Muslim mosque from the medieval period and Buddhist stupas and monasteries from the first to the five century AD.

Published in Dawn, January 20th, 2017

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