TAXILA: The World Bank will provide the Punjab government with $500 million to promote religious and cultural tourism and improve infrastructure at nine religious sites.

MPA Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora told Dawn that these nine projects include three Sikh sites, three Islamic sites, two Buddhist sites and one Hindu site.

The Gurdwara Sacha Sauda in Sheikhupura, Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpura in Narowal and Gurdwara Rori Sahib Eminabad in Gujranwala will be restored and provided with tourism facilities, while the tomb of Bibi Jawindi, Uch Sharif Bahawalpur, the shrine of Shah Rukn-i-Alam Multan and the shrine of Hazrat Ghulam Fareed in Kot Mithan Rajanpur will also be restored and uplifted.

Tourism facilities will also be provided at the Taxila Museum, the Mankiala stupa will be restored and tourism facilities will be provided at the Katas Raj temples in Chakwal.

The MPA said the Punjab government and World Bank had finalised a project to strengthen governance and institutional capacity to promote and leverage private participation in order to realise the economic potential of tourist sites.

He said that according to a survey, around 20,000 Sikh pilgrims visit Pakistan each year for four officially recognised events.

He said that getting even 10pc of the global Sikh population of 25 million to visit the country would contribute greatly to the economy.

Mr Arora said Punjab’s religious heritage reflects the diverse and pluralistic tradition of the area.

He said that the World Travel and Tourism Council Report 2017 places Pakistan at 136 regarding the tourism industry’s contribution to GDP, and completing the aforementioned projects would boost religious tourism in the country.

Evacuee Trust Property Board Deputy Secretary Shrines Imran Gondal said the project would undertake the restoration of centuries-old Sikh temples and provide improved accommodation to Sikh and Hindu pilgrims.

Mr Gondal said Punjab is home to some of Sikhism’s holiest sites as well as important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists and Hindus. The completion of the project will protect Pakistan’s cultural heritage, and project a softer image abroad, he said.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2018