PESHAWAR: South Korea and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa were again bonded by Monks invited to visit historic sites and expected to spread a good word back home about the province having rich Gandhara cultural heritage as a tourist-friendly place for Buddhist pilgrims and tourists alike.

In 4th Century AD, a monk hailing from Chota Lahor village of Swabi district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Maralanda [Maranatha], had gone to Korea via China and spread Buddhism. Another Korean monk, Hyecho, also said to have travelled to Gandhara through ancient route and made connection with this region – having remains of Buddhist sites and monuments till today.

The KP tourism, culture, sports and archaeology department and South Korean Embassy in Pakistan jointly organised for the first time an official heritage tour for an expedition team of Korean Buddhist pilgrims and researchers, who were warmly received at Peshawar Museum on Monday.

Comprising four monks, several researchers and professors from the renowned Buddhist’s Dongguk Buddh and several businessmen from South Korea, the delegation will carry out a four-day tour to Gandhara historical sites in the province and Taxila.

Envoy promises to promote bilateral cultural ties

The initiative to invite Korean Buddhists, especially monks, is part of the tourism department to promote heritage tourism in the province, which has over 6,000 archaeological sites, including monasteries, holy sites and a collection of statues of Buddha.

Korean ambassador Kwak Sung-Kyu, who accompanied the delegation, said the embassy would work for the promotion of cultural ties between two countries.

He said Pakistan would be an attraction for Korean Buddhist pilgrimage and tourists due to rich heritage of Gandhara civilisation.

Tourism minister Atif Khan said ties between Pakistan and South Korea would be strengthened if heritage tourism was promoted and people-to-people contacts increased between the two countries.

He said many Buddhist holy sites, monasteries and archaeological ruins were located in Pakistan, particularly in KP, and the government was spending Rs600 million to maintain these sites and was striving for more funds to look after and improve more such archaeological sites scattered all over the province.

Director (archaeology and museums) Dr. Abdul Samad said earlier, the government had sent 42 artefacts from Peshawar Museum for an exhibition in South Korea and that actually created awareness among Koreans about the old ties between the two places and aroused interest in them to visit and see for themselves the archaeological sites.

He said that would revive historic links – around 1600 years old - between Korea and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“The arrival of delegation including monks was the outcome of that exhibition and now we were expecting more tourists interested in heritage, history and archaeology,” he said.

“Many Pakistanis and many Koreans do not know that a monk from Swabi went to Korea and spread Buddhism there. For past 20 years in post9/11 era tourists had stopped coming and many people lost touch with such interesting facts but we are trying to revive cultural and historic links to promote and boost heritage tourism,” he said.

The expedition will be followed by a Korean Joge Order Buddhist delegation’s visit in November.

Published in Dawn, August 27th, 2019