PESHAWAR: A Gandhara festival to showcase archaeological sites and heritage was cancelled in April this year due to Covid-19 pandemic but Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government has hinted at launch of a heritage tourism initiative to attract international tourists after Eidul Azha is over and curbs on tourism are lifted in the province.

“Gandhara Trail” of the province was to be showcased to tourists, tour operators and pilgrims in April during Gandhara festival but it got cancelled due to spread of Covid-19.

Around 400 people were expected to attend the festival that was to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan. The festival got canceled but provincial government has not given up on heritage tourism still.

The government plans to launch another tourism initiative after Eid is over and tourism is opened with proper Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).

“We hope to launch Gandhara Trail to attract pilgrims and international tourists,” said Dr Abdul Samad, the director of archaeology and museums.

Festival to showcase heritage was cancelled in April due to Covid-19

He said that there were around 22 archaeological sites starting from Taxila, Swabi, Peshawar, Khyber, Mardan and ending at Swat. “These Buddhist sites could be visited in a few days and suit best those interested in heritage or religious tourism of this region on a short visit,” he added.

Dr Samad said that chief minister would be inaugurating the project. However, international flights and tourism advisories of many countries were sensitive to Covid-19 cases in a country. The officials are still hopeful that it would open up Gandhara Trail for international tourists as people from the countries having religious attachment to many sites in the province have already started to come to the province before Covid-19.

“The pandemic has hit tourism, especially heritage tourism, hard as sites and museums are closed for visitors,” said Dr Samad. Before the Covid-19 hit the region, tourists flow had started after years to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Delegations of pilgrims and monks had come from Thailand, Korea, Sir Lanka and even Sikh tourists had started coming from the US. The province, hit hard for years by terrorism, was once more hit hard by a pandemic that affected its tourism. There are more than 2,000 Buddhist archaeological sites in the province and many still lay hidden.

“People are not aware of the historic and heritage richness of the region as all they have seen is terrorism and instability. Once peace prevails in this region, people would learn to value the Gandhara sites and relics,” said Dr Samad.

He said that it was important to protect the archaeological sites and attract international tourists so that tourism could be promoted. This would also boost local economy and create awareness about the heritage tourism sites in the province.

“Once the pandemic is over, we would hold Gandhara festival too so that heritage tourism could be promoted,” said Dr Samad.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2020

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