JHELUM: Prime Minister Imran Khan interacts with locals after inaugurating the Nandana Fort heritage trail project on Sunday.—PPI
JHELUM: Prime Minister Imran Khan interacts with locals after inaugurating the Nandana Fort heritage trail project on Sunday.—PPI

GUJAR KHAN: Prime Minister Imran Khan has said Pakistan can provide a multiplicity of choices for tourists that no other country can, elaborating on the diversity of opportunities to be found in the country — from its long coastline to some of the world’s tallest mountains and heritage sites, including those belonging to ancient civilisations.

He expressed these views after inaugurating the heritage trail project at Al-Bairuni Point (Baghan Wala Village) at Nandana Fort in Jhelum district on Sunday. The trail in Pind Dadan Khan, the premier said, would be the gateway to seven archaeological sites, including Nandana Fort, Shiva Temple, Tilla Joggian, Khewra Salt Mines, Mallot Fort and Takht-i-Babri.

Nandana Fort is a place of historical significance, where renowned mathematician Abu Rehan al-Bairuni measured the circumference of the Earth. Built in the eighth century, the fort was strategically located on a hilltop overlooking the Salt Range.

The tourism and archaeological department of Punjab has designed the project for preservation and conservation of the site to convert it into an international tourist spot as per the desire of the prime minister. Over Rs120 million had initially been allocated for the preservation project.

Inaugurates Nandana Fort heritage trail project, two national parks

Speaking to the local community after the inauguration, Mr Khan said no nation could progress without exploring and examining its history. Preservation and protection of archaeological sites provided an insight into the history and ethos of the nations, he said, while regretting that little or no effort had been made in the past to preserve or discover heritage. “Even Mohenjodaro and Harappa [archaeological sites of the Indus Valley civilisation] were discovered by the British,” he remarked.

However, he said recently the archaeology expert, Mr Samad, who was also present at the ceremony, had discovered a 40-foot statue of Buddha near Haripur. After the discovery, he added, the followers of Buddhism from across the world wanted to visit the site.

He said the conservation and preservation of the historical sites in Jhelum was aimed to convert them into international heritage and tourism sites.

The premier, who also inaugurated Tilla Joggian and Salt Range national parks in the Paddri area near Jhelum, said the preservation of the Nandana Fort and the establishment of the national parks was part of the 2020-30 vision for tourism in Pakistan.

Mr Khan said the Nandana Fort in particular was a “very special place” and would find its way on the world map, as “for the first time if someone tried to measure the [circumference of the] world, then it was from there. From the Nandana Fort, which was an observatory around 1,000 years ago, Al-Bairuni had measured the radius of the Earth with precision, he said, adding that the great mathematician made this site part of the world’s heritage for all times to come.

“The amazing thing is that today the world still accepts the accuracy with which that result was found out by Al-Bairuni after staying all those years there about 10 centuries ago.”

While talking to Baghan Wala villagers, Mr Khan said all the developed nations had protected their old buildings, ancient archaeological and heritage sites. He said countries such as Turkey, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and even the western countries had developed tourism as an industry by preserving the archeological sites. Unfortunately, he said, work done in Pakistan in the past was insufficient to protect the heritage sites. He said that protecting those sites was inevitable for the upcoming generations and for the livelihood of the youth.

Mr Khan assured the locals that Baghan Wala would be developed as a modern village and expressed the hope that they would take care of the comfort of the tourists. He said promotion of tourism would create employment opportunities for the youth. He also announced that the government would arrange loans and other incentives for the local population for establishing hotels and other requirements for the tourists.

While drawing attention of the prime minister towards the issues of his constituency on the occasion, federal minister for science and technology Chaudhry Fawad Hussain demanded dualisation of Jhelum-Pind Dadan Khan-Lilla interchange road link. He said if the road was built, the area could become a hub for tourism. The chief minister Sardar Usman Buzdar Khan responding to the prime minister’s query, assured that he would soon exclusively visit the district Jhelum and resolve all issues of area development.

Punjab tourism minister Asif Mehmood told the prime minister that rehabilitation process of the Rohtas Fort had started and a museum in the fort was also being set up for tourists. He said many villages had a route from within the Rohtas Fort and a bypass road with the help of World Bank was being built to provide the villagers an alternative route. He said that a 27km-track for jeep rally was being built for Tilla Joggian heritage site and a 3.5-km hiking trail was also being developed. A feasibility study was being conducted to upgrade the tourism spots in the region of Jhelum, Chakwal and Salt Range which would be completed till June, he said, expressing the hope that the project would be added in the next Annual Development Project (ADP).

Later while talking to the media, the prime minister said he had visited the area about 30 years ago and had thought to develop them for tourism. He told reporters that Pakistan had a range of tourisms sites from mountains to the coastline as well as historical sites. He said Turkey and Malaysia were earning many billions of dollars from the tourism industry but unfortunately Pakistan earned nothing from this industry. The country also had old cities of Lahore and Peshawar that had a great potential to attract tourists. The PM said people were aware of the tourism spots on hills and mountains but were not familiar with the historical places such as Nandana Fort.

The PM vowed that a tourist guide with map would be made to facilitate their travel to scores of places worth visiting in Pakistan. He said domestic tourism in Pakistan had recorded a boom in recent years. Overseas Pakistanis also visited the beautiful areas of the country while international tourism would also increase in the coming years, he believed.

Mr Khan said Pakistan had a great potential for religious tourism. There were a lot of sacred sites for Buddhists in the Gandhara civilisation, a large community of Sikhs visit Kartarpur and Nankana Sahib, Hindus visit the Katas Raj and other temples and those who were interested in the Sufism visit the shrines of great Muslim saints.

National parks, olive plantation

Later, PM Khan also inaugurated Tilla Joggian and Salt Range national parks in the Paddri area near Jhelum.

The premier was briefed about the development and importance of the two national parks, which were included in the six protected areas. Besides the two national parks, other protected areas included Kheri Murat National Park, Chinji National Park, Namal Wetland and Chashma Wetland Nature Reserves.

Special Assistant to the PM on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam gave briefing on the protection of wildlife and environment in the area.

On the occasion, Mr Khan planted an olive sapling and said the government was going to take steps to cultivate olive plants in the region. He said the grafting of the wild olive would also be done next month and plantation drive of olive would be kicked off. He said olive production could be very helpful in foreign exchange.

Waseem Ashraf Butt from Gujrat also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, March 1st, 2021

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