THE heritage trail project in central Punjab, inaugurated by Prime Minister Imran Khan on Sunday in Jhelum district, presents yet another opportunity for the rehabilitation and preservation of our rich history. The project relates to seven sites starting from Al Bairuni Point at Nandana Fort where Al Bairuni, a scholar of many disciplines, is said to have calculated the circumference of the earth. The other sites include the Shiva Temple, Tilla Joggian, the Khewra salt mines, Mallot Fort and Takht-i-Babri. The Punjab tourism and archaeological department, with an initial grant of Rs120m, plans to develop this area for international heritage tourism. The prime minister is right in seeing the potential of this trail as an international heritage site. However, developing historical sites is only the first step towards building a tourism economy. The upkeep and maintenance of such locations, the provision of adequate living facilities, good road access and security as well as ease in obtaining a visa will also play a huge role in the successful promotion of the tourist industry in Pakistan.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s tourism infrastructure remains below par in all essential departments. Successive governments have failed miserably in protecting and preserving the existing archaeological sites in the country. There have been a number of reports of damage to the ancient structures in Mohenjodaro while Unesco recently warned that Makli would be taken off its list of heritage sites if the government did not act on its recommendations for the necropolis’s conservation. Moreover, the environmental impact of tourism cannot be overlooked. For instance, as has been pointed out, while domestic tourism in the northern parts has increased, the environmental footprint is taking its toll on scenic landscapes in ways that include cutting down trees to build hotels and restaurants. If the government plans to develop the Pind Dadan Khan region for international tourism, it should also be vigilant in other areas and promote conservation while ensuring easy availability of modern facilities in places with tourism potential.
Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2021