Religious tourism

Published July 24, 2023

PAKISTAN’s past is a synthesis of ancient civilisations; its vast antiquity is a reminder of the cultures once rooted here. Appallingly, these relics take centre stage for the wrong reasons. Last week, Gurdwara Rori Sahib in Jahman turned to rubble due to a squall. Built by Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the place is mentioned in Guru Nanak’s biographies. He visited it thrice. The fact that such losses strip us of our history is beyond the pale. Buddhist and Sikh relics punctuate Punjab, Sindh and KP as both faiths were central here, and old empires — Aryan, Greek, Iranian, Indic — traversed this region. The Dharmarajika and Mankiala stupas in Takht-i-Bahi, Shingaradar and votive stupas, Swat’s Buddha statue, the Amluk Dara stupa, Taxila’s Mesolithic cave and monasteries where the Buddha apparently stayed and Haripur’s sleeping Buddha statue are all heritage sites that count among the most cherished in the world. At the other end, Sikhism’s founder, Guru Nanak was born in Nankana Sahib, Punjab and is buried in Darbar Sahib. His fifth spiritual successor, Guru Arjan Dev’s death is marked by Lahore’s Gurdwara Dera Sahib while Hasan Abdal’s Gurdwara Panja Sahib is believed to have a rock with an imprint of Nanak’s hand.

For these reasons, we can create a religious and cultural tourism industry that promises billions of dollars by reclaiming over 106 celebrated places, Taxila Museum’s prehistoric curios, Guru Granth Sahib’s oldest texts in Lahore Museum, the Katas Raj temple complex, Hinglaj, the Panchmukhi Hanuman temple and more. But a rickety regulatory and official framework of the tourism sector stunts all potential. Heritage experts and guides at par with Unesco models, an organisational and restoration system like the Walled City Project, transport, visas, and guesthouses, initiatives such as the Kartarpur Corridor, can resuscitate the travel economy, soften Pakistan’s image and reawaken pluralism for a rich cultural milieu. Most significantly, the security ogre must not disfigure the road to Pakistan.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2023

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