WITH my fifth-semester Architecture students, I recently went to visit the Katas Raj temples, a significant historic site in Pakistan. However, we were dismayed to find the temple complex completely sealed off to local tourists, including us, due to special arrangements that were being made for foreigners from a neighbouring country who happened to be visiting the place for religious rituals.

While we fully respect and acknowledge the importance of religious tourism and cultural exchange, it was distressing to witness Pakistanis being denied access to their own heritage sites. The decision to close off the Katas Raj Temples for almost a week, as we were informed by the locals, highlighted a concerning trend of prioritising foreign visitors over locals.

Factually, heritage sites are not just historical landmarks; they are symbols of our collective identity and cultural heritage. It is essential that they remain accessible to all Pakistanis reagardless of their religious beliefs. By closing off these sites to accommodate merely foreign visitors, we risk alienating and disenfranchising our own people.

Moreover, the complete sealing of the temple complex sends a rather troubling message to local tourists, implying that their presence is less valued or significant than that of foreign visitors. This not only undermines the sense of ownership and pride that Pakistanis should feel towards their heritage, but also perpetuates feelings of exclusion and marginalisation.

The provincial government should chalk out an effective strategy, and there must be a concerted effort to strike a balance between accommodating foreign visitors and ensuring that local tourists are not sidelined or neglected. The authorities responsible for managing heritage sites, like the Katas Raj temples, should reconsider their approach. They need to bring in measures that prioritise inclusivity and accessibility for all.

One such approach could be to create segregated paths for foreign pilgrims if heightened security concerns exist.

Preserving our heritage demands a delicate equilibrium between facilitating religious tourism and safeguarding the rights of local inhabitants.

Apart from this, we must strive to create an environment where all individuals, regardless of their nationality or religious affiliation, can partake in the rich tapestry of our national heritage, which will be enhancing mutual understanding and appreciation for our shared history.

Sana Hafeez
Lahore

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2024

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