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Reviving the Gandhara tourism in AfPak region

Immigration News

Khaama Press
Khaama Presshttps://www.khaama.com
Khaama Press is a Kabul-based independent and non-political news organization established in 2010.

Written By: Ibrahim Afzali

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the custodians of the great Gandhara civilization. It is primarily believed that Gandhara was a kingdom shaped like a triangle, extending 100km horizontally and 70km vertically, west of the Indus River and south of the Hindukush mountains. ‘Greater Gandhara’ refers to the entire region where Gandhara had cultural and political influence – and this extended to the Kabul Valley, Potwar Plateau, and sometimes even the Sindh region.

Both countries have great Gandhara heritage sights including ruins of ancient Gandhara cities, inscriptions, drawings, and thousands of artefacts. From the awe-inspiring Bamyan statues to the iconic Takhtbhai monastery, the Afpak region is bejewelled with priceless historic treasures of Buddhism and Gandhara civilization. Followers of Buddhism have been flocking to their revered sites in Pakistan and Afghanistan for decades. However, the volatile law and order situation in previous years has hampered the full potential of religious tourism in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Gandhara tourism provides one of the many avenues of mutually beneficial cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The relative stability established in Afghanistan in recent past bodes well for tourism in the region as reflected in the gradual influx of tourists to various religious and cultural heritage sites in the width and breadth of Afghanistan.    

Buddhism, as a religion, has had a solid presence in the heritage of the subcontinent. Buddhism, a religion founded by Gautama Buddha, first arrived in modern-day Afghanistan through the conquests of Ashoka (r. 268–232 BCE), the third emperor of the Maurya Empire. Among the earliest notable sites of Buddhist influence in the country is a bilingual mountainside inscription in Greek and Aramaic that dates back to 260 BCE and is found on the rocky outcrop of Chil Zena near Kandahar. Historians have reported that many ancient and highly revered Buddhist monks, such as Mahadharmaraksita and Lokaksema, lived and preached in areas constituting modern-day Afghanistan. Famous Buddhist sites in Afghanistan are found at Tepe Narenj, Bamiyan, Haḍḍa, Tapa Sardar, Tapa Shotor, Takht-i-Rustam, Mes aynak, Chakhil-i-Ghoundi Stupa and Tepe Kafiriyat.

Similarly, Pakistan is host to different tourist destinations which promote Buddhism as a religion. The Dharmarajika Stupa in Takht-i-Bahi in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Votive Stupa, Shingardar Stupa, and the Amluk Dara Stupa in Taxila, as well as the iconic Buddha statue in Swat, are important heritage sites having religious significance. In addition to these, 50 archaeological sites are distributed across Taxila, which date between 600 BC to 500AD and are reminiscent of the Gandhara civilization.

Taxila, being the capital or the centre of the civilization, is home to places where Gautama Buddha is believed to have stayed during his travels. Buddhist tourism has an estimated market of 500 million Buddhists across the world. Today, religious tourism is an important factor in the global economy that generates an international flow of wealth through travel, boarding and logging of pilgrimage trips, visits to religious sites, participation in religious events and missionary tours in certain parts of the world.

Introducing religious tourism can help Afghanistan and Pakistan create harmony amongst the different religious groups, it can also help improve the soft image of both countries in the international community. By leveraging the power of cultural diplomacy, Gandhara tourism can strengthen bilateral relationships, foster mutual understanding and enhance cultural exchange. As the government continues to contribute towards religious tourism by taking initiatives, the benefits of interfaith harmony will expedite a niche in tourism previously overlooked and open windows of opportunity for this sector. The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan must collaborate to promote Gandhara tourism in this region jointly.

DISCLAIMER – The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Khaama Press News Agency. We welcome opinions and submissions to Khaama Press Opinions/Exclusives – Please email them to info@khaama.com.

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