Pakistan – A Heaven for Religious Tourism
By Noor Tariq
Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism are three of the most widely followed religions in the world. Owing to it’s regional location, Pakistan is home to all three of these religions collectively. Many pilgrimage sites, as old as 5000 years, can be found in the country. Moreover, holy sites for other primeval religions like the Brahman, Greek and Aryan are also located here, which truly makes Pakistan a heaven for religious tourism. The TDCP identifies 120 religious sites in Pakistan, and another 26 of both religious and historical importance.
Punjab alone homes five extremely important religious sites for the Sikhs. Once upon a time, it served as the center of the single Sikh empire in history. Baba Guru Nanak, the creator of the Sikh religion was born in Punjab. His birthplace, Nankaha Sahab, is therefore present inside Pakistan, and is visited by many Sikhs all round the year.
Another holy site, known as Punja Sahib, is located in the Town of Hasan Abdal. Guru Nanaks handprint, which is of utmost holy importance to the Sikhs, is imprinted on a stone placed in the Gurdwara.
Many Buddhist sites of worship also exist in Pakistan, mainly in the Gandhara region which includes Mardan, Taxila and Swat. To begin with, Taxila possesses a Mesolithic cave and the archaeological remains of many Buddhist monasteries. Recently, archeologists in Pakistan have excavated an 1,800-year-old Buddhist stupa and an amassment of relics and antiquities at a site in northwestern Pakistan, where other stupas of Gautam Buddha, the founder of Buddhism can also be found. A 48-feet-long Buddha was also discovered in Haripur, making it the world’s oldest sleeping Buddha statue. These remains are proof of the civilisation that resided here once.
Similarly, Takht-i-Bhai, a small town situated 99 miles from Islamabad, holds an ancient monastery belonging to the 1st century. Many Buddhists come to see this site every year, making it the most visited Buddhist site in Pakistan. Moreover, 1300 years ago, the Korean monk Hyecho travelled to the region which is now Pakistan, and has therefore made it an important origin for Korean Buddhists.
In northeastern Chakwal, the Katas Raj temple can be found. This is a complex of various Hindu temples, all at walking distance from one another. A lake of extreme religious importance is also present here, which is believed to be filled by the tears of a Lord of the Hindus, known as Shiva. Another Hindu temple, known as Sadhu Bela, resides in southern Sukkur district. These temples receive many visitors through the year.
The Shri Hinglaj Mata temple in Hingol National Park receives the largest Hindu pilgrimage in Pakistan, where the Shrine of Goddess Hinglaj is built.
Second to Shri Hinglaj Mata is the Temple of Rama Pir, located in Sindh. It receives the second largest influx of Hindu pilgrimage in Pakistan annually.
Moreover, the Umarkot Shiv Mandir organizes an annual Shivrathri festival, known to be one of the biggest religious festivals in Pakistan. This festival is celebrate in honor of the Hindus God Shiva.
Pakistan has a lot more potential for religious tourism that still remains untapped unfortunately. However, the right marketing and infrastructure can bring in a lot of tourists, whilst opening the doors of the country to people belonging to all religious backgrounds.