Islamabad: A delegation of Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka arrived in Pakistan for a week-long pilgrimage and visit to ancient Gandhara archaeological sites. The visit is aimed at strengthening cultural ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka based on shared Buddhist heritage.
The monks began their journey with a visit to the Lahore Museum which houses some of the finest remains of the Gandhara civilisation and rare Buddhist relics including the jewel of the museum ‘Fasting Buddha’ and ‘Sikri Stupa’ dating back to the 2nd century. Gandhara was the most important Buddhist learning centre between the 2nd century BC and AD 7th century.
In the cultural capital of Lahore, the delegation visited different cultural and heritage sites of Pakistan, including Badshahi Masjid and Lahore Fort. After concluding the Lahore trip, they set off for Islamabad to visit the sacred Buddhist sites in Taxila and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. In Islamabad, the Sri Lankan delegation will meet President of Pakistan Dr Arif Alvi, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi as well as officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony.
Home to ancient Buddhist civilisation
Pakistan is home to the ancient Buddhist civilisation, which had long remained hidden from the eyes of the world, said Dr Walpole Piyananda, the president of Dharma Vijaya Buddhist Vihara, USA. Dr Piyananda is leading the delegation. Recalling that Pakistan had always stood by Sri Lanka in the hour of need, he appreciated the Pakistan government’s efforts to facilitate tourists and hoped for enhanced steps for the promotion of religious tourism. “Every religion had given a message of peace and harmony” and the frequent visits could help strengthen cultural ties between Pakistan and Sri Lanka, he said.
The tour has been arranged by the Pakistan High Commission in Colombo to boost religious tourism in Pakistan by showcasing the rich cultural heritage of Pakistan, which is home to the Gandhara civilisation. The visit is in line with PM Imran Khan’s vision to promote religious tourism, project Pakistan’s historical treasures and strengthen cultural ties, said Pakistan’s second secretary at High Commission in Colombo, Ayesha Abu Bakr Fahad.
Pakistan has also announced to establish a Buddhist heritage trail to attract more tourists and to boost its tourism industry to help earn foreign exchange, create new jobs and improve the living standards of the local communities.