Why not religious tourism?
Walking around the walled city one comes across many mosques and shrines, but let me tell you there are many Sikh religious sites there as well. The walled city is a place that depicts religious accord and it must be shared with the world too. It is not merely a hub of architecture, markets or monuments; the unity, harmony and brotherhood we find there among the people, and that too in terms of religions, is matchless. To me the walled city of Lahore is an example of tolerance and interfaith harmony. One example is the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh next to the Badshahi Mosque. Both the religious places share the same wall, and also respect each other’s prayer timings. This you may not see anywhere in the world.
Coming to the Gurdwaras inside the walled city of Lahore, let me take you to the one located inside the Chohatta Mufti Baqar near Wazir Khan Mosque inside Delhi Gate. This Gurdwara is associated with the pioneer of Sikh religion, Guru Nanak Dev. It is also valued as the ‘bethak’ or sitting area of the Guru. As per the historic references it is said that Guru Nanak came to this place in 1510. It was the house of his disciple and because of Guru’s presence there it was given the status of a Gurdwara. The ownership of the place remained with the Sikhs and after partition it was handed over to the Auqaf department. It is not opened for public but if any Sikh Yatree (pilgrim) comes the place is opened for him.
Another Gurdwara is inside Lal Khoo Mochi Gate. The same gate is known for the Muharram processions and Havelis converted into Imam Bargahs. This Gurdwara is associated with the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun Dev. It is said that during the reign of Emperor Jahangir, due to some clashes the Guru was locked in that house as a punishment. According to historic references the Guru passed away in the same house. During the Sikh reign Maharaja Ranjit Singh and other Sikhs bought the nearby houses and expanded the room into a Gurdwara. The possession of this place remained with the Sikhs but after partition it was shifted to the Auqaf Department. The place is not preserved and neither opened for the tourists.
Coming to Chuna Mandi we come across a very well maintained Gurdwara, the Janam Asthan (birth place) of fourth Sikh Guru, Ram Dass. It is said that the Guru spent the early years of his life in that place. After the birth of Maharaja Kharak Singh, son of Ranjit Singh, the place was converted into a bigger Gurdwara as a token of gratitude to the Guru for the birth of a son. The architecture of this Gurdwara is similar to that in Amritsar. There is a small gate of the Gurdwara and some parts of the outer wall are rented out to shops.
Gurdwara of Baoli Bagh is another place of Sikh Heritage. The Gurdwara cannot be seen anywhere now but it is said that this barren ground was once a splendid place. Baolis were the stepped wells constructed as water reservoirs for the people. The Baoli was constructed during Jahangir’s reign by the fifth Sikh Guru Arjun Singh in AD 1599. With the passage of time, in 1685, the Baoli was damaged and neglected but during the reign of Ranjit Singh in 1891 the Baoli was restored.
Inside Bhatti Gate as well, where we find the Oonchi Mosque, is another Gurdwara known as Gurdwara Chomallah Sahib. This Gurdwara is associated with the sixth Sikh Guru, Hargobind. This place was the residence of Guru’s devotee and later out of respect the place was converted into a Gurdwara. The possession of the Gurdwara was with the Sikhs till partition and later it was handed over to the Auqaf Department. At present the building of Gurdwara does not exist there whereas a few houses have been built and nobody knows what happened to the Gurdwara. A board stating the name of the Gurdwara is still intact and is the only clue to the Gurdwara.
Now let us move to the Samadhi of Maharaja Ranjit Singh also known as Gurdwara Dera Sahib. It is located near the Lahore Fort and Badshahi Mosque in Lahore and banks upon the only existing Mughal era gate, the Roshnai Gate. Its construction was started by Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s son, Kharak Singh, and was completed by his youngest son Duleep Singh in 1848. In the same complex are the Samadhi of Kharak Singh and grandson of Ranjeet Singh Kunwar Nau Nehal Singh. The possession of this place is with the Evacuee Trust Board and it is not a tourist site. It is only opened for the innumerable Sikh Yatrees coming there every year.
I think that religious tourism is not only visiting a particular holy destination, but may also be travel for a humanitarian cause, for reasons of friendship or even as a form of leisure. During economically difficult times faith-based travel can provide a steady flow of income to the local tourism economy and the government. In Lahore, we can generate millions through such tourism. These religious heritage sites not only drive international tourism and economic growth, but also provide important meeting grounds for visitors and host communities, making vital contributions to tolerance, respect and mutual understanding between different cultures. This type of tourism also helps in the image building of a country and its people. Our government should think and plan to promote religious tourism. Instead of keeping these heritage sites hidden, the more these are publicised the more tourism will be generated and surely have a positive impact on the economy.