Archeological wonders, Gandhara civilization’s remains attract foreign tourists to Swat

Known as the land of Gandhara civilization and archeological wonders, Swat — previous known as Uddiyana Kingdom where every stupa and carved stone has its own story — attracts domestic and foreign tourists in droves every year.

Besides the mesmerizing natural beauty, cultural heritage, and primitive architecture, Swat’s unique features, including snowfall, rivers, birds chanting valleys, skiing, trout fish and lakes, draw tourists, monks and Buddhists from across the world to explore.

Swat museum, Mehmood Ghaznavi mosque Odigram, Obaghat and rock carvings of Khazana Ghat Charai Madyan, Gogdara and Saidu stupa, Panr Jambil Khwar, Ram Throne, Jehanabad Buddha statue, Tokar Dara Najigram stupa and monasteries of Butkara-I and II are the most frequented tourist sites.

Tourists are being seen in large number at historic Amlok Dara, Shingardar and Gumbatona stupas besides Ghaligay Buddha statue and archaeological remains of Shahkot Pass Elephant Paw, Queen’s Throne and Nemogram stupa.

To explore Swat’s archaeological treasures, a 20-member delegation of Thailand, led by the celebrated Thai monk Arayawangso, had recently visited Swat museum, Saidu stupa and Butkara Buddhists site along with his 20 disciples.

Late Prince of Swat, Miangul Adnan Aurangzeb had invited Arayawangso two years ago to visit the archaeological rich Swat valley. Arayawangso has written a detailed book on significance and placement of Ghandhara in Buddhist world, calling it the land of wisdom and enlightenment. With his disciples, Arayawangso visited different heritage Buddhist sites where he paid his respects.

Praising rich and multi-cultural heritage of Pakistan, he encouraged people to visit Swat to promote religious tourism and lauded the untiring efforts of the KP government and Directorate of Archeology & Museums, KP for preserving and maintaining these sites.

A 2000-year-old Buddhist site of Kushan era is also attracting tourists, Buddhists and monks every year. As the biggest complex of its kind in the region, the Buddhist site at Aabba Sahib Cheena village at Najigram, some 25 kilometers from Mingora city, has a historic stupa with two minarets and clay pots which take tourists to the past history.

“Swat is a home to Gandara and many others civilization and its archaeological treasures are beyond one’s imagination besides its glorious history,” Mian Wahab Shah, senior curator archeology and museums department told APP.

He said a visitor could not remain unimpressed after visiting artifacts and statutes-rich Swat museum located on Mingora-Saidu Sharif Road where Lord Buddha statute takes tourists and archeologists to ancient past.

Wahab said excavation on this Buddhist site started by Italian experts in 1930 and later stopped mainly due to lack of resources. However, work on it was resumed again in 1955 by another Italian mission, declaring it a large size Bhuddist site with history dates back to some 2000 years old, he added.

He said Swat was an important province of Persia during reign of King Darrius I (522-486 BC) for 200 years till Alexander the Great conquered it in 327 BC and Mauryan dynasty recaptured Swat in 305 BC.

It was followed by Parthians rule over the region some 55 years later while the western Hellenistic influence came with the arrival of Indo-Greeks in around 180 BC, he added.

Wahab said Kuhsanas had got control of Gandhara in first century AD and founded Kushan empire comprising the present-day Pakistan, Iran, Kabul valley, Northern India and parts of Kashmir.

Buddhism had flourished when Kushan King Kanishka (127-150 AD) converted to it and from here, Buddhism travelled to China, Japan and beyond. Swat had served as one of the most significant centres of Gandhara civilization since first century BC and nursed other civilizations at the same time as Kanishka supported other religions as well, he added.

Wahab further said Gandhara civilization moved along Indus River through Talia up to interior Sindh and Kanishka’s contribution to Buddhist architecture was the construction of Kanishka Stupa at Peshawar. The archaeologists, who rediscovered the base of it in 1908-9, ascertained that this stupa had a diameter of 286 feet (87 metres) and covered with jewels.

He said Kanishka called the fourth Buddhist Council in Peshawar in 78 AD and about 500 Buddhist monks, who attended the council, worked on preservation of oral traditions of Buddha, and fully patronised Gandhara culture. The whole life cycle of Buddha was engraved in stone, which is still available in Peshawar museum where the Buddhist scripture was preserved, Wahab added.

Former provincial minister Wajid Ali Khan, while talking to APP, said, “Many people talk about Swat’s natural beauty, rivers, lakes and snowfall, but its real beauty is being a home to Gandhara civilization flourished over the centuries.”

He further said Swat museum had a wide range of collection of Buddhists stupas and Gandhara artifacts, sculptures besides utensils, beads, figurines, stones and coins of ancient era.

Engr Faras Khan, a resident of Peshawar told APP that he heard a lot about Swat’s museum treasures and came here from Peshawar to personally see Lord Buddha statutes and ancient artifacts taking tourists to ancient past.

He suggested showcasing of these archaeological treasures through digital and social media to attract foreign tourists and to bring about economic prosperity not only in Swat or KP but also in the entire country.

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