Buddhist tourism in Pakistan: The Buddha’s gift to the world;
Millions of people around the world embark annually on spiritual journeys to soothe their souls. Global religious tourism is one of the fastest growing segments in travel today. According to the UNWTO, 300-330 million tourists visit the globe’s most important religious sights every year.
To put things into better perspective, 2.5 million people per year visit Bodh Ghaya, the site of Buddha’s Enlightenment.  In 2017, 2.4 million Muslims travelled from all over the world to Saudi Arabia for the annual Hajj congregation. Around 4 million Christian pilgrims attended papal events, prayers services, or liturgies in the Vatican in 2016.
Buddhist Sites in Pakistan
Taxila 35 kms from Islamabad
Has riches in Archeological sites. Most built between 600 BC and 500 AD located near the Taxila Museum
During Gandhara Civilizaton, Taxila was a centre for promoting Buddhist sculpture, architecture, and education.
Over 50 sites of archeological importance based on the life of Lord Buddha around Taxila
Some of the Most important sites include Dharmarajika, Stupa, Bhir Mound, Sirkap, Jandial Temple, and Jaulian Monestery.
Taxila Museum has displayed relics related to Buddhist heritage
The ancient kingdom of Gandhara near Taxila, was critical in spreading Buddhism.
Asoka the Great, and Indian Emperor of Maurya Dynasty spread his message of Buddha, built Stupas, and carved Buddha statues from here in 300/400 BC.
Sites are scattered across Pakistan.
Dharmarajika Stupa in Takht-i-Bahi, KPK
The Votive Stupa, Shingardar Stupa, the Amlik Dara Stupa in Taxila (previously known as Takshashila)
An iconic Buddha statue in Swat
Bamala, KPK is a major heritage site for Buddhism. Remails of a 1700-year-old buddha statue was discovered 3 years ago.
Dharmarajika Stupa in Taxila designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980
Takht-i-bahi located in KPK. Consists of an ancient buddhist monestary situated high atop a 152-meter hill. Belongs to period of Gandhara Kingdom (1000 BC to 7th Century). Included in UNESCO in 1980. Consiss of 2 stupas and many other relics and remains. Even Asoka the great built stupas here.
Tope Mankiala in Punjab is the site where according to a legend lord buddha fed 7 hungry tiger cubs with his body parts.
Katas Raj is a famous Buddhist stupa sacred to hindus, Buddhists, and jains.
Around Peshawar city alone there are over 500 heritage sites and monumenets.
Buddhism has a long history in the Pakistan region – over time being part of areas within Bactria, the Indo-Greek Kingdom, the Kushan Empire, Ancient India with the Maurya Empire of Ashoka, the Punjab region, and Indus River Valley cultures — areas now within the present day nation of Pakistan. Buddhist scholar Kumāralabdha of Taxila was comparable to Aryadeva, Aśvaghoṣa and Nagarjuna. Currently there is a small community of at least 1,500 Pakistani Buddhist in the country.
Buddhism in antiquity
The region and nation, today known as Pakistan, once had a large Buddhist population and many religious structures in antiquity.
The majority of people in Gandhara, present day Southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, were Buddhist. Gandhara was largely Mahayana Buddhist, but also a stronghold ofVajrayana Buddhism. The Swat Valley, known in antiquity as Uddiyana, was a kingdom tributary to Gandhara. There are many archaeological sites from the Buddhist era in Swat.
Meeting Pakistan’s Buddhists
They live on here – even though they are not too sure about when and how they settled the region. They have more than a dozen villages – dispersed and yet attached to each other, almost like like clints and grykes in a limestone pavement. They are the Buddhists of the Rohi desert. Pakistan is their home: where Buddhism once thrived and the finer points of the Buddha’s teachings were discussed and taught under the patronage of powerful rulers in the Gandhara civilisation.
Hundreds of Buddhist heritage sites are scattered across the length and breadth of Pakistan: crumbling testaments to the moral and cultural power that was once enjoyed by the tenets of the Noble Eightfold Path – the teachings attributed to the Buddha. Taxila, Sirkap, Takht-e-Bahi, Dharmarajika, Mohra Muradu are but a few of the names of sites that we are familiar with – where Stupas and carved stones speak of a flourishing Buddhist past.
“I think making ourselves a temple could cause conflict and might encourage hatred against us. We have a ‘moorat’ as a symbol of Buddha in every home”
In South Punjab, Pakistan’s Buddhists live primarily in the Rohi region.
The vestiges of Buddhism in Rohi or the Seraiki Wasaib in general include ancient sites at Patan Minara and Munde Shahid amongst many others.
Patan Minara is home to a building which according to many historians was the site of a Buddhist temple and monastery. It can still be seen depicted on the one rupee postage stamp of the former Bahawalpur state. Traditions assert that it consisted of three storeys. During the British Raj era, a brick was discovered from excavation which bore an inscription in Sanskrit, leading some to believe that the structure was erected in the time of Alexander the Great – but little is known for certain about this heritage site. As is noted by celebrated travel writer Salman Rashid, its architecture is similar to Hindu Shahya temples. Patan Minara is adorned with brick carvings that historians say is a pictorial representation of the Buddhist cella or temple.
The second important Buddhist site in the area is Munde Shahid, a ruined fort of great antiquity near Ahmedpur East and has what is known as a Naugaja tomb. According to colonial archaeologist Alexander Cunningham these Naugaja tombs are remains of statues of Buddha depicted lying down after his attainment of Nirvana. As Buddha was believed to have died with his face to the east, all the such statues are placed on a north-to-south axis. There were several Naugaja tombs scattered in South Punjab which may be regarded as some degree of evidence that Buddhism was the prevailing religion in the upper Sindh plain at the time of the Arab conquest in the 8th century.
In Bahawalpur, meanwhile, for centuries we find little documented history of Buddhists during the long period of Muslim dominance. The reasons for this may be political or religious in nature.