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Gandhara Festival In Pakistan

August 23, 2023

The Buddhist tradition in Pakistan has a long and rich history that is often overlooked. The Center for Culture and Development (CCD) has planned a five-day “Gandhara Festival” at the Taxila Museum to honor this special period in Pakistan’s past. From October 6-9, 2021, anyone can attend this event. Let’s learn more about the Gandhara Festival and why it’s so important to Pakistan’s economy.

Gandhara Festival: Buddhist Tourism in Pakistan

Pakistan is often recognized as a frontrunner in the South Asian region in terms of spreading Buddhism. Even though China, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have the greatest Buddhist populations in South Asia, they all attribute Buddhism’s growth to Pakistan. As a result, all around Pakistan, you can visit various Buddhist sites. 

Taxila City may be most renowned for its many Buddhist relics and stupas, but the influence of Buddhism can be felt from the northern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the southern province of Sindh. The carved Lotus Buddha of Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which is said to have been the origin of Buddhism in China, is the region’s most famous landmark. These two sites, along with Takht-i-Bahi, make up what historians call the 1st-century AD Gandhara Kingdom, one of the world’s greatest and most technologically advanced civilizations. 

Located in modern-day Mardan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the Takht-i-Bahi Buddhist monastery predates the nearby Sahr-i-Bahlol fortified city for several centuries. Two of Pakistan’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites are these two locations. 

In addition, a Buddhist complex featuring sculptures and coinage from the 2nd to 5th century was unearthed in 2015 in the Haripur area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Treasure coins from the Kushan era were also discovered during the dig. 

Later that same year (2017), a 1,700-year-old “sleeping” Buddha statue was discovered as well.  This location is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site after being nominated.

The following are among the most visited Buddhist tourist destinations:

  • Shpola Top 
  • Shah ji ki Dheri
  • Charsadda
  • Shaikhan Dheri 
  • Sahri Bahlol
  • Jamal Garhi 
  • Gangu Dheric
  • Sirikup
  • Dharmarajika
  • Bhirmond 
  • Bhallar
  • Sirsukh 
  • Pipplian 
  • Julian 
  • Mohra Moradu 
  • Brahmanabad at Sanghar 
  • Siraj-ji-Takri at Khairpur
  • Kahu-Jo-Darro at Mirpur Khas
  • Sudheran Jo Thul at Hyderabad
  • Thul Hairo Khan 
  • Bhaleel Shah Thul at Dadu
  • Thul Mir Rukan at Nawabshah 
  • Kot Bambhan Thul at Tando Muhammad Khan 

Additionally, Buddhist artifacts can be found in Sindh, albeit these are primarily ancient artifacts that have been conserved in museums like the National Museum in Karachi and the Sindh Museum in Hyderabad.

Buddhist cultural sites and artifacts found there attest to the country’s long history of Buddhist influence. This is more evidence of the high regard with which heritage tourism is held throughout the country. Both domestic and international visitors will find this information useful. Locals gain a sense of pride in their community, while visitors from other countries gain insight into the development of one of the world’s finest ancient civilizations. 

Let’s check out what the Gandhara Festival has in store for us over the next five days.

What to Look for at Gandhara Festival?

The Taxila Museum will host an exhibition, panel discussion, and storytelling sessions over five days. The festival aims to incorporate the Gandhara Civilization’s material and immaterial cultural heritage into Pakistan’s domestic tourism industry. This will be viewed as a step toward sustainable tourism in Pakistan, which is desperately needed as the government seeks to broaden its tourism industry. 

Sculptures from Taxila, Carvings on the Jaulian Stupa Constructed atop Taxila’s Julian Stupa

The current administration has been working on proposals to build a Gandhara Trail since earlier this year. The released plans called for a comprehensive mapping of all Buddhist sites, along with the construction of appropriate housing facilities and transit routes, making it possible for visiting monks and tourists to easily visit all of the sites around the country. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, however, halted the preparations.

Despite the epidemic, a group of Sri Lankan monks traveled to Pakistan in April to visit the sacred sites at Takht-e-Bahi, KP. Dr. Walpola Piyananda, adviser to the president of Sri Lanka and head monk in the United States, led the delegation on a weeklong pilgrimage to Pakistan’s most important religious sites. In an interview with the media, Dr. Abdul Samad, director of archaeology and museums for the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, called this the “first step towards institutionalizing ‘Gandhara Tourism Trail’ in the country,” and he noted that the goal had been met within a few of months. 

The South Korean Ambassador to Pakistan, Suh Sangpyo, has also recently revealed plans to sign an MoU with Pakistan for $4 million to promote and preserve Gandhara Buddhist history in Pakistan. This is being planned for 2019 as part of the Korean Buddhist Tourism project. 

The current plan calls for the Gandhara Trail to begin in Taxila, pass through Swabi, Peshawar, Khyber, Mardan, and finally conclude in Swat. Thai, Korean, Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese, and even American monk delegations are all expected to visit the country. Pakistan’s standing as a destination for pilgrims will be substantially strengthened as a result of this. Al Beruni Radius has also helped to boost Pakistan’s already thriving heritage-tourism industry. If you like this post, you may also be interested in reading our in-depth guide to Pakistan’s holiest Hindu and Jain sites.


The Gandhara Festival in Pakistan celebrates the rich Buddhist tradition and heritage of the country, particularly in the Gandhara region. This festival, organized by the Center for Culture and Development, aims to promote domestic tourism and sustainable cultural preservation. The event showcases the historical significance of Buddhist sites and artifacts, highlighting the country’s valuable contributions to the spread of Buddhism. The festival features exhibitions, panel discussions, and storytelling sessions, contributing to the broader initiative of establishing a Gandhara Trail to connect various Buddhist sites across Pakistan.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Q1. What is the Gandhara Festival in Pakistan?

The Gandhara Festival is a five-day event organized by the Center for Culture and Development to celebrate and promote the Buddhist heritage of Pakistan, particularly in the Gandhara region. It includes exhibitions, panel discussions, and storytelling sessions, and aims to boost domestic tourism.

Q2.Why is the Gandhara Festival significant?

The festival aims to highlight the historical importance of Buddhist sites and artifacts in Pakistan and raise awareness about the country’s role in spreading Buddhism. It also contributes to sustainable cultural preservation and the promotion of domestic tourism.

Q3. Where are some of the notable Buddhist sites in Pakistan?

Notable Buddhist sites in Pakistan include Taxila City, Swat Valley, Takht-i-Bahi, Sahr-i-Bahlol, and various other locations across Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Sindh.

Q4. What is the Gandhara Trail project?

The Gandhara Trail is a proposed initiative to map and connect various Buddhist sites across Pakistan. It aims to create appropriate housing facilities and transit routes for tourists and visiting monks, promoting tourism and cultural exchange.

Q5. What international partnerships are being formed to promote Buddhist heritage in Pakistan?

International collaborations, such as the South Korean Ambassador’s plans for a $4 million project and the visit of Sri Lankan monks to important religious sites, are being developed to promote and preserve Gandhara Buddhist history in Pakistan. These initiatives aim to strengthen Pakistan’s standing as a destination for pilgrims and heritage tourism.

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