My Tour to Buddhist Monasteries in KPK

In KPK, you will find one of a kind structures from time of Buddhists. These are one of the top tourist spots in Pakistan which have great potential to boost tourism in Pakistan. Most of these belong to the era of Maharaja Ashoka and late period of Buddhism. This was the time when north-west of Pakistan constituting KPK, Sawat and Gilgit was considered the territory of Buddhism. Ashoka, per se was a Hindu and Hindus and Buddhists had always been a rivalry so Hindus used to oppress Buddhists often. Reading this article will let you know that these tourist spots are so special.

I will share a few details on where Buddhism originated as Buddha was born in south Nepal and north west Hindustan was its origin. When Buddhists separated from Hindus so in vengeance Hindus started to torment all whose religion was Buddhism. When they had had enough of brutality, Buddhists ran to north-west of Pakistan to survive. This originated a war between Buddhists and Hindus. Apparently Ashoka won the war at the cost of millions of lives.

This considerable cost let King Ashoka to contemplate over what his wrath had resulted in and accepted Buddhism in the end. His conversion to Buddhism stopped this massacre as it was a religion which promoted peace. Seeing him, his followers also turned to this religion and from there rise of Buddhism began when Ashoka also sent number practicing Buddhists to Nepal, Siri Lanka and different places across the world.

Tourists and religious people from other corners of world including Thailand, China, Tibet and Nepal also travelled to this area, north-west of Pakistan for several reasons. Few of them collected reliquiae of Buddha in forms of his hair, teeth, body parts, clothes and ashes after his body was burned on demise. They took these relics back to their countries and built various Stupas (A dome-shaped shrine erected by Buddhists) where they buried the remains of Buddha. This is why you can still see the signs, symbols and pictures of Buddha on carved on different mountains in Sawat, Gilgit, Chitral and Hunza along with discovered Stupas. 

 

 

Route to Sawabi

I had journeyed through many routes before but there was a road unexplored which had 4-5 structures from the ancient period. So, my friends and I, planned to travel through this road which basically connects Sawabi from Province KPK to Mardan and is parallel to Grand Trunk road and Motorway. When you pass the Attock bridge through G.T road, there is a town, Jehangira from which a road turns right towards Sawabi.  The benefit of Motorway is that when you travel from Rawalpindi to Peshawar you can opt for Sawabi Interchange and its end opens to Jehangira-Sawabi road. On taking a right turn you will reach Sawabi Chowk after 15-20 minutes.

Our plan was to leave Lahore at night, stay in Rawalpindi for the next night and continue our journey in morning so we could benefit maximum from this tour. Somehow we couldn’t leave from Lahore at night rather we left at 7:00 in the morning and reached Pindi through G.T road. Because from onwards Taxila is a crowded area so we continued with motorway to Sawabi which took us about one and a half hours. In Sawabi, one road connects it through Jehangira road and Motorway (our route) and another road that leads to Topi and Tarbela from Sawabi Chowk on right turn. But we took the left to Mardan Road which crosses a stream after 10 minutes. Our destination was Rani Gat, hence, we took right from the Sawabi side of the river.

Rani Gat

Rani Gat is a tourist spot near Sawabi which is collection of 2nd century Buddha ruins spread over a mountain top. There comes a village located in North of Sawabi known as Nogram Killi which ascends to that mountain top famous as Rani Gat. The road till Nogram Killi is smooth so it barely takes 15-20 minutes from Sawabi to arrive here. Lately, along with collaboration of Japan and KPK government that road and mountain top have developed a lot. One fourth of the road is smooth now facilitating tourists to travel on motorbike or car, however, one can always go afoot for additional thrill.

If you are travelling on public transport, there is a cheaper option “Chingchi Rickshaw” which will cost you 70-100 Pkr from Sawabi till Nogram Killi. From Nogram high school for girls this route ascends to Rani Gat smoothly till one fourth of the route and from onwards you have to climb stairs till Rani Gat. Depending on your fitness level it takes 20-45 minutes but I would advise you take carry a water bottle, some chocolates and sweets with you to cope with your thirst and fatigue.

Rani a word from Hindi means “queen” and Gat a word from Pushto means a “huge rock” so Rani Gat means Queen’s rock. There on mountain top you see Buddha monastery from era of King Ashoka where back in those times presented a huge Stupa surrounded by lodges of Buddha scholars where they lived and meditated. Also there was a school whose ruins are spread over a significant area. On left if you head towards north 1-1.5 Kms more you will reach Rani Gat but still from this monastery you are able to see a long vertical rock at a distance which is basically known as Queen’s Rock. In the recent Past, various Buddha sculptures and other relics have been found buried and handed over to Department of historical and antiquarian museum of Peshawar. It is a worth seeing place with many signs and structures from Buddhism era, yet, unexplored by tourists so I definitely recommend to visit Rani Gat to learn about culture and civilization.

 

 

Note: All the structures that I’ve mentioned previously in this article and those which I’ll discuss are 2000 years old.

Asota Stone Henge

On coming back to the main road, the road which leads from Sawabi to Mardan, continue your journey towards Mardan. After a dive of about 15 minutes Shiva Adda. From Shiva Adda a road on right hand side leads to Asota Sharif.

It will take about 15 minutes from here to reach a point where two roads diverge. One road leads to Asota Sharif village while the other road leads to Shiva village. So, you’ll take this road which leads to Shiva village. From this turn, it’ll take 2-3 minutes to reach a point where the area is barricaded by razor wire. At this point you’ll see 14 stones standing vertically. These stones are in form of slabs whose height 7-8 feet. This point is known as Asota Stone Henge. This place belongs to the period of King Ashoka. There is no exact knowledge about the existence of these stones.

According to local community it is claimed that this was a shelter area for travelers. And these stones were placed here to pin the location or use it as a reference point for the shelter area. The other story related to these stones is that, a family was passing through this place after their marriage ceremony. Dacoits attacked the family. They members of family Prayed to GOD that either save us from these dacoits or convert us into stones. So, they were converted into stones. Small stones are those of children and larger ones are of adults.

Well me personal assessment is that this is a graveyard. And these stones are actually grave stones. A fact which strengthens my analysis is that when I reached Jamal Garhi (that I’ll discuss in this article) there was a graveyard. In that graveyard the gravestones are used which are similar to these Asota stones. This tourist spot in very famous among tourists.

Shahbaz Garhi Asoka Rock Edicts

To continue my journey to next tourist spot I came back to Sawabi-Mardan road and moved towards Mardan. After a journey of 10 minutes I reached Kalu Khan village. From here a road on right side leads to Shera Ghund village. The specilaity of Shera Ghund is that the tomb of famous romantic couple, Yousaf Khan and Sherbano, is located in this village.

From here I continued my journey towards Mardan and after 20 minutes reached Shahbaz Garhi Asoka Rock Edicts. Shahbaz Garhi is a town on the main road.

The Shahbaz Garhi is famous tourist spot because of the rocks on which the orders of King Asoka are engraved. It is claimed that these are the oldest orders in the world which are written on a stone. Or you can say that it is the oldest constitution of world written on stones. The writing on these stones is very clear. In English these stones are known as Ashok’s Rock Edicts.

In Pakistan, the stones with engraved orders/constitution are located at two areas. These locations include Naran Chowk in Mansehra KPK and the other one is in Shahbaz Garhi.

These are two stones. A smaller one is placed at a low elevation while to see the other one, which is a big one, you have to climb stairs to reach there. The stones are covered by shades to avoid them from weathering effect.

There are many gardens in this area where you can spent some relaxing time.

One harsh thing that I observed there was that many youngsters wrote names, contact numbers etc on these stones. They have no idea about the importance of these stones and how much this tourist spot can contribute to tourism in Pakistan. They don’t know how much there stones are important for Buddhist community, tourists and archeologists. Government and locals should take corrective and precautionary measures to preserve these stones as they have immense potential to attract tourists from all over the world.

Jamal Garhi

From the Ashok’s Roch Edicts I decided to visit the next tourist spot which was Jamal Garhi. The ring road of Mardan was very close. After a drive of 10 minutes on ring road I took the Katlang road exit from ring road. From this exit, Jamal garhi is very close.

Jamal Garhi is a huge Buddhist Monastery. This is nearly as big as the monastery of Takht Bhai. Both these monasteries are of same era.  

The ancient heritage of Jamal Garhi are located at a peak. After crossing the town, a road leads to the peak. The difference between Rani Gath and this place is that, in Rani Gath 3/4th of the path is carpeted road and you have to climb stairs for the 1/4th parth. While in Jamal Garhi the road Is carpeted till the end of the peak.

The office of Pakistan’s archeological department is located here which administers this tourist spot. Tourists have to buy a ticket from this office. But when I reached there it was evening and the office was closed. So, I visited the complete site of Jamal Garhi by myself without purchasing the ticket. The benefit of visiting at that time was the peaceful environment. I visited the site in detail and took pictures using flash of camera. The view of Jamal Garhi town from peak was very beautiful. Lights were glowing and wind was blowing.  

After this we cam back to Jamal Garhi town and then moved to Mardan for night stay. 

Takht Bhai

Next day I continued my journey on Malakand road and decided to visit archeological site of Takht Bhai. It is one of the famous tourist spot in this region. The ancient heritage of Takht Bhai is the largest heritage of Buddhism in Pakistan. It is located about 17 km from Mardan.

Just about 5km before Takht Bhai there is a small town know as Seri Bahlol. A local person told me that there are remains of an old fort in Seri Bahlol. So, I decided to visit them as well. From Seri Bahlol a road tuens right which leads to the town. From there you can see an old wall from far away. This wall belongs to that old fort which was built to protect Seri Bahlol.

After visiting that fort, I came back on Malakand road and continued the journey towards Takht Bhai.

Previously Takht Bhai was famous for two things, it’s Chappali Kabab and traffic blocks. But thanks to the government that they have constructed an overhead bridge which has provided a lot of relief. So, if you want to visit the ancient heritage of Takht bhai then you can by pass the city using the over head bridge.

Landing from the bridge, take immediate right. This road will take you to the ancient heritage in 10 minutes. You’ll have to purchase ticket and climb the stairs to reach the heritage site.

It’s an ideal tourist spot for those tourists who are interested in archeology. The stupas and rooms are still in good condition. There were underground meditation rooms where Buddhist Monks used to meditate. This place is still used by Monks for meditation that’s why it’s usually closed for tourists. But luckily, being impressed by my passion, the guard opened the lock and let me visit these underground meditation compartments. These compartments are still in excellent condition. The guide told me that the Buddhist from Japan or other countries visit this place, they still mediate for 1-2 hours. 

There are few open spaces in these compartments where the meditator can take fresh air and relax while his break from meditation. Being underground, these compartments maintain ambient temperature throughout the year.

By one side of Stupa a narrow path leads to the top where some more structures were present. From this peak you can have a splendid view of the Takht Bhai and Mardan.

These are worth seeing tourist spots and tourists specially Buddhist tourists from all over the world visit these places every year. These structures will amaze you that how these structures were built without machinery thousands of years ago. From accuracy and engineering point of view these are exceptionally perfect structures. 

 

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