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Sat Mar 23, 2013, 03:45 PM


Pakistan hopes for Buddhist boost to tourism drought

Religious violence may be on the rise and the Taliban still a threat, but Pakistan is hoping a rich Buddhist heritage will help it boost international tourism to its troubled northwest.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, with its balmy climate in the mountains and its wealth of history on the border with Afghanistan, was once a playground for colonial adventurers and a favorite holiday destination for upper-crust Pakistanis.

Yet after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US ushered in war in Afghanistan and an insurgency against the Pakistani government, it has become synonymous with Pakistani Taliban and other Islamist militants who have killed thousands in recent years.

Wealthier Pakistanis and Westerners stopped visiting, scared away by attacks and the threat of being kidnapped, but the provincial government is now trying to lure thousands of visitors from wealthy Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea.

A group of about 20 Buddhist monks from South Korea made the journey to the monastery of Takht-i-Bahi, 170km from Islamabad, and close to the tribal areas that are a haven for Taliban and other Islamist militant groups.


From about 1000 BC until the seventh century AD, northern Pakistan and parts of modern Afghanistan formed the Gandhara Kingdom, where Greek and Buddhist customs mixed to create what became the Mahayana strand of the religion.

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