Pakistan Buddhist Heritage Tour Overview
This unforgettable Journey takes you to visit the most important pilgrimage sacred sites within the Buddhist religion. Admire the stunning structural design and take glimpse of art collections. Pakistan Buddhist Heritage Tour is a superb trip of great moral importance or eminence of sites of Taxila, Takhat Bai, Swat, Chakdara, Mansehra and Peshawar. The journey offers you the opportunity of knowing the earlier life Buddha also known as Siddhartha Gautama. All these Buddhist sites are matchless in their own way. Take up the best experience.
Pakistan Buddhist Heritage Tour Highlights
- Visit the most holy sites and destinations in Pakistan
- Step closer to birth pace of Buddhism; try to understand the faith, and the unique related activities there.
- If you are a believer, just take a pilgrim along the way and enjoy the spectacular scenery and profound culture in this land.
- enjoy the amazing and mysterious places, mountains, temples & stupas in scared places!
- Encounter the paths trodden by Buddha in all their splendour and majesty
Pakistan Buddhist Heritage Tour Itinerary
ARRIVAL in ISLAMABAD
One of our staff will meet you at the airport and escort you to the hotel. Today either you can relax or (depending upon your arrival time) you can enjoy an exploratory walk in he old part of Rawalpindi; wander past the vegetable and spice markets, beautifully carved old houses and trucks, cows pestering the vegetable vendors, catch traditional craftsmen at work in silver and gold bazaars .You will then continue on the main street linking the Twin cities – Murree Road – before arriving at the gleaming new capital, Islamabad. You pass shining new buildings and thousands of park areas – a full 50 percent of the 350 square mile site is set aside for parks. You will then stop at the Shakar Parian to catch a bird’s eye view of Islamabad. Our next stop will be Shah Faisal Mosque which is the landmark of Islamabad.
ISLAMABAD - TAXILA
Today we will start our journey towards Taxila,” The World Oldest Existing City”, 32 kilometers from Islamabad spanning a rich history from 516 B.C to 600 A.D. In the 6th century B.C, the Achaemenians of Persia made it the Gandharan capital. Alexander the Great paused here en route from Swat.
Situated strategically on a branch of the Silk Road, Taxila linked China to the West, Taxila reached its apogee between the 1st and 5th centuries. It is now one of the most important archaeological sites in Asia. The ruins of the four settlement sites at Taxila reveal the pattern of urban evolution on the Indian subcontinent through more than five centuries.
The Mauryan emperor Ashoka, a patron of Buddhism, built a university here in 2nd century B.C biggest of its time in the world, to which pilgrims and scholars came from all over Asia. It requires two days to explore this richest archaeological sites of Asia but we will spent one day to view its excellent museum houses one of the best collections of Gandharan Buddhist in the world. Most of the archaeological sites of Taxila (600 BC to 500 AD) are located around Taxila Museum. For over the thousand years, Taxila remained famous as a center of learning Gandhara art of Sculpture, architecture, education, and Buddhism in the days of Buddhist glory. There are over 50 archaeological sites scattered in a radius of 30 kms around Taxila. Some of the most important sites are: Dhamarajika Stupa and Monastery (300 BC 200 AD), Bhir Mound (600-200 BC), Sirkap (200 BC 600 AD), Jandial Temple (c.250 BC) and Julian Monastery (200- 600 AD).
One of these sites, the Bihr mound, is associated with the historic event of the triumphant entry of Alexander the Great into Taxila. The archaeological sites of Saraikala, Bhir, Sirkap, and Sirsukh are collectively of unique importance in illustrating the evolution of urban settlement on the Indian subcontinent. The prehistoric mound of Saraikala represents the earliest settlement of Taxila, with evidence of Neolithic, Bronze Age, and Iron Age occupation. The Bhir mound is the earliest historic city of Taxila, and was probably founded in the 6th century BC by the Achaemenians. Its stone walls, house foundations, and winding streets represent the earliest forms of urbanization on the subcontinent. Bihr is also associated with Alexander the Great’s triumphant entry into Taxila in 326 BC. Sirkap was a fortified city founded during the mid-2nd century BC. The many private houses, stupas, and temples were laid out on the Hellenistic grid system and show the strong Western classical influence on local architecture. The city was destroyed in the 1st century by the Kushans, a Central Asian tribe. To the north, excavations of the ruins of the Kushan city of Sirsukh have brought to light an irregular rectangle of walls in ashlar masonry, with rounded bastions. These walls attest to the early influence of Central Asian architectural forms on those of the subcontinent.
The Taxila serial site also includes Khanpur cave, which has produced stratified microlithic tools of the Mesolithic period, and a number of Buddhist monasteries and stupas of various periods. Buddhist monuments erected throughout the Taxila valley transformed it into a religious heartland and a destination for pilgrims from as far afield as Central Asia and China. Other Buddhist archaeological sites at Taxila include the Khader Mohra grouping, the Kalawan grouping, the Giri monasteries, the Kunala stupa and monastery, the Jandial complex, the Lalchack and the Badalpur stupa remains and monasteries, the Pipplian and the Bahalar stupa and remains.
TAXILA - PESHAWAR
After breakfast we will start our journey towards Peshawar. Aftr 10 kms on grand trunk road we will stop at Wah Moghul Garden which is a pale reflection of the Moghul Garden in Srinagar and being laid out by the Moghul emperor Akber in late 16th century. It was a favorite resort of Akber and Jahangir on their journeys to Kashmir. Our next stop is Hasan Abdal a sacred place of Sikhs and Hindus. The seventh century Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Xuan Zang who stayed here recorded in his journal that a water tank dedicated to the Hindu serpent King Elapatra. Next we stop at 16th century hotel with four rows of small rooms set around a huge court yard on the junction of River Indus and River Kabul where ladies of Mughals families use to stay. Attock’s massive fort’s, built by Mughal Emperor Akber in 1581 AD. view can get from the new bridge on River Indus. Next we pass by a town Jahangira laid out by Emperor Jahangir in 16th century. Peshawar is further 43 kilometers from Jehangira passing through Nowshera, a beautiful and well maintained cantonment by British in 18th century.
In Peshawar our first stop will be Peshawar Museum formerly Victoria Memorial Hall built in 1905. It has one of the best collection of Gandhara art and sculptures illustrating the life of the Buddha are laid out in chronological order. The ethnological section has a Mughal Gallery. Our next stop will be the massive Bala Hisar Fort built by Emperor Babur in 1530. Mughals really turned Peshawar into a city of flowers by planting trees and laying out gardens. In the evening we will go out for bazar tour which is the most exciting part of the tour as its elements date from Sikh, Mughal and even Buddhist time. The Qissa Khawani Bazaar was described by the British Commissioner in Peshawar, Sir Herbert Edwardes as the Piccadilly of Central Asia. You will see people sitting there, sipping green tea and gossiping for hours and hours. Quick visit of Peshawar university, a beautiful and imposing colonial architecture with vast grassy lawns recall us the gone days of British era. Other places we visit are Khyber Bazaar, Chowk Yadgar, Banjara Bazaar and Mohabat Khan Mosque built in the 1670s.
A walk through Sarafa Bazaar (jewellers bazaar) will allow you to measure the degree of adoration that the Pakistani women have for the yellow metal, the gold Chappal kabab restaurants and small tea houses (Qehwa Khana) along the road sides could be an interesting experience.
Note: If you like, your guide will take you to visit the carpet market located at hardly 5 minutes drive from your hotel. Here, you will find a very large variety of Pakistani, Iranian and Afghan carpets and rugs. Pakistan is known in the world for its top quality carpets and for such a purchase, Peshawar is certainly the ideal place where prices are reasonably low compared to the other parts of the country.
PESHAWAR –TAKHT BHAI –SWAT
We leave today after breakfast for Swat, a picturesque northern Pakistan valley towards north east. It has a rich historical past, too. The “Udayana” (Golden) of the ancient Hindu epics; the land of enthralling beauty, where Alexander of Macedonia fought and won some of his major battles before crossing over the plans of Pakistan. This is the “valley of hanging chains” described by the famous Chinese pilgrim chronices, Huain Tsang and Fa-Hian in the fifth and sixth centuries. Swat was also the historical land where the Muslim conquerors, Mahmud Ghaznavi, Babar and Akbar fought their battles preparatory to conquest of South Asia. En route we visit the Bala Hisar mound at a distance of 28 kilometers dating back to 2500 years old and the capital of Gandhara from sixth century B.C to second century A.D. According to Herodotus , the Greek historian writing in about 460 B.C Darius sent the explorer Scylax of Caryanda to sail down from here and find the sea. Gandhara remained with Achaemenid Empire for next 200 years until its overthrow by Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.
Our next stop will be at Takht e Bahi Buddhist monastery of first century A.D. It has 38 votive stupas and the largest statues must have been 33 feet high donated by rich pilgrims, supposed to enshrine the ashes of Lord Buddha and surrounded by the chapels. Then we will see the cells of Monks in the Monastery Court. These cells are believed to be originally plastered and painted in different colours.
The next part of our journey is to Chakdara passing through the Malakand Pass. Photo stop at the top of this pass will allow admire superb panoramic views over the valley. There is also a Fort built by the British. There are also a few Churchill Piquets all along the Pass. These security check posts were used by the British army to watch the movements of local Pathan tribes who fought against them. Despite the heavy fights that lasted years, the British army never succeeded in defeating local tribes who posed them fierce resistance. In fact, British controlled the whole subcontinent except this zone which is now known as Khyber Pakhtoonkhaw. Next is Chakdara Fort, which was built by Emperor Akbar in 16th century and now in use of Army. We will be in Fiza Ghat by evening for overnight stay.
ANDAN DHERI CHAKDARA
Today after breakfast, we will visit Chakdara which also has 3500 years old graveyard still in use, Buddhist monasteries of first century A.D and Hindu Shahi forts on the hill top.
According to tradition, Gandhara is also thought to be the location of the mystical Lake Dhanakosha, birthplace of Padmasambhava, founder of Tibetan Buddhism. The Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism identifies the lake with the Andannd Dherai stupa. A spring was said to flow from the base of the stupa to form the lake. From here over 500 pieces of Gandhara sculpture were recovered.
Damkot hill has Six boulders with Buddhist carving mostly of Padmapani date to sixth and seven century. The Aryaans forerunners of the Hindus arrived from Central Asia and settled here in 1700 BC and also composed world oldest religious text “The Rigveda”. Then we will visit ancient site of Chat Pat and Chakdara museum. This museum has a rich collection from first century to seventh century Buddhist Gandharan sculpture and of Hindu Shahi period. Massive ruins of the castle of Raja Giri , the last Hindu ruler of eight century , scattered up the hill side. Evening Drive back to Hotel.
BUTKARA, ODERAM & SAIDU SHARIF
Today we will spent most of the time in visiting historical Buddhist sacred places. After breakfast we will move to Saidu Sharif Museum which has collection of Gandharan sculpture and ethnographic section featuring local embroidery, carved wood and tribal embroidery. Our next stop will be Butkara Stupa built in second century BC by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. The stupa was excavated by an Italian mission led by archaeologist Domenico Faccenna from 1956, to clarify the various steps of the construction and enlargements.The stupa was enlarged on five occasions during the following centuries, every time by building over, and encapsulating, the previous structure. The mission established that the stupa was “monumentalized” by the addition of Hellenistic architectural decorations during the 2nd century BCE, suggesting a direct involvement of the Indo-Greeks, rulers of northwestern India during that period, in the development of Greco-Buddhist architecture. An Indo-Corinthian capital representing a Buddhist devotee within foliage has been found which had a reliquary and a coins of Azes II buried at its base, securely dating the sculpture to earlier than 20 BCE.
After this we will visit Odegram. Aurel Stein identified this with Ora, a city where Alexander fought one of his battles. Italian archaeologists excavated this site in the 1950s. This site was occupied from 1000 BC to the 14th century AD.
During the Hindu Shahi period from the 8th century to the 10th century this was the regional capital of Swat. Ruins of Raja Gira’s Fort, the last Hindu ruler, were excavated by the Italians in the 1950s. The first mosque; Mahmud Ghaznavi Mosque built in Swat was excavated in 1985 below the Hindu Shahi Fort in 1985. Evening back to hotel.
After breakfast we will visit Birkot, present day name of the ancient “Bazira”, which was besieged by Alexander the Great. Ancient fortifications by the name of Barikot-Ghwandai, located on the outskirts of the town, are being excavated by an Italian Archaeological mission since 1984. This town is situated on ancient route on the River Swat from Nawa Pass. Here ancient route take a turn to south through Karakar Pass into Buner which further lead to Shahbaz Garhi in Peshawar Valley.
The oldest layer built of bricks and stone probably corresponds to the fortress besieged by Alexander. However, no traces of the Macedonian occupation have been found yet. The sequent layers consist of fortifications built by the Indo-Greek kings. A stone wall in Hellenistic style was built around the city, with equidistant quadrangular bastions, all according to Attic measurements. Ruins of palatial quarters as well as areas related to the Buddhist have been unearthed During the Kushan period, Barikot experienced rapid development with the creation of building dedicated to workmanship. Barikot has become a very important archaeological site, rivaling Taxila, for the study of history in northern Pakistan. A large quantity of the artefacts are preserved in the National Museum of Oriental Art of Rome, and the MAO in Turin. Then we will visit Gumbat Stupa, which is situated 9 kilometres south of Barikot, in the Kandag Valley. This is one of the best preserved stupas of Swat. It consists of a cell of about 12 feet square with windows. It is surrounded on all sides by a narrow passage intended to walk around sacred images while worshipping. Before Gumbat is a large building known as Kanjar Kot, meaning Dancer’s Mansion. After it, we will visit Shingerdar Stupa. The stupa stands in the mouth of a small glen descending from a bare spur above the valley plain. 1.5 kilometers from Shingerdar is a large Buddha Carving on a cliff facing the road. After it will go to Gogdara Rock Carvings. These 3000-year-old engraving consist of different animals. There are some carvings that show people driving two-wheeled war chariots. These carvings were probably works of ancient Aryans. On the same rock there are some Buddhist carvings.
Evening we will hike to Mount Elam, 2811 meter High Mountain is considered sacred since ancient times. In the valley of Amluk-Dara near the foot of Mount Ilam is the ruin of a stupa.
After breakfast we will visit Takar Dara Stupa and monastery on the way to Karakar pass.
The site consists of a large stupa, the associated monastery, living quarters, assembly hall, and an aqueduct cave, two other stupas and several unidentified remains.’
The Large Stupa is probably the best preserved in this area, consists of a hemispherical dome, upper and lower drums resting on a square podium and socle. The stupa court is 32m long to south-north and 72m east-west, fortified by a wall. The main stupa was surrounded by the votive stupas which have been completely destroyed by unauthorized diggers. Faint traces of the votive stupa can still be seen.
The stupa stands to a height of 15m from the ground level and the square plinth of the stupa is measuring 22x22m. Seven steps of a staircase in the middle which is 05.50m in width on the west side, lead to the top of the podium. The main stupa had originally four columns at the four corners of the berm of the square storey, which is indeed a peculiar feature; Such style of structural composition may be seen in the main stupas of Saidu and Gumbatuna. The exterior of the stupa is executed in diaper pattern originally covered by the coating of lime plaster.
The drum of dome which measures 10.67m in diameter, is decorated with two cornices framed as usual by thin vertical slabs of stone projecting at intervals between horizontal courses.
Above the stupa and at a distance of 12m from the southern side of its lowest base, there rises a large walled terrace, measuring 53x53m, containing extensive remains of a monastic quadrangle.
This monastery is rectangular in plan, with its major axis running south-north. It has two entrances: one on the north leading to the main stupa and another on the south leading to an assembly hall. There are six domed cells, square in shape, measuring 03.35m which occupy each side of the Complex. Some of the cells still reserved the vaulted roof. There are ventilators and small niches in each cells for keeping statues or lamps.
Near the south-western corner of the monastery court, there are the high walls of a big hall probably used as an assembly hall for the Buddhist community, measuring 16x15m and 06m height from the ground level. To the east the assembly hall, lie the remains of another ruined stupa enclosed by walls on three sides. The stupa depicts a square plinth measuring 13.71×13.71m with base moulding and stands square to a height of 04.26m. The stupa is ascended by flight of steps with 04.26m width from the north. The stupa is built in large dressed slabs of stones. The stupas were originally graced with Corinthian pilasters, traces of which can still be seen. Ruins of isolated cells lie on the slope of the valley against the rock.
On the eastern side of the glen, about 45m above the monastic quandrangle, lies a cave with its high entrance which is blocked about half of its height by a wall. This cave was probably used by the monks for meditation.
In the area along the streamlet, are the remains of an aqueduct for the purpose of bringing water for domestic use, ablution and also for irrigation purpose. Below the aqueduct, there are the remains of another ruined stupa about 1.82m in height.
SWAT - JAHANABAD Seated Buddha- BESHAM
After breakfast our journey starts towards Jahan abad seated Buddha. This huge image of a seated Buddha carved into a high rock face of reddish color that rises on the hillside to the southwest of Janabad (Shakhorai) village. From the village we will hike to the sites. The Buddha figure is about 7 meters in height and is certainly the most impressive piece of sculpture to be seen in Gandahara region.
This excellent figure of the Buddha is seated on a high throne in the attitude of mediation. The snail shell curls of this Buddha are very carefully rendered. Buddha’s eyes are more than half closed, there is a prominent Ushnisha and long ear lobes. The folds of the robe are stringy, with a planned alteration of high and low ridges. Though the figure exhibits the Gandahara style in the drapery with pleats and the hair, the rather solemn, powerful form of the torso and representation of the folds of the robe are in agreement with the usual form adopted in the area for the other figures of the Buddha.
Afterward we will proceed to Shangla pass, 2125m, and descent down to Behsam in Kohistan with a spectacular landscape view all around. If time allows and if you are lucky enough, you will probably witness the sunset at the top of this Pass.
BESHAM - MANSEHRA - ISLAMABAD
After breakfast we will drive back to Islamabad on historic Karakoram Highway, which connect Pakistan with china stretching over a distance of 1300km between Islamabad and Kashgar, winding through three mountain ranges and following the ancient Silk route along the Indus valley to the Chinese border at Khunjerab Pass. We will be stopping at scenic points for photo ops and also in Manserha to visit Ashoka Rock Eddicts.
Mansehra Rock Edicts are fourteen edicts of the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, inscribed on rocks in Mansehra. The edicts are cut into three boulders and date back to 3rd century BC and they are written in the ancient Indic script of Gandhara culture, Kharosthi. The edicts mention aspects of Ashoka’s dharma. This site is World Heritage Sites tentative list.
After Manserha rock edicts visit, we will pass through the alpine scenery of Gallyat and Murree, summer hill station of British times, towards Islamabad.Evening back to Islamabad and after farewell dinner, proceed to airport for onward flight out of country.
Drive: 5-6 hrs.
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From early childhood a place somewhere beyond the horizon was where I wanted to be and in the passing years since, I have made it my goal to satisfy that yearning! growing up in Baltistan gave me a great love for that part of the world, from K2 to Nanga Parbat to makin the first venture on Gondogoro la and much in between.
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