PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) government has decided to establish a dedicated authority to boost tourism industry in the province.
New projects are also planned by the provincial government to promote religious tourism in particular — giving much hope of a business boom to tour operators in the province.
“The proposed Tourism Authority would include representatives from the tourism, communication and works and local government departments, and all these departments would work jointly,” said the provincial Minister for Tourism, Atif Khan, while talking to Arab News.
Khan added that the new autonomous authority would ensure efficient coordination between different departments for the promotion of tourism.
“Currently, a lot of time is wasted under the existing mechanism when authorities approach another department for construction of a road to a certain area or the provision of some other facility,” he added.
The KP government also plans to launch a project worth Rs 500 million to promote religious tourism, Khan told Arab News. “This would also entail facilities for historical sites which are considered holy by Buddhists,” he said.
New hotels would also be opened to provide accommodation to foreign tourists under this religious tourism project.
The South Korean embassy in Islamabad has expressed willingness to work on the heritage sites in KP since many sites are considered holy by Buddhist monks, said Khan.
“Takht Bhai relics are also among the world heritage sites,” he added.
“There is a centuries-old Hindu temple in Bughdada area in the Mardan district, but there are no facilities for those who wish to stay at the place,” Khan continued.
Shamsher Khan, a local tour operator, told Arab News: “We also have the world-famous Takht Bhai archaeological complex that is considered sacred by Buddhist monks across the world, but there is no hotel for foreigners to stay in the area.”
“The decision to establish a tourism authority is a positive step because KP has much potential for tourism compared with other areas of the country, and we need to focus more on it,” said Nazir Ahmed, another tour operator.
Nawazud Din, research officer at the KP Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, said: “Peshawar has Gor Gutri’s complex, which is holy for Hindus and Buddhists. The complex is around 400 years old.”
He added that the directorate is also working to set up a park at Elum Mountain in Buner district, which is a holy place for Hindus and Buddhists alike.
“Before the 9/11 attacks, foreigners, especially Buddhists, used to visit the archaeological sites in KP. However, due to the wave of terrorism that hit this region, many stopped coming and now their younger generation is unaware of such sites in KP, said Din.
“We plan to promote religious tourism through exhibitions, online portals and printed books about such sites in KP,” Din added.
Gurpal Singh, an elder of the Sikh community in Peshawar, says that the government should revive the religious places of all communities.
“Now that peace has been restored, the government should give visas to foreigners and facilitate foreign tourists to visit the country. The Gurdwaras [temples] of Sikhs should also be opened for tourists,” he added.