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Sunday June 23, 2024

Skardu tourism

By Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani
September 15, 2023

It is well said that mountain tourism changes a person’s life. Once you go for a trip to the mountainous valleys, you are not the same. You end up feeling positive changes in your personality. There is a saying that if world leaders spent a few days climbing a mountain together, then surely all the long-standing issues and problems of the world would be resolved forever.

As the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Taskforce on Gandhara Tourism, I have just concluded my visit to the historical and beautiful city of Gilgit-Baltistan, Skardu, surrounded by the high mountains of Karakoram and the Himalayas. It is famous all around the world because of its high mountains, beautiful meadows, breathtaking lakes and amazing valleys. No doubt, the time spent there is an important part of some of my most pleasant memories.

During the visit, Chairman Senate Sadiq Sanjrani, Chairman Senate Standing Committee on Defense Mushahid Hussain Sayed, Ambassador-at-large of Kartarpur Corridor Sardar Ramesh Singh Arora and others were also present to and similarly mesmerized by the natural scenic beauty of Skardu.

Historically, the capital of Baltistan Division and Skardu District of Gilgit-Baltistan, the city of Skardu has long been an significant cultural center of the Buddhist Tibetan Empire under Songtsen Gampo in the mid 7th-century CE. During the era of Ashoka, Buddhist monks used to travel from here to preach in other regional countries. For thousands of years, numerous trade caravans passed through here on the ancient Silk Road. There were religious, cultural and trade links between the local people living here and the inhabitants of East Turkestan (present-day Xinjiang) across the Karakoram Mountains. This is why Skardu is also known as Little Tibet because of its socio-cultural similarities with Tibet.

During my visit to the Buddha Rock, I learnt that the Buddha image enshrined in the hundreds of years old stone rock is a sacred holy place of worship for the followers of Gautama Buddha. In the past, a large number of Tibetans used to come for religious rites to the Manthal Buddha Rock. Japanese tourists, who were followers of Buddha, told us that even today, it is the desire of every Buddhist to visit the sites of the Gandhara period once in their life. The image of Buddha on the Manthal rock is somehow different from what I observed in Taxila and other Gandhara sites due to the cultural influence of Tibet on Skardu in ancient times.

Although the entire area of Gilgit-Baltistan is attractive for tourists, adventure tourism has a special importance. During the visit, I also had the opportunity to visit the highest cold desert in the world, which turns into a white snowfield in the extreme winter season. Likewise, the Mantokha waterfall, located 80 km from Skardu, is considered one of the largest waterfalls in Pakistan. The salient feature, I was told, is that in severe winter its water falling down from a height of 180 feet used to freeze and presented a very breathtaking scene.

With the arrival of the international flight from Dubai last month, Skardu Airport has been given the status of an international airport. I believe that the promotion of ancient Gandhara rock art can be a source of more attraction for international tourists. Under my proposed Gandhara Corridor, the federal capital Islamabad is to be connected by air route to the capital cities of Buddhist-majority countries to facilitate foreign tourists interested in pilgrimage to the Gandhara-era places in Pakistan.

In my view, if the international flights for Skardu are expanded, the arrival of international tourists could change the destiny of the region. The establishment of the Gandhara Corridor will contribute positively to the stability of the country’s economy, good reputation at the diplomatic level and uplifting the socio-economic conditions of the local population. My advice to everyone is to spare some time out of your busy life and think about visiting the beautiful mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan at least once in your lives.

The writer is a former member of the

National Assembly and patron-in-chief of the Pakistan Hindu Council.

He tweets/posts @RVankwani