Islamabad: A group of South Koreans, including monks and a former army chief, has chipped in to help revive religious tourism at famous Buddhist sites in militancy-hit Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of northwest Pakistan.
A 19-member delegation from South Korea launched the "Gandhara Peace Caravan" by participating in religious rituals at the Dharmarajika Stupa built by Emperor Ashoka at Taxila in the 2nd century AD.
The delegation, currently on a five-day official visit at the invitation of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Tourism Minister Aqil Shah, is led by monk Hwa Ran and former army chief Park Hee Doo.
It includes scholars, academics and tour operators.
The Awami National Party-led government in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has been making a concerted push to preserve and promote tourism at the province`s numerous Buddhist sites.
Monk Hwal-An-Han told reporters that the South Korean delegation`s visit will play a key role in reviving religious tourism in Pakistan.
He said the team would convince others in South Korea to visit Pakistan for pilgrimage as they were satisfied with the security arrangements.
The government and foreign missions in Pakistan should join hands to preserve and restore the "great spiritual inheritance at Takht Bahi Buddhist remains" to promote peace and harmony, the monk was quoted as saying by a newspaper.
"Everyone (in South Korea) wants to come here but they are only scared due to the security situation," former army chief Park Hee Doo said.
Lee Won Jong, secretary general of the South Korean Gandhara Cultural Association, said South Korean tourists and pilgrims would love to visit sites at Taxila and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, which was at the heart of the ancient Gandhara civilisation.
Easter Park, another official of the Association, said collective efforts should be made to revive the glory of the Gandhara era by setting up a research centre for Gandhara art and Buddhist philosophy.
The Association planned to revive the 3,000-year-old university of Taxila with modern facilities, she said.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Tourism Department official Zahoor Durrani said the South Korean delegation was invited to the province so that it could assess the security situation in the province and persuade others to visit the historic and religious sites.
The South Korean delegation visited the historic Julian monastery, the Taxila university and Sirkap, the second city of the ancient Gandhara civilisation.
A sizeable number of Hindus and Sikhs visit religious sites in Pakistan every year though tourism at Buddhist sites in the country`s northwest has suffered due to militancy and widespread violence.