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Opportunities ignored


The massive potential of Pakistan's Katas valley as a tourist spot remains untapped
FIROZ BAKHT AHMED | Issue Dated: May 27, 2012, New Delhi
Tags : Pakistan's Katas valley | tourism in Pakistan |


FirozBakht Ahmed
Commentator on social, 
educational and religious issues
While I was standing in the queue at the Attari-Wagah border passport window, I came across Mishal, a Portuguese tourist who had just visited Pakistan and was entering India. She told me that he had been in Pakistan for two months and had traveled from Swat to Lahore as a tourist. She gushed, “Believe me, there is much more to Pakistan than a bunch of bloodthirsty terrorists and corrupt politicians. It is really an amazing world which is yet to find its potential as a tourist hub.”
Pondering over Mishal’s words, I entered the border to be welcomed by a group of Aitchison College students. After the customary Model United Nations job, I embarked upon a journey across the nation, visiting its monuments, especially the Vedic temples. I was told not to miss Katas Raj Mandir. Nestled away in the eastern part of the great Salt Range, east of Islamabad, lie these temples, also known as Satghara temples for centuries. With the construction of the Islamabad-Lahore motorway which skirts its edge, it is emerging as a popular tourist destination in the region.
It is located on the main road leading from lake Kallar Kahar to Choa Saidan Shah, not far from the lake. Built between the 9th and 11th century, when the Salt Range was part of the powerful Hindu kingdom of Kashmir, this large complex houses several temples most of which, unfortunately, are in a rather derelict condition. There is also a fortress surrounding a pool the fresh water, having a lovely light bluish-green tinge. The pond makes it perhaps the most wondrous of all Pakistani monuments.
History and legend entwine the place. The pool is supposed to have been formed from the tears of Shiva on the death of his wife Parvati. The temples were supposed to be built by the Pandavs of legend. They were supposed to have spent four of their 14 years of exile here. According to General Cunningham, Katas was considered the second largest holy place in Punjab for Hindu pilgrims after Jawala Mukhi. The Persian scholar al Beruni lived and studied here, attempting to measure the circumference of the earth and learning Sanskrit. Eminent ascetic, Paras Nath Jogi drew his last breath in Katas. Guru Nanak also visited the place on Vaisakhi after which Katas came to be known as Nanak Niwas and was a site of contemplation for many large groups of mystics, ascetics and jogis of all colours.
History and legend aside, Katas is one of the most impressive and oldest of Vedic temples. Though I’ve seen some of world’s most famous temples like the ones at Meenakshi, Puri, Akshardham, Ganpati and so on, I found the grandeur and glory that hovered around Katas Raj temple nowhere.
Katas temple has its own tale of woe. Pundit Javed Akram Kumar, who is also the chief of the Katas Raj Parbandh Committee, lamented that the historic temple has been robbed of all its relics, save for a stone carving depicting a god and a goddess, who are sitting, and two female slaves standing on either side. He also fears that smugglers have their eye on the last surviving relic. Kumar accused the Punjab Archaeology Department (PAD) for lack of interest and not providing the temple enough security. 
When I had visited in November 2010, having seen its sorry plight, I had written quite a few letters to the concerned the authorities including Punjab Archaeology Department and even to the president. Though there were no replys, I am informed that the Pakistan Government is considering nominating the temple complex for World Heritage Site status. It is also spending about Rs 20 million in three phases for the restoration of the complex. This is definitely a step in the right direction. 
Kumar however laments that the temple could have been a major tourist attraction, if the government had paid attention to it and advertised it. He says the Katas valley had been famous for its beauty centuries ago. Afnan Khan, a heritage lover from Lahore states, echoes the sentiment. “Pity that no government here has been able to grasp the wonders of this unexplored tourist paradise, with so many wonderful things that exist here to be seen and ‘exploited’” says he. 
Proper restoration would have made this into a major tourist spot, not only for general tourists but also for those religiously inclined. It would also do wonders to the image of Pakistan. The number of people who visit Pakistan as tourists is laughable, especially in comparison to what it could have been. What a pity!
(Views expressed by the author are personal)


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017