PESHAWAR, March 19 reported by Dawn: A South Korean delegation is visiting the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to see the remains of the ancient Gandhara civilisation at the invitation of provincial government.
The delegation members had a safe and secure tour of the area and promised that they would convince their compatriots to promote sightseeing and pilgrimage to the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Pakistan, as they were satisfied with arrangements made for their security.
Pilgrim Lee Won Jong, who is part of the delegation, told reporters that Korean tourists and pilgrims would love to visit places in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which was at the heart of the ancient Gandhara civilisation once they returned home and apprised them of the untroubled, successful visit and great hospitality.
He expressed his willingness that he would share details of his visit with Korea`s chief monk, who wanted to develop archaeological sites and monuments of Gandhara civilisation.
?We will convince our countrymen to come here as this place is our real home. In the next visit, we would like to hold a special session of prayers here,? he said.
The archaeology and museums directorate`s Tourism Corporation of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had invited Koreans to the province so that they could see archeological places and security situation in the province and persuade their countrymen on return to visit them.
Besides Mr Jong, archaeology professor Min Hee Sik, chief executive officer of Win Win private tourism company Park Johg Yung and general manager Kwak Moon Duck firm were also part of the delegation.
Gandhara Crafts and Culture Association, a nongovernmental organisation headed by Korean woman Ester Park, has facilitated the visit.
Director of the archaeology and museums directorate Dr Shah Nazar Khan informed visitors about archaeological sites and monuments in the province.
Ester Park, who is a Korean married to a Pakistani, introduced the delegation to the minister and other officials and said security was the major concern for foreign tourists wanting to visit Pakistan.
?Everyone (in Korea) wants to come here but they are only scared due to security situation,? he said, adding that delegation was so far satisfied with security arrangements.
Along with Korean visitors, provincial archaeology minister Aqil Shah later told a news conference in the museum and said despite facing security challenges, his government was trying hard to woo foreign tourists, especially those from Buddhist countries, to the province, which was a holy place for Buddhists for being at the heart of Gandhara civilisation.
?We want Koreans to come and see the situation here themselves. We have put in place proper arrangements for their security,? he said.
The minister said he would lead a delegation to South Korea next month to promote tourism in the province.
He said during the visit, the provincial government and South Korean government would soon sign a Memorandum of Understanding for preservation and protection of Buddha heritage and Gandhara civilisation.
Mr Shah said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa was in control of more archeological sites and monuments after the decentralisation of the tourism ministry in line with the 18th Constitutional Amendment. He, however, said more control meant more responsibility but hastened to add that the provincial government was capable enough to effectively and efficiently meet the responsibility.The minister said the archaeology department would try to secure all artifacts excavated in the province from provinces and countries.
Curator of Peshawar Museum Professor Nidaullah Sehrai told Dawn that Mr Sik, who visited Peshawar around 12 years ago, found after research that Mara Nanda, a pilgrim, who went to China and Korea and spread Buddhism in Korea, was actually from Chota Lahore (Swabi district) not Central Asia as was generally believed.
?For Buddhists from China, Japan, Nepal and especially Korea, this is a holy place,? he said recalling how buses loaded with tourists would stop at Peshawar Museum more than a decade ago during peaceful days.
He said publicity of Gandhara sites and monuments in Buddhist countries could help revive tourism industry in the conflict-hit province.
Visitors later went to Takht Bhai to see archeological sites, which are on the list of Unesco World Heritage Site.