islamabad - Heritage sites of Taxila have experienced a serious downfall in number of tourists during the last decade, while negligence of the government towards this world heritage has also contributed in devaluation of historic places there.

Taxila city is located around 35 kilometres away in the north-west of Islamabad in the district of Rawalpindi. Most of the archaeological sites declared as world heritage are found around the museum.

In 1980, UNESCO declared the heritage sites of Taxila as world heritage, while The Guardian described it as Pakistan’s top five tourist attractions in the country. But currently the situation has reversed.

A few years back Global Heritage Fund warned in its report that the heritage site is on the verge of danger. Now, drastic decrease in number of local and foreign tourists visiting these sites is also alarming for the tourism industry here.

“Till 2007, fifty percent of the visiting tourists here were foreigners, but now only 3 to 5 percent are foreign nationals,” said Waseem-ud-Din, an employee of the PTDC resort in Taxila. He also said that most of the people now visiting here are locals who want to spend time outside their homes; however little rush is seen on weekends when people from other cities come here.

Malik Mubashir, a guide on a heritage site of Dharmachika stated that around 100 tickets are sold on weekends and the majority of tourists are local. “Foreigners visit here very rarely, once or twice a month,” he said.

Remembering “good times” he stated that before terrorism hit the country, a large number of tourists were used to come here, but now foreign tourists’ visits here are once in a blue moon.

“Since this wall has been built on the front of the site, following the orders of the security departments, local tourists also return back because the site has become invisible from outside,” he added.

Most of the foreign tourists interested in visiting this heritage site of Gandhara Civilization are from China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Korea and Thai land, while European nationals also come here for tourism and research.

But, museum curator Abdul Nasir is not much agreed with the version, as in his view tourists ratio has increased this year and is increasing gradually. “From 2007-15 mostly foreign nationals visiting here were diplomatic delegations indeed, but from this year we are receiving non-diplomatic and individual foreign tourists also,” he said.

After 18th amendment archaeology departments were devolved to the provinces and Taxila Museum is being administered by the department of archaeology of Punjab.

There are around 50 archaeological sites in a radius of 30 kilometres around Taxila. Some of the most visited sites in Rawalpindi district are Dhamarajika Stupa, Bhir Mound, Sirkap, Mohra Muradu and Jandial Temple, while Jaulian Monastery is in KP province now.

Another official while talking to The Nation said that no improvement is expected in archaeology and industry related to it here, because it is not the priority of the government. He said although the province has more funds than Centre now, yet it lacks vision. “The government will allocate millions of rupees for development if demanded, but nothing will be allocated for research and publicity of this world heritage, and this is the basic problem,” he added.

But, the claim of “development fund” also looks far away from the reality because on most of the heritage sites there is no arrangement of basic facilities for tourists. Washrooms were built, but they lacked electricity and water facilities.

When The Nation inquired from an official on the site what they do in case any foreign tourist wants to use washroom here, he replied, “We send him back to the museum.”

The museum itself has no alternate arrangement of loadshedding and the tourists used their mobile torches to see the relics and remains placed inside the museum in the absence of light.

Although law and order situation of the country in the last decade affected tourism industry in the country, yet the situation of Taxila heritage sites also reflects that the competent authorities have no tourism plan to pull the crowds of tourists towards this area.

Abdul Nasir told The Nation that the museum does not have its own website in this modern time of internet from where people from all over the world can get information about this area.

A female university student at the site of Mohra Muradu said that there are some administrative issues on sites, while there must be some publicity for tourists regarding the importance of this heritage.

Saqib Abbas who along with his nine family members have reached here from Karachi stated that the authorities must take some measures to attract tourists here. “The area has been declared as world heritage, but there are no such facilities meeting that standard.”

The curator said the government can earn millions and billions of revenue from here by only shifting some focus on promotion and publicity of these heritage sites. According to him, in the month of May their department displayed relics of Buddha in Sri Lanka in an exhibition and the response they receive there cannot be explained in words. “Hundreds and thousands of people thronged in exhibition to see the relics.”

Only Pakistan, China and Sri Lanka hold the relics of Lord Buddha in the world, and Pakistan can attract millions of tourists because of the significance of these cultural assets, he added.

When The Nation asked about the maintenance of sites, mentioning the grown wild grass and other microorganisms, he replied that museum authority is always keen to keep these sites in presentable condition for tourists, but in monsoon it became difficult because “machine” doesn’t properly work on grass and soil.

Another official who wished anonymity stated that there is less hope of improvement in this current situation because this world heritage is not on the priority list of the government.

“All the correspondence of the museum is being done with the SDO engineers in Lahore, in this situation, what you can hope about increasing tourism here,” he said.

“The government gives us the leftover from the funds, then how we can make tourism plan to appeal tourists here,” said Abdul Nasir.

–The writer is a freelance contributor