ISLAMABAD-Buddhist archeological site of Bhamala is considered a significant archeological discovery of Ghandhara civilization; however, the right bank of river Haro, adjacent to the heritage site, is attracting more visitors than the Buddhist era stupas and statues.

An information board fixed on entrance of the archeological site reads that Bhamala, one of the most important Buddhist sites located on right bank of River Haro, was declared as world heritage site in 1980 along with other mountains in Taxila valley.

This site was excavated in 1930-31 by Sir John Marshall. Excavation at Bhamala was resumed in 2012-13, after almost 80 years by the department of archeology, Hazara University, Mansehra in collaboration with university of Wisconsin Madison (USA) and MS University Baroda (India).

The site is around 54 kilometers north from Islamabad and takes two hours to reach the destination, passing Khanpur Dam which was constructed on blue waters of scenic river Haro.

Distance between the Khanpur Dam and the Bhamala archeological site is around 10 kilometers and a dilapidated narrow road, where two vehicles from opposite direction difficultly cross each others, leads a visitor to the heritage site.

Hundreds of visitors, including youth in groups and families, on bikes and vehicles are seen travelling and spreading on right bank of the river. Resorts offering water sports are opened and catching a large number of customers.

Families and youth who cannot afford expensive water sports facilities of the commercial resorts have options of setting their camps on different open spots on the right bank of the river. They can cook, bath, play music and spend all day in scorching heat.

Where people flooded the right bank of river Haro, around one dozen persons were seen at Bhamala archeological site. Bikes and vehicles come close to the site, stop for few minutes, find no parking facility and move ahead down towards the camping site at bank of river Haro.

Above two dozen elevated stairs lead towards the historical archeological site, where on the right side remains of Buddha statues were excavated and preserved, while on the left side a stupa was discovered.

Kher Muhammad, an old man of above seventy years is guarding the statues so that no visitor touches or damages the remains. “It was a large plateau, someone found an idol from here around five years ago and informed government which took this land and discovered these remains,” he said.

Kher Muhammad, moving a plastic cover from one out of 9 statues remains said that visitors come to the site take their pictures and move down to the river side.

Abdullah Zahid, a visitor from Jehlum, said that there was lack of knowledge in people about historical significance of this rich heritage. He said that in fact the staff on such sites is generally unaware about the archeological and historical importance of Gandhara civilization.

“People prefer spending day on river, but don’t bother learning about rich archeological discovery,” he said.

The information board explains that the excavations have brought to light a large number of important archeological artifacts (terracotta and stucco sculptures, coins, iron, copper objects) as well as structural remains including the second main stupa surrounded by a subsidiary stupa and chapples adorned with stucco sculptures.

But the most remarkable discovery made during these excavations was a 14-meter long lining Buddha made of dressed block of Kanjur stone.

The colossal Buddha image is placed on a stone platform inside a long chamber. Like other monumental images of reclining Buddha reported from Afghanistan and Tajkistan, the Bhamala Buddha is also facing towards the main stupa, it said.

It said that the monumental Buddha image from Bhamala is the earliest representation of Parinirvana Buddha made during 3rd century Common Era (CE) predating all the known colossal Parinirvana images reported from the surrounding regions including Ajanta (India) Tappa Sardar and Bamiyan (Afghanistan), Adhzihna Tepe (Tajkistan), Daunghaung (China) and Chui Valley (Kirghizstan).

Riaz, a local resident, while parking his bike near the archeological site said that he stopped his bike here and will walk down to the river and have some quality time with his friends.

About visiting the archeological site, he said, “I have no time to see statues and stupas”.