Mar 28 - Apr 3, 20

Pakistan is endowed with a rich and varied flora and fauna. High Himalayas, Karakoram and the Hindukush ranges with their alpine meadows and permanent snow line, coniferous forests down the sub-mountain scrub, the vast Indus plain merging into the great desert, the coastline and wetlands, all offer a remarkably rich variety of vegetation and associated wildlife including avifauna, both endemic and migratory. Ten of 18 mammalian orders are represented in Pakistan with species ranging from the world's smallest surviving mammals, the Mediterranean Pigmy Shrew, to the largest mammal ever known; the blue whale.

Northern areas of Pakistan spread over 72,496 sq Km are as fascinating as its southern region. Amidst towering snow-clad peaks with heights varying from 1000 meter to over 8000 meters, the valleys of Gilgit, Hunza and Skardu recall Shangri-La. The cultural patterns in this region are as interesting as its topography.

The people with typical costumes, folk dances, music, and sports like polo and buzkashi provide the tourists an unforgettable experience. Nowhere in the world, there is such a great concentration of high mountains, peaks, glaciers and passes except Pakistan. Of the 14 over 8000 peaks on earth, four occupy an amphitheater at the head of Baltoro glacier in the Karakoram Range. These are K-2 (8611 m, world second highest), Broad Peak (8047m), Gasherbrum I (8068m) and Gasherbrum II (8035m). There is yet another, which is equally great, that is, Nanga Parbat (8126m) at the western most ends of the Himalayas.

In addition to that, there are 68 peaks over 7000 meters and hundreds which are over 6000 meters. The Northern Pakistan has some of the longest glaciers outside Polar region; Siachen (72 km), Hispar (61 km), Biafo (60 km), Baltoro (60 km), Batura (64 km), Yenguta (35 km), Chiantar (34 km), Trich (29 km) and Atrak (28 km). The lower Himalayan valleys of Swat, Kaghan and Chitral in the Hindukush range equally share the beauty and diverse culture of the Northern Pakistan.

Pakistan is important for many religions of the world. The Indus Valley gave rise to one of the first great civilizations. Mahayana Buddhism also developed here as did the Sikh religion under Guru Nanak.

Pakistan was created in the Indus Valley specifically to provide the Muslims of South Asia with a state of their own, and there are very few countries where religion plays such an important role in the lives of people.

Muslims make up over 98 percent of the population of Pakistan, about one percent of the population is Christian. The Hindus, mostly nomads living in the South account for less than one percent. In Karachi, Lahore, Rawalpindi and Quetta there are small communities of Buddhists and there are a tiny group of Kalash living in Chitral on the Afghan border.

Chukundi Tomb located on 27 kms on the National Highway has clusters of unusual graves in the shape of stepped pyramids. The distinguishing features of these graves are the superb carving and engraving of the slabs with various designs of jewellery, floral patterns and even horses and their riders.

Gandhara is the region that now comprise of Peshawar valley, Mardan, Swat, Dir, Malakand, and Bajuaur agencies in Khyber Pukhtunkwah (KP), Taxila in the Punjab, and up to Jalalabad in Afghanistan. It is in this region that the Gandhara civilization emerged and became the cradle of Buddhism. It was from here that Buddhism spread towards east as far away as Japan and Korea.

The intriguing record of Gandhara civilization, discovered in the 20th century, are found in the archeological sites spread over Taxila, Swat and other parts of KP. The rock carving and the petroglyphs along the ancient Silk Road (Karakoram Highway) also provide fascinating record of the history of Gandhara.

Taxila is the abode of many splendid Buddhist establishments. Taxila, the main centre of Gandhara, is over 3,000 years old. Taxila had attracted Alexander the great from Macedonia in 326 BC, with whom the influence of Greek culture came to this part of the world. Taxila later came under the Mauryan dynasty and reached a remarkable matured level of development under the great Ashoka. During the year 2 BC, Buddhism was adopted as the state religion, which flourished and prevailed for over 1,000 years, until the year 10 AD. During this time Taxila, Swat and Charsadda became three important centers for culture, trade and learning.

Hundreds of monasteries and Stupas were built together with Greek and Kushan towns such as Sirkap and Sirsukh. The Gandhara civilization was not only the centre of spiritual influence but also the cradle of the world famous Gandhara culture, art and learning. It was from these centers that a unique art of sculpture originated which is known as Gandhara Art all over the world. Today the Gandhara sculptures occupy a prominent place in the museums of UK, France, Germany, USA, Japan, Korea, China, India and Afghanistan, together with many private collections world over, as well as a vast collection in the museums of Pakistan. Buddhism left a monumental and rich legacy of art and architecture in Pakistan. Despite the vagaries of centuries, the Gandhara region preserved a lot of the heritage in craft and art. Much of this legacy is visible even today in Pakistan.

The very earliest examples of Buddhist art are not iconic but aniconic images and were popular in the Sub-continent even after the death of the Buddha. This is because the Buddha himself did not sanction personal worship or the making of images. As Siddhatha Guatama was a Buddha, a self-perfected, self-enlightened human being, he was a human role model to be followed but not idolized. Of himself he said, 'Buddha's only point the way'. This is why the earliest artistic tributes to the Buddha were abstract symbols indicative of major events and achievements in his last life, and in some cases his previous lives. Some of these early representations of the Buddha include the footprints of the Buddha, which were often created at a place where he was known to have walked. Among the aniconic images, the footprints of the Buddha were found in the Swat valley and, now can be seen in the Swat Museum.

When Buddha passed away, His relics (or ashes) were distributed to seven kings who built stupas over them for veneration. The emperor Ashoka was later said to have dug them out, and distributed the ashes over a wider area, and built 84,000 stupas. With the stupas in place, to dedicate veneration, disciples then initiated 'stupa pujas'. With the proliferation of Buddhist stupas, stupa pujas evolved into a ritual act.

Harmarajika stupa (Taxila) and Butkarha (Swat) stupa at Jamal Garha were among the earliest stupas of Gandhara. These had been erected on the orders of king Ashoka and contained the real relics of the Buddha.

At first, the object of veneration was the stupa itself. In time, this symbol was replaced by a more sensitive human image. The Gandhara schools are probably credited with the first representation of the Buddha in human form, the portrayal of Buddha in his human shape, rather than shown as a symbol.

As Buddhist art developed and spread outside India, the styles developed here were imitated. For example, in China the Gandhara style was imitated in images made of bronze, with a gradual change in the features of these images.

Swat is known throughout the world as the holy land of Buddhist learning and piety. Swat acquired fame as a place of Buddhist pilgrimage. Buddhist tradition holds that the Buddha himself came to Swat during his last reincarnation as the Guatama Buddha and preached to the people here. It is said that the Swat was filled with fourteen hundred imposing and beautiful stupas and monasteries, which housed as many as 6,000 gold images of the Buddhist pantheon for worship and education. There are now more than 400 Buddhist sites covering and area of 160 Km in Swat valley only. Among the important Buddhist excavation in swat an important one is Butkarha-I, containing the original relics of the Buddha.

Pakistan is a treasure house of Muslim architecture. Lahore, the cultural hub of Pakistan, is situated along the bank of Ravi River. The city has witnessed the rise and fall of many dynasties like Ghaznavis (1021-1186 AD), Ghoris (1186-1202 AD) and Slaves (1206-1524 AD) before the arrival of the Mughals. The city was conquered by Babur of Ferghana (situated in Uzbekistan), the founder of the Mughal dynasty (1524-1764 AD).

All the important monuments like the Royal Fort and the Mosque, Wazir Khan's Mosque, Tombs of Jehangir, Asif Jah, Noor Jehan and the Shalimar Gardens, Hiran Minar etc., were constructed during this period. On the other hand, the shrines, mosques and forts located in and around Multan and Bahawalpur are masterpieces of the early Muslim architecture. Some important buildings are forts at Multan and Derawar (Bahawalpur), shrines of Shaikh Bahauddin Zakaria, Shah Rukan-e-Alam, Hazrat Shams Tabrez at Multan and Tomb of Bibi Jiwandi at Uch Sharif near Bahawalpur. The tombs at Chaukundi, 27 km out of Karachi, the remains at Banbhore (64 km from Karachi), and the necropolis of a million graves scattered over an area of 10 sq km at Makli Hills, near Thatta, together with the Shahjehan Mosque of Thatta, are exquisite specimens of Muslim architecture, stone carving and glazed tile decorations.

Rohtas Fort is located 109 km from Rawalpindi/Islamabad. It is one of the most impressive historical monuments in Pakistan. It was built on the orders of Afghan ruler Sher Shah Suri (1539-45 AD) to serve as a huge fortified base for military operations against Gakkhars. The fort is the symbol of strength and determination of its builder Sher Shah Suri who ruled over South Asia only for six years, 1540-45, but even during that short period, he created many splendors including Rohtas fort and the Great Grand Trunk Road, connecting Kabul with Calcutta. The fort was later used by Mughal emperor Akbar and the Sikhs.

Olaf Caroe described his initial impression of this fort in the following words; "There it stands, sprawling across a low rocky hill a few miles north of Jhelum. Its great ramparts growing from the cliff like the wall of China, looking north a sandy streambed to the low hills of the salt range and beyond them, to the snows of Pir Panjal. The circumference is large enough easily to hold a couple of divisions of troops. As you approach the fort, the crenellations look like ominous rows of helmeted warriors watching you with disapproval. It is an awe-inspiring sight".

The plan of the fort is adapted to suit the terrain and it is defended by a number of deep ravines as well as the river Ghaan, which breaks through the low eastern spur of the Tilla range. Within its huge terraced rampart walls (4 km in circumference) with 68 robust bastions and twelve gates, is located another fortress, palaces and ancillary building. Besides providing strength to the wall, these bastions give a touch of elegance and grandeur to the fort. The wall, usually composed of two or three terraces, varies in thickness at different points, the maximum being 36 feet near the Mon Gate. The terraces are interlinked with each other by way of stair-line and the top most terrace is the line of the merino shaped. The height of the fortification wall ranges from 30 to 40 feet and a considerable number of galleries have been provided in the thickness of the wall for the soldiers and for use as storage space. The wall is built in sandstone coarse rubble masonry laid in lime mortar mixed with granular brick grit.

Although built for purely military purposes, yet a few of its twelve gates were exceptionally fine examples of the architecture of that period. The Sohal Gate, guarding the southwest wall, is in fair condition even today and it is used as a rest house. This gate is an example illustrating that how a feature built for strength could also be made architecturally graceful. As it is more than eighty feet in height, so it provides a grand entrance to the magnificent fort complex. Every part of its structure has been carried out in broad and simple manner, each line and plane has a sober and massive elegance, while the whole is aesthetically competent. Within the fort, a small town has developed and several thousand people live here.

The Indus Valley was home to the largest of the four ancient urban civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, South Asia, and China. Most of its ruins, even its major cities, remain to be excavated. The ancient Indus script has not been deciphered. Many questions about the Indus people who created this highly complex culture remain unanswered, but other aspects of their society can be answered through various types of archaeological studies.

The Indus Valley Civilization was at its peak from the 3rd till the middle of the 2nd millennium BC. Discovered in 1922, Mohenjo-Daro (in Sindh province) was once a metropolis of great importance, forming part of the Indus Valley Civilization with Harappa (discovered in 1923 in the southern Punjab), Kot Diji (Sindh) and recently discovered Mehrgarh (Balochistan). Mohenjo-Daro is considered as one of the most spectacular ancient cities of the world. It had mud and baked bricks' buildings, an elaborate covered drainage system, a large state granary, a spacious pillared hall, a College of Priests, a palace and a citadel. Harappa, another major city of the Indus Valley Civilization, was surrounded by a massive brick wall fortification. Other features and plan of the city were similar to that of Mohenjo-Daro. The Kot Diji culture is marked by well-made pottery and houses built of mud-bricks and stone foundations. Mehrgarh, the oldest civilization (7,000 B.C), remains of which were found in the district Kachhi of Balochistan recently, was the pioneer of the Indus Valley civilization. The evidence of crop cultivation, animal husbandry and human settlement have been found here. The inhabitants of Mehrgarh were living in mud-brick houses and learned to make pottery around 6,000 B.C.