By Shah Bano Durrani
Peshawar Valley is located northwest of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad and contains some of the most fertile lands in all of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The area was not only a melting pot of civilizations, but also of several religions, for thousands of years. Today, the region offers tremendous potential for devotional tourism and hosts some of the most spectacular archeological sites in the region. Over the past few years, the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation (AFCP) has contributed significantly toward the restoration and upkeep of these sites, and the U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar’s social media campaign has brought attention to these sites as evidence of northwest Pakistan’s diverse religious history.
Takht-i-Bahi is one such example of the rich cultural heritage of the region. Considered one of the most important sites of Buddhism, the monastery and associated architecture on a hilltop in Mardan is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Acknowledging the significance of Takht-i-Bahi, the U.S. Mission to Pakistan provided approximately $630,000 to preserve the site from 2017 to 2020.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s citadel capital of Peshawar is no less important when it comes to heritage sites that showcase religious diversity. Located inside the historic city is a Mughal-era roadside inn known as Gor Khatri. Once a Buddhist monastery, the site was later converted into a Hindu temple. Today, a living Hindu temple co-exists side-by-side with an active mosque. AFCP supported restoration of the building’s brickwork in 2006.
Perhaps the most significant symbol of Peshawar’s diverse religious heritage is none other than the magnificent Peshawar Museum. The two-story building is home to hundreds of artifacts from Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Hindu, Sikh, and Islamic sites. Through 2018 U.S. funding, an NGO created a mobile app that translates information about the artifacts into English, Urdu, and Pashto.
These projects not only highlight U.S. appreciation for Pakistan’s rich cultural heritage, but they also help ConGen Peshawar draw attention to the little-known religious pluralism of Pakistan.
Shah Bano Durrani is the press and media assistant at the U.S. Consulate General in Peshawar.