Jatinder Singh, a nearly-50-years-old Lahore resident, was roaming about the streets of Peshawar like an explorer in a new land.

He asked a shopkeeper about directions to the city’s Bhai Biba Singh Gurdwara and was elated to learn it was close by.

As he reached the centuries-old gurdwara which was only reopened in 2016, he recalled how he had seen pictures of it with his parents as a young boy and shared his excitement at visiting it in person now. Unable to control his emotions, Jatinder began to kiss the main gate leading into the structure. He explained that while there may be many other important religious sites, for him this particular gurdwara holds immense value.

Tourism in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is said to have witnessed a 400% increase in the last three years. While the majority of domestic and international visitors frequent natural sites popular for their scenic beauty, a handful prefer religious tourist sites instead.

Hindu community leader Haroon Sarab Diyal informed that across the world, billions of dollars are earned from just 38 high-profile religious tourist sites, including the Vatican City for Christians and Holy Kaaba for Muslims.

He asserted that Pakistan too is host to several such sites for various religions, including Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism.

According to documents of the provincial tourism department, the Ganesh, Shiv and Kali Maa temples in KP have the potential to become leading places for religious tourism.

KP Archeology Department Director Abdul Samad explained that the province hosts several religious sites which witness dedicated tourists from around the world every year — such as Buddhists from East Asian countries as KP hosts the most places which remained a part of the Gandhara civilisation.

As per the department’s data, Peshawar is also home to one of the most revered sites of Hindus — Punj Tirath —, whereas the government has identified over 3,000 religious sites important to practicing Buddhists and Hindus.

As for Christianity, Diyal explained that their religious sites were established when the British arrived in the Subcontinent around 300 years ago. Some of those churches and other structures also enjoy a valuable position as far as religious tourism is concerned.

For Sikhs, in KP, other than Peshawar’s gurdwaras Joga Singh and Bhai Biba Singh, Hari Singh Nalwa’s room in Jamrud Fort holds immense value as well.

“If all these sites are to be properly developed and managed, it could provide various kinds of economic opportunities for the province’s residents, from hotels and transport services to merchandise vendors,” hoped Diyal.

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