Pandemic disruption : Punjab’s fledgling religious tourism project hits snag

Creation of a dedicated zone for tourists still on the cards


Asif Mehmood March 08, 2021
A magnificent view of Lahore’s iconic Badshahi mosque before sunset. Built in the sixteenth century, the edifice is a historical monument and tourist attraction. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE:

In a topsy-turvy pandemic world, human mobility has been the first casualty. The impact can also be felt in Punjab, where the government’s plan to promote religious tourism appears to be stalled due to limited travelers.

Initiated shortly before the coronavirus disrupted global travel, the provincial administration’s grand tourism plan seems to be shelved for now.

According to an insider, the Tourism Development Corporation of Punjab (TDCP) launched a dedicated bus service in Lahore that was aimed at attracting religious tourists. The tour included stops at prominent shrines, mosques, and other historical spots in the city. However, the service has been shut for several months due to the pandemic.

The tourism department claims the project was well received by visitors and residents of Lahore. “Unfortunately, the project was shut down due to the coronavirus,” said Abid Shaukat, spokesperson for the TDCP.

During the initial days of the pandemic, Shaukat said, the service was reduced and only offered on limited routes. “We had to shut the service to quell the spread of the respiratory disease, which has claimed more than 5,500 lives in the province,” he said.

“A fleet of well-equipped buses carried tourists from Lahore to several destinations, including Nankana Sahib and Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur, the final resting place of the founder of Sikhism,” explained the spokesperson.

Future plans

Despite the pandemic, the spokesperson for the TDCP said the government has invested heavily in improving tourism in the province.

In collaboration with the World Bank, a Washington-based lender, the spokesperson said, Punjab plans to create a tourism zone at a price tag of Rs830million. Once completed, the new tourism zone will include a bus service to Kotli Sattian, Chakwal, Jhelum, Soon Valley, Mianwali, and Fort Monroe.

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In addition to the bus service, the provincial administration is also spending Rs. 4billion on the restoration of the Lahore Fort and other historical sites.

Challenges

The spokesperson for the TDCP said the department requires more buses to cover all tourist spots.

After Lahore, he said, the department plans to cover destinations in Multan, which is dotted with shrines.

“People from all over the country visit holy sites in Multan. We also plan to start a service for Hindu and Buddhist holy sites, including the Katas Raj temples in Chakwal,” claimed Shaukat.

While the global tourism industry still faces pandemic hurdles, the spokesperson for TDCP struck an optimistic tone during the exclusive interview with the Express Tribune. He said most tourist spots in Lahore are ready to welcome visitors.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, March 8th, 2021.

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