The capital city of Islamabad is ideally located in the heart of Pakistan with easy access from within Pakistan and from around the world. Likewise, the city is surrounded by attractive destinations providing magnificent opportunities as “Day excursions from Islamabad”.
DAY EXCURSION TO TAXILA
The ancient metropolis of Taxila is a town located in Punjab, about 45km north of Islamabad (the capital city), Pakistan. The name Taxila was derived from the Sanskrit term Taksasila, literally, means “city of cut stones”. It is an important archaeological site founded in the late 1800s by a renowned archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham. It has a rich museum and more than 50 sites stretched over some 30 sq km. Taxila was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.
DAY EXCURSION TO TAKHT-E-BAHI
The relics of the imposing Takht-i-Bahi Monastery are an important Buddhist site in Gandhara region and can be reached in 2.5 hours from Islamabad. It made up to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980. Takht-i-Bahi monastery has a guarding view of the Mardan city and is situated on the crest of a small hill about 16 kilometres northwest of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.
DAY EXCURSION TO ROHTAS FORT
Rohtas Fort (also called Qila Rohtas) is one of the six World Heritage Sites in Pakistan, designated in 1997. The gigantic Rohtas fort is an exceptional example of early Muslim military architecture surviving today. It was built by Farid Khan – the “Lion King” of the subcontinent. He was well known as Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century. The fort was strategically built in a gorge on a small hill 300ft above its surroundings, some 16km northwest of Jhelum city of Punjab in Pakistan. It is so strategically positioned that it commands the old route from the north to the plans of Punjab across the Potohar Plateau. Rohtas Fort is located some 98 km from Islamabad and takes about 2 hours to reach. The major reason behind the erection of this rampart was to subdue the pro-Mughal Ghakkar tribe and to thwart the possible return of Mughal Emperor Humayun who had fled to Iran after his defeat in the battle of Kanauj at Chaunsa.
DAY EXCURSION TO KHEWRA SALT MINES
The Khewra Salt Mine (also known as Mayo Salt Mine) is the second largest salt deposit in the world and largest in Pakistan located in Khewra, an administrative subdivision of Jehlum District in Punjab Province of Pakistan. It is one of the largest sources of salt and major tourist attractions in the country with an estimated total of 220 million tons of rock salt deposits. Khewra is about 160 km from Rawalpindi/Islamabad and can be reached in 3 hours.
DAY EXCURSION TO MURREE HILLS
Murree is a popular hill station and a famous tourist attraction located about 30 km northeast of Islamabad City. It has a number of attractions for tourists including hiking trails, resorts, flora and fauna, a unique climate, and picturesque valleys. It was founded in 1851 as a summer headquarters of the Punjab Government until 1876 when it was moved to Shimla.
DAY EXCURSION TO PESHAWAR
Peshawar, the capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (formerly NWFP) is known as the oldest living city in South Asia and the meeting place of the subcontinent and Central Asia. The city is about 180 km from Islamabad and can be reached in less than 3 hrs. Peshawar is further divided into four major sections. The old walled city is the most exciting part of Peshawar with the history dating from Buddhist, Mughal and Sikh era and was actually surrounded by a wall until the 20th century. The British Cantonment makes up the site founded in 1849 which included the boulevard city and the entire array of elegant buildings standing even today associated with the English men. University Town at 7 km from the city centre has the oldest yet lively building of Islamia College founded in 1913 to educate the sons of Pathan chiefs. Hayatabad is the modern residential area annexed with Karkhano Bazaar where anything can be found at a reasonable price.
Pakistan is a country strategically located on the crossroads of South Asia abundantly rich in history, archaeological remains, natural beauty, cultural diversity, manmade landmarks, and in architectural heritage. It is a cradle of ancient civilization hosting the most significant centers of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC), Gandhara Civilization, and Mughal Heritage. Six of these sites of cultural or natural significance make up to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Sites of Pakistan.
The UNESCO World Heritage Sites are the natural and cultural properties that are considered to be of outstanding universal importance and deserve conservation. These sites are unique for their respective historic value and well-planned construction. Some of the World Heritage Sites in Pakistan inherit about 5000 years of history and boasting of their legacy today.
Tentative sites in Pakistan
There are 26 additional important heritage and natural sites lined up in the inventory of tentative sites list. Eight of the total sites have recently been approved to be added up to the list of already existing six sites that include: the Derawar Fort in the Cholistan, Hingol Cultural Landscape in Balochistan, Nagarparkar Cultural Landscape in Sindh, Central Karakoram National Park and Deosai National Park in Gilgit-Baltistan, Ziarat Juniper Forest and Karez System Cultural Landscape in Balochistan, and the Khewra Salt Mines in Punjab.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan
The 5000 years old city of Mohenjo-Daro (also spelled Mohenjodaro or Moenjodaro) was only unearthed in 1922. The city of Mohenjo-Daro is a metropolis of the Indus Valley Civilization (IVC) dating back to around 3rd millennium B.C. The magnificent site is located on the right bank of River Indus in Larkana District of Sindh in Pakistan. The whole city, from what the construction system indicates, was laid out following strict rules which also shows evidence of an early system of town planning.
Excavation at the site was carried out between 1930 and 1965. Only one-third of the city has yet been said to have discovered. The entire city was built of unbaked brick and gradually deteriorating due to material decay, moisture infiltration, poor drainage, and salt action. The government of Pakistan, in collaboration with UNESCO, is working to better conserve the site. Moenjodaro was included in the list of World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.
Takht-i-Bahi literally means spring throne in Persian. Sahr-i-Bahlol is a small fortified city located about 5 km from Takht-i-Bahi. Stretched on a crest of hilltops with altitude ranging between 36 meters and 152 meters, the early 1st century Buddhist monastic complex of Takht-i-Bahi and the neighboring city remains at Sahr-i-Bahlol are the imposing relics of Buddhism in the Gandhara region of Pakistan. Takht-i-Bahi and Sahr-i-Bahlol are in fact two different sites inscribed in the world heritage sites of Pakistan in 1980.
The ruins of Takht-tBahi and Sahr-i-Bahlol are located some 16 km from Mardan city, 78 km from Peshawar, and about 170 km from the capital city of Islamabad. Owing to its location and altitude the complex of Takht-i-Bahi escaped successive invasions and is still very well preserved. Sahr-i-Bahlol, however, is exposed to damage from local visitors digging for relics and antiquates.
The main Takht-e-Bahi site consists of four major sections including the Court of Stupas, a monastic complex, a temple complex, and a tantric monastic complex. The dates of these vary and add to the area’s cultural depth. The site is a perfect day excursion from Islamabad and Peshawar.
The Lahore Fort and Shalimar Gardens are two outstanding gifts from Mughal era dating back to 17th century. The two sites are located in Lahore about 7kms apart from each other. Both sites are exquisitely designed and constructed displaying the height of artistic skills at the time Emperor Shah Jahan’s rule.
The fort is located in the northwest corner of the walled city consists of marble palaces and mosques ornamented with mosaics. It was said to have been destroyed and rebuilt several times between the 13th and 15th centuries. The Shalimar Gardens, however, were constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in 1642 are a reflection of Persian and Islamic traditions. The gardens cover 16 hectares of land area.
Dating back to the 14th century the vast necropolis of Thatta city in Sindh province of Pakistan is home to around half a million tombs. The monuments are spread over an area of 9 km square considered to be the largest Muslim Necropolises in the world. The monuments and mausoleums are built from a high-quality material including stone, bricks, and enameled tiles reflecting the then Sindhi civilization.
The remnants at the site display a shining era of Sindh tradition during its golden time. Icons of the time including kings and queens, saints, scholars, and philosophers all are buried here. Some of the tombs of famous rulers and saints are still preserved representing Hindu, Mughal, and Islamic architecture. It was included in the world heritage sites in 1981.
Rohtas Fort or Qila Rohtas is an outstanding example of early Muslim architecture located 16km northwest of Jhelum city of Punjab in Pakistan. The fort is built strategically on a hilltop in a gorge with guarding view of surroundings. Its history dates back to 1541 when Sher Shah Suri (Lion King) of Suri dynasty ousted Emperor Humayun. The fortified complex was built to thwart the possible return of Humayun and the surrounding Ghakkhar tribe.
The main fortification of this massive fort extends to the 4km circumference of the robust wall with 68 bastions at an irregular distance for vigilance. It also has 12 main gates with specific purpose and name given to each gate. Inside the fortification are three deep wells (baolis) for self-sufficiency during wartime. There are other subsequent constructions including Haveli Maan Singh, the mosque, and Rani Mahal.
Although the fort was built according to the wishes of Sher Shah Suri; the Lion King died before it was completed. Humayun returned after the death of Sher Shah but the fort was not used for the purpose it was built. The name Rohtas, though, is derived from Rohtasgarh, the site of Sher Shah’s victory in 1539 over a Hindu ruler in India. It was included in the world heritage site in 1997.
Taxila is a significant archaeological site located about 35km north of Rawalpindi/Islamabad. The city of Taxila has been an important center of learning, the core of Buddhism, an urban metropolis, and a melting pot of ancient civilization. It was discovered in the late 1800s.
The city is situated strategically on a branch of Silk Road that linked China to the West. The history of the city dates back to the Gandhara period containing ruins of Taksasila. It was a major Hindu and Buddhist center. Taxila illustrates the stages of development of a city alternately influenced by Persia, Greece, and Central Asia from 5th century BC to 2nd century A.D. The city reached its apex between the 1st and 5th centuries. It was destroyed by White Huns in the 5th century.
There are about 50 sites within a radius of 30 km. Most of the archaeological sites of the city are located around the rich Taxila museum. Major sites include Dharmarajika, Sirkap, Julian, and Mohra Muradu. These sites are well maintained and frequently visited by local and foreign tourists. In 1980, Taxila was declared UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ancient metropolis of Taxila is a town located in Punjab district of Pakistan north of the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad (the capital city). The name Taxila was derived from the Sanskrit term Taksasila, literally, means “city of cut stones”. It is an important archaeological site founded in the late 1800s by a renowned archaeologist Sir Alexander Cunningham. Taxila was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Pakistan in 1980.
The pre-historic era of Taxila is associated with microlithic hunters of the period before 3500 BC. The evidence of the three important caves discovered, particularly the one at Khanpur tracing history back to Stone Age. However, the small mound unearthed by prominent late prof. Hasana Dani at Saraikala proved the existence of agricultural communities that developed around 3000 BC. Moreover, axes, chisels, spatulas and a variety of handmade pottery has also been found from the site.
The town spreads over an area of 30 km sq. and has more than 50 archaeological sites. Most of the sites of Taxila (600 BC to 500 AD) are located around the Taxila museum. Three distinct cities: Bhir Mound, Julian, and Mohra Moradu are in a very good state of preservation, decked with images of Buddha in stone and stucco. Other structural remains include Sirsukh, Dharmarajika, Mohra Moradu, Jandial and Pippala temples; the Giri fortress; and the Dharmarajika, Bhallar, and Kunala stupas (burial mounds). The type of masonry used indicates their respective period of origin and all the important stages of the great sage’s life.
Brief Political history of Taxila
Taxila, the main centre of Gandhara, has for centuries been an abode of peace and knowledge. The city once flourished as the hub of Buddhism and a great centre of learning. Its prosperity originally resulted from its location at the crossroads of three great trade routes – the Royal Highway from Eastern India, from Western Asia, and from Central Asia respectively.
Historically Taxila was ruled by several empires. Achaemenid Empire began in 6th century BC followed by Alexander the Great in 326 BC. Alexander, however, could not remain for too long and the legacy passed on to the Mauryan dynasty in 321 BC. It reached a remarkably mature development level under Asoka the Great who influenced Buddhism and moulded the city into a great centre of learning. However, with the death of Asoka in 232BC, the dynasty also collapsed.
Indo-Greeks remained for a brief period till 190 BC and then came Scythians who ruled from 2ndcentury to the middle of 1st century BC. Under the Indo-Greek descendants of Alexander’s warrior, Taxila finally came to the most creative period of Gandhara. The final and longest period of the ruling was enjoyed by the Kushans who invaded in 50AD from 1st to 5th century before the White Huns destroyed the region in the 5th century.
Taxila University, however, is believed to have existed even before Asoka (7th century BC) where philosophers gathered to have their own schools of thought and imparted instructions. By the time of the Buddha, it rose to be a strong educational centre where instructions were given in military science, medicine, political science, philosophy, religion, language and literature, and grammar.
Taxila, Swat, and Charsadda (old Pushkalavati) became three important centres for culture, trade, and learning and hundreds of monasteries and stupas were built together with Greek and Kushan towns such as Sirkap and Sirsukh. 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 centres that a unique art of sculpture originated which is known as Gandhara Art all over the world.
The ivy-covered Gothic-style museum of Taxila houses rich archaeological finds. It is one of the well-maintained museums in Pakistan frequently visited by local and foreign tourists. Its caskets are decked with a rich collection of coins, jewellery, surgical instruments, vessels, grinders, rare inscriptions, plaster and terra-cotta figures, and stone and stucco sculptures arranged in chronological order and properly labelled.
Taxila Museum remains open from 08:30 am to 05:30 pm during summers (1st April — 30th September). While during winters (1st October — 31st March) visit timings are from 09:00 am to 04:00 pm. The museum, however, remains closed on the first Monday of every month and obviously during Muslim religious holidays.
The archaeological remains around Taxila include stupas, mounds, and ancient cities the brief account of which is detailed as below.
The earliest city of Bhir Mound dates from the 6th century BC Achaemenid period to 2nd Century BC Bactrian-Greek period. It was built on a small plateau in the open fields and situated on the ancient trade route. Earliest findings of the city as evidence included cramped houses of early rubble and irregular streets. However, the consistent masonry of Mauryan era and later from thick coating to lime coating plaster in the Indo-Greek period shows the period of maturity. King Ambhi received Alexander the great and his armies in Bhir Mound. Its glorious history ended with the Bactrian Greeks built Sirkap as a well-planned city.
Sirkap was built by Bactrian Greek king Demetrius around 180 BC when he invaded South Asia. It became the major city of Taxila with Greek influence in city planning. The city once said to have covered with 6-meter thick rubble wall running for 5 km. It was first identified and excavated in 1912 and more detailed excavation was carried out in 1944 & 45 by Mortimer Wheeler and his team.
The city of Sirkap is located on the opposite side of the Tamara Stream. The remains of the layout of Sirkap city indicate a well-planned construction. The sides of the main street are decked with houses of the affluent and the farther cramped settlements dwelt by the common people. It had evidence of having a sophisticated drainage system for runoff water and soak wells for sewage. The main street also has, till date, Royal Residence, Sun Temple, Apsidal Temple, Double Headed Eagle Stupa and the Jain Temple. Valuable finds include gold and silver jewellery in a house near the Stupa and Indian punch-marked bent bar coins. Sirkap flourished under several regimes including Greeks, Scythians, Parthians and finally the Kushans.
Sirkap enjoyed the kingdom until 10 BC and lost its significance when King Kanishka of the Kushans founded Sirsukh. The narrow strip of fortifications around the Lundi rivulet adjoining the walls on one side has revealed coin hoards. These coins belonged not only to Kushan rulers but also dating to the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It is the evidence that the city was dwelt for at least 1000 years after its original foundation.
Sirsukh is the third and comparatively the modern city built by the Kushan Kings in the 1st century A.D. Roughly it is rectangular in shape with no significant defence system. Sirsukh is patterned after Central Asian cities. Though not fully excavated due to the local forming, clearly it is a well-fortified city.
Dharmarajika stupa was established by the Maurya emperor Ashoka in the 3rd century BC to house the relics of the Buddha. It is located 3kms east of Taxila Museum. It is one of the eight shrines and considered to be the earliest Buddhist monument in Pakistan. Dharmarajika stupa is also popularly known as Chir Tope. Beside stupa, it also has a monastic area located in the north.
The partially ruined stupa was once coated with lime plaster and gilding. The seven-tier umbrella stone crowned the top of the stupa while the main monastery and the series of annexing chapels were inhabited by monks. Findings from the site included a wealth of silver and gold coins, gems, jewellery, and other antiques. It reached the heights of size and fame in the 2nd century A.D.
Julian site in Taxila is an impressive site in Haripur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan located at a fair altitude. It comprised of several erections consisting of two main parts – The main stupa and the monastery & the University of Julian.
The main stupa is comprised of 21 votive stupas and some of the stupas are believed to be tombs of revered monks. The famous “healing Buddha statue” is also located in Julian. Believers put their finger in the naval whole and pray for the ailment or fulfilment of wishes.
The monastery consists of a 28 students’ rooms, a stone staircase for second-floor rooms with the same setting, and statues of Buddhas in front of some of the rooms surrounding a pool for washing. The monastery also has a spacious assembly hall, a kitchen, storerooms, and bathrooms. Moreover, there is a stone for grinding spices for the preservation of food. The other two stone mills were used to grind different types of grains. The hole made in one of the brick stones of the kitchen wall was used for placing large spoons.
The monastery was burnt in 455 CE by the White Huns and thus destroyed.
Mohra Moradu is another well-preserved monastery located between Sirkap and Julian. It was heavily damaged for treasure and the main stupa was split apart. However, the lower portion was protected. The monastery once served as a place of meditation. The monastic cells surrounding stupa are badly damaged.
Jandial Temple (2nd Century B.C. to 2nd Century A. D.)
The remains of the classic Greek style imageless Jandial temple is about 1.5kms north of Sirkap. It is one of the unique buildings in Central Asia closely following the paradigm of the temples of classical Greece.
At 512 m. above sea level, Taxila is a place anyone can visit. The temperature in peak summers is sometimes unbearable soaring to a maximum of over 40 C. The winters, however, are delightfully cool and pleasant with temperatures ranging between 5 – 15 C. September to March is the best season for a visit. The summer season is from April to September.
Taxila is about 35 km north of Rawalpindi and 45 km from the nearby capital city of Islamabad. Roughly it is about 01-hour drive from both cities.