An Escape to Takht-e-Bahi (Mardan)

“Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear”?……………..Juz 17, Sura Hajj (XXII), Verse 46, Quran.

I have been wanting to find a reason as to why I am so fond of traveling since the time I was a child. The first answer I found was when I was around seven years of age and I happened to read my horoscope, a science which I hardly understood at that tender age; but to my astonishment, I was a Capricorn. Yes, a mountain goat which rises to splendid heights up in the mountains.

Other reason I found lately around 4:30 a.m. in the morning was when I happened to read the above verse in the Quran which somehow depicts my quench for traveling and knowledge when the ‘wandering dervish’ that I have come to be known by my friends; realized that my heart is pumped with fresh blood during my newer and crazier escapades to un-beaten tracks & remote locations within the land of the pure i.e. Pakistan.

(On the G. T. Road headed for Nowshera)

A visit to Takht-e-Bahi remains had been on my travel list for some years now but due to the current political / ethnic / religious upheaval in NWFP province in general and the close proximity of this district to Malakand Division in particular where Taliban abound; I have been putting it off. Now that the Taliban are here to stay and the situation not getting any better, I decided to tread the long awaited journey. Of course, I could not have travelled without my family although I had to be more cautious this time around.

(Detour off Nowshera and heading towards Mardan)

Ishfaq Anwar, a much younger ex-colleague at work had once expressed that since I was really crazy about visiting the ruins in this country therefore I must visit Takht-e-Bahi which is one of the oldest sites of Gandhara period in the NWFP. This notion somehow got stuck in my eccentric mind and thus the reason for this escapade.

The pilgrimage:

As usual, come the first Saturday of the month; being a holiday, we packed our bags and hit the road Jack was written all over our faces. We took the G. T. Road up north from Islamabad while passing through Taxila, Hassan Abdal, Attock City, Attock Khurd, Khairabad and finally taking the detour off Nowshera and passing through Mardan to reach Takht-e-Bahi traversing a distance of a cool 163 kilometers from our house in Islamabad.

(Twelve more kilometers to go)

By the time we reached Mardan, we were almost starving and thus had to stop at a famous road side hotel serving the typical Mardan Nan (Bread) and the famous Chapli Kebabs. Although children were searching for the likes of McDonalds & Pizza Hut but we had to improvise and make do with what was available. The food was indeed sumptuous which was later topped with the typical Qahva (Green tea) to wash all that meat, did I forget to mention lamb meet? Before we almost felt intoxicated, we decided to hit the road again and visit the reason we were actually there i.e. Takht-e-Bahi.

We reached the Takht-e-Bahi ruins around 4:00 p.m. and just started climbing the mountain with awe inspiring views as we rose to higher altitudes. What we saw on top of these hills was no way close to what one can find in the Taxila museum. We were actually walking, breathing and visualizing history when we visited the huge stupas, amazing chapels, monk’s quarters, the study chambers, meditation rooms and a refectory etc. The views across the plain, south-west to Peshawar and north into Swat, were an added bonus.

(The history of Takht-e-Bahi at the entrance of the ruins)

After thoroughly appreciating the peace and serenity of this wonderful heavenly abode, we decided to descend while spending almost 2 hours in the mountains and back before the Maghreb prayers. I must hasten to add that Mardan is rather safe and till the writing of this article, there was no such news of any Taliban or the likes taking over this beautiful mountain town.

(A beautiful view from the top)

A little bit of History:

Mardan, 60km north-east of Peshawar, is famous as the birth place of the ‘Guides’, the Queen’s Own Guide Corps, an elite British regiment of North West Frontier soldier-spies founded in the 1840s. The local people here are predominantly Yusufzai Pashtuns. The town itself has little to offer but it’s a base for seeing a concentration of Buddhist and other ancient sites of Gandhara. 1

(Modern day Stupas, the author with Adil and Ayesha)

Takht-e-Bahi, by far the best and most complete of all Gandhara’s ruins are of this 1st to 7th century AD Buddhist monastery, spectacularly placed on the rocky hill 15 km north-west of Mardan. It was excavated from 1907 to 1913 and later reconstructed. 2

Getting there & away:

Takht-e-Bahi is approximately an hours drive from Peshawar, three hours from Mingora and about a three hours drive from Dir and Rawalpindi i.e. about 163 kilometers approximately.

(A beautiful view of the passage way where Buddhist monks once strolled)

References:

  1. The lonely planet, Pakistan, John King, Bradley Mayhew, David St. Vincent, 5th edition, July 1998.
  2. ibid.

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