Pakistan Diaries: Takht-e-Bahi

MonastaryTwo days in a row we attempt to go to the Khyber Pass, the most famous overland passage between the West and China, and two days in a row we are thwarted.  In case you doubted that the tribal lands are not in control of the Pakistani government, the tribal people give us a lesson.

Apparently two tribal people were killed a few days ago in Lahore.  Now their clan has seized and closed the road to the Khyber Pass, demanding the government hand over the accused killers.  The Pakistani government subsequently negotiates with them over the next two days to open it.  They eventually get an agreement to open it on the third day, but by then we’ve been forced to make other plans.

We decide to visit the ruins of an old Buddhist monastary, Takht-e-Bahi, pronounced ‘tock-bye’ by the locals.  Archaeologists think construction started in the first century BC and new parts may have been added as late as 7th century AD.  Dig teams from the British in 1907, the Indians in 1947, and the Pakistanis from the 1970’s have all worked at restoring the monastary.  Looters (both the criminal kind and the British Museum flavor) have hit the site so that the current remains sit under lock and key.

All the small cubby holes, called stupas, used to hold Buddhas, but now only one remains.  Although some are in the British museum, and some are in the Pakistani museums around the country, this one is left here behind a locked gate as an example.

Much of the monastary is still intact, and rooms like the kitchens and other common areas are standing.  The meditation cells are also intact, and Sarah and I creep each other out by going and trying to take photos from inside them.  In the photo at right, the meditation cells are on the left.  You crawl in on your knees and emerge into a room that’s about 15′ by 15′ by 15′.  Only a sliver of right, coming in through another crawlspace on the right, lights the cell.  Unless you’re in the cell directly in front of the crawl door, you can’t even see your hand in front of your space.  Sarah was pretty freaked out and had to leave.  I stayed sitting on the dirt floor only long enough to get a blurry photo and go.

The gift shop consisted of a lockbox holding a few copies of a book about the ruins, sitting next to a pair of shotguns used to scare away looters.  We declined the offer of the book and made a final scramble up high to get a few photos and then left.

Continue reading Week 3: Karachi