To underpin the economic activities and to generate employment opportunities for the locals, plenty of countries and territories across the globe have identified myriad of categories of tourism. Some of the most prevalent are Business tourism, Culinary tourism, Fashion tourism, Rural tourism, Space tourism, Sports tourism, Wellness tourism, Environmental tourism, Historical tourism, Ethnic tourism, Cultural tourism, Adventure tourism, Music tourism, Wild life tourism and last but not least Religious tourism.
Religious tourism across the globe is deemed as one of the fastest growing sectors and as per the figures of the UNWTO, over 300 million tourists visit the world’s major religious sites each year bringing economic opportunities for the locals in general and for the economy in particular. Over two million Muslims go to perform Hajj in Makkah, Saudi Arabia every year. Senso-ji Temple and Meiji Shrine in Tokyo Japan is visited by around 30 million visitors per annum. Vatican City in Rome is visited by over four million devout Catholics annually. More than 13 million visitors go to Notre-Dame, Paris, France each year. More than 20 million people visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe every year in Mexico City. Kashi Vishwanath Temple in Varanasi India attracts 22 million visitors a year.
Religious tourism is not only for those who specifically travel for the religious reasons but also for those who do not belong to that particular religion, however, go to visit the religious places and experience rituals. It is like a Muslim in Pakistan who visits Nankana Sahib to visit gurdwara or to go to Tharparkar to visit Hindu temples. Such visits bring harmony and respect for each other, to say the least.
Undoubtedly, the pilgrimage is a different form of tourism which is catching up globally. This has given impetus to the Religious tourism in more or less in every part of the world.
There are ample religious sites in Pakistan which are visited by a large number of people not only from within Pakistan but also from abroad. One of the most popular is the ancient city of Sehwan Sharif in Sindh’s Jamshoro District. This city is renowned for its beautiful shrine of Sufi saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar and for the annual festivities which take place on the annual Urs (death anniversary) held on the 18 Sha’aban, which is the eighth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. The annual Urs usually lasts for three days during which an estimated two million pilgrims from all over Pakistan and abroad visit the city.
The shrine of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is open 24 hours even days a week for the devotees and the visitors. However the facilities and the infrastructure for two million visitors and devotees are like a drop in the ocean. There is nothing which can be talked about to attract the visitors. There are no pristine markets and streets, there are no quality hotels and restaurants and there is no standard transit system. Kudos to the Government of Sindh and the Culture Department of Sindh for these marvelous efforts to present the image of Sindh in general and Sehwan Sharif in particular. The apathy of the concerned authorities is visible everywhere in the city. The so-called Sehwan Sharif Airport serves Sehwan Sharif only during the three days of the Urs festival, as mentioned by some individuals. Pakistan International Airlines operates daily flight between Karachi and Sehwan Sharif for which the entire nation is thankful to this great organization. It is believed that the business viability is created not just thought and forgotten with implausible reasons. On top of that the people who travel to Sehwan Sharif have the option of only two trains which briefly stop each day at Sehwan railway station. Once you are in Sehwan Sharif, you could travel in a shared motorcycle rickshaw. The world is looking at flying taxis whereas we are still traveling by pathetic rickshaws to the detriment of health and the hazardous environment. In order to shop the Sindhi handicraft, souvenirs etc., one has to resort to the one and the only Shahi bazaar of Sehwan, which is a sprawling long alleyway. Moreover, lodging is another cumbersome task in this city, thanks to the relevant authorities. You have option of staying at a musafir khana (inn) or some simple and basic hotels across the city. Though there are some hotels namely Hotel Sehwan Divine, Lal Shahbaz Rest-house, Larkana Al-Mansoor Hotel etc. the lodging facilities for the people coming from within the country and abroad are insufficient and sub-standard.
In order to attract more and more tourists, it is sine qua non to concentrate on the convenience to the visitors, which would bring immense economic opportunities. I hope the relevant authorities would now wake up from the deep slumber.