Finding a minivan in Peshawar to Multan is easy enough, and even though we are the first passengers, the van fills quickly and we are on the way in ten minutes. We are equally lucky in Multan, and arrive in Takht-i-Bahi well before we had expected, so we decide to walk up the hill instead of taking a rickshaw. It turns out to be a pleasant walk on a surprisingly busy street, and after taking our tickets, we climb the well-maintained stairs up the tree-covered hill on which the ruins of the Buddhist monastery that we are going visit sit. We see several ruins half-covered in the forest, with closed trails, and when we arrive at the entrance of the main complex, an armed guard comes with us without much of an explanation. Takht-i-Bahi once was a Buddhist monastery, considered one of the most important in the Gandhara region (current Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan). It functioned as such from the 1st century BCE to the 7th century CE, after which it was abandoned. Its name roughly translates to Throne of the Water Spring.
We enter the rectangular central stupa court, which has several platforms, and niches in which we assume Buddha statues once stood. We are now happy we visited the Peshawar museum the day before: it is choke-full of statues recovered from various sites, many from Takht-i-Bahi, so we are able to have an idea what this monastery once must have looked like with all the artefacts in place. Even without, the ruins are a very interesting place to wonder around, if only because it gives insight into a side of Pakistan that is not very often seen, a buddhist past that is completely removed from every day life in this heavily islamic country. After exploring the central court, we walk up the stairs to a higher platform, which is a smaller stupa court. It has one platform, and niches with half-crumbled circular roofs.
We descend the stairs, and the guard, who does not speak any English, motions us down some stairs, to a tall and dark building which holds meditation cells, accessible through narrow openings in the wall. We walk up the stairs to a viewpoint from where we see the entire central monastic complex of Takht-i-Bahi, as well as a large ruined complex to the west. Unfortunately, it turns out to be inaccessible. Instead, we walk down, and explore the cells where monks once lived, their kitchen and dining room, and water tank. Much is gone, imagination is required, but considering the 13 centuries that these ruins have been abandoned, they are in quite good condition. What surely helped is that the complex were covered in earth, and excavations only started in 1871. We have a closer look at the central stupa court, with its ornamental platforms, and see that bats have found a home in some of the niches on the northern wall, with the strong smell that comes with them. We take time for a break on our way down, still savouring the peaceful atmosphere of the Takht-i-Bahi ruins, before descending to the modern world again.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Takht-i-Bahi (Pakistan). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Takht-i-Bahi. Read more about this site.