Buddhism Bhamala Stupa and its Mystery Cave

Bhamala Stupa

Bhamala Stupa Complex near Haripur in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa dates back to the 2nd century CE, and has several unique characteristic.

Unique Cruciform Stupa

Unlike regular hemispherical stupas, the Bhamala Stupa stands out with its distinctive cruciform design, which resemble South American ancient pyramids.

bhamala stupaBuddhist Relics at Bhamala Stupa

Excavations at Bhamala Stupa have revealed relics, such as:-

  • Sculptures
  • Pottery pieces
  • Coins
  • Necklace pieces

The Mahaparinirvana Statue (Sleeping Buddha)

Here the most intriguing relic is the statue of the lying Buddha, which symbolizes the Final Days of Buddha on Earth. Called the Mahaparinirvana Statue, this 48 ft. remarkable statue is one of its kind in the world. This could also be the world’s oldest statue ever created and is considered a masterpiece of Gandhara sculptures.

The Statue is still in disrepair, but it is visible enough to allow archeologists and artisans to recreate it.

Bhamala Stupa UNESCO World Heritage Site

Recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, excavation began in 1929 by Sir Sufiyan Malik and Sir John Marshall and continued until the early 1930s. The work again resumed in 2017 at the Bhamala Stupa site in Taxila Valley.

Historical Relevance and References

Bhamala Stupa has been documented notably by Chinese Buddhist traveler Xuanzang from the 7th century CE in his report about it in decay but highlighting its impressive size as well as numerous Buddhist sculptures within.

Bhamala Stupa Cave

400 meters above the Haro river basin, close to Buddhism Bhamala Stupa in Pakistan lies a mysterious well-like cave. This cave is nestled on a ledge of Himalayan foothills that go all the way to Murree.

Pilgrims and traders in olden times followed the Haro River upstream to reach Kashmir and beyond, from Taxila. The Bhamala Stupa Pakistan Cave has only been excavated 37 meters and no one has ever seen the other cave mouth yet. Having a Buddhist monastery complex in these peaceful mountains makes sense, but why the cave?

Bhamala Cave Continued

Is this cave a Buddhist retreat or a place the Kushan kings used to banish their political opponents? One thing is for sure, any monk or prisoner left at this cave can only be brought back to civilization by people on the opposite bank of Haro River — that is, the Bhamala monks themselves. The Bhamala weather and temperature dropped down a few notches, high in the hill.

Location of Bhamala Stupa Khanpur Dam

We drove through monstrously designed resorts on the Northern bank of Khanpur dam (Things to do in Khanpur Dam), near Khanpur village KPK, to reach the serene Bhamala Buddhist Stupa Pakistan site. This place is several kilometres upstream of Haro River. 

During monsoons, Khanpur Lake reaches right up to the foot hills of Bhamala Stupa and monastery and the locals use boats for their daily chores. One un-excavated Buddhist site just below Bhamala is already ruined by the Lake water.

Where to Eat?

We had a tasty breakfast of chai and parathas, before reaching the site, at the Taxila museum site.

Taxila is the site of :-

Where Buddhism was taught to the world for 1000 years even in person by Lord Siddhartha Gautama himself. I wonder what went wrong to the cradle of civilization, The Indus valley.

Pakistan the birth place of major religions

How could a civilization that is the birthplace of three major religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism) be so utterly ruined? The only answer I have is — invasion by Barbarians including the British colonials.

Buddhism ruined by Invaders

First came the Greek in the 1st century BC, and then came white Huns in the 5th century followed by Afghan kings and lastly the British thugs. Every invader tried to impose their own version of civilized living on the local population. The Indus valley people were reduced to mere peasants from being the beacon for the world.

The Greek kept buddhism only for the elite.

Buddhist Stupas burnt

There is still charred evidence of Buddhist monasteries burnt by the raiders, under the rubble of ruined stupas like Bhamala. There is also evidence of the brutal way the monks were slaughtered and buried under the same rubble.

Someone needs to tame these wild animals masquerading as liberators before the world is reduced to rubble like Bhamala has.

Initial Excavation

The initial excavation was done by Sir John Marshal in 1922 and he destroyed the main Stupa mound completely. Present day excavations have revealed a huge double-storeyed monastery with a lotus ablution pond in the center and monk chamber on the sides.

More on Lying Buddha

What’s most interesting is the discovery of a sleeping Buddha statue that is 48 meters long – probably the longest Maha pari nirvana (death giving freedom from reincarnation) of Lord Buddha, in the region. A smaller sized version of this massive figure is also visible in the votive Stupa behind the larger one.

Several Buddha statues in various poses are also in display there. Recent excavations have revealed copper, metal, statue fragments. I guess artifact thieves have already taken away the gold pieces from the site in the 1700 years since it was first made.

There is an old settlement close to the Bhamala site and I tried to find some unique facial feature in the residents that would point to genetics — something that is remotely Greek or central Asian — couldn’t find anything.

I do see the characteristic hooked nose of the Greek who once ruled here, up north in Kashmir.

Buddhist Monks Still pray at these sites

Several Buddhist monks visit this site for spiritual rejuvenation and link with their ancestors. “We pray here because our ancestors chose this location. If Pakistani people stick to the concept of Dhamma (truth), the peace of this location (Bhamala) will protect Pakistan” is what a venerated Buddhist monk had to say.

My Trip to Bhamala Stupa and Cave

After spending some time at the reclining Buddha site, I took a local guide with me to the rock cave high above in the surrounding hills.

It was a 30 minutes hike from the Haro river floor, but was worth the effort. The cave was more of a well. I threw a large rock inside and it bounced 45 times, after which, I couldn’t hear it bouncing. Once a cow fell into this cave and people had to bring her out in pieces. No one knows who built this cave, but it is too much of a coincidence for it to be located on an ancient pilgrimage route close to a Buddhist meditation site.

One treasure hunter excavated this cave for a whole one year and never told anybody what he found there. I couldn’t find the courage to go down there without proper gear.

Distance from Islamabad

Bhamala Buddhist site is just two hours’ drive from Islamabad / Rawalpindi. It’s a good place to picnic with the family and friends.

There are several Buddhist sites on top of the hills in the surroundings but no one ventures there due to their remoteness.


Bhamala Stupa is only for the heritage and history enthusiasts, the adventure seekers can visit Khanpur Dam Water sports close by.

What is Bhamala?

Bhamala means an illuminated little girl in Tamil language. 

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  1. Tipu Sultan says:

    Excellent detailed article.. Should be a great place to visit!

  2. FAIZAN MUNIR says:

    Very informative would like to visit this place one day

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