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Swat valley is one of the major tourist attractions of Pakistan. It is known as the Switzerland of Pakistan, it has one of the oldest civilizations history and one of the beautiful scenery one could ever see.
Location: It lies between 34°-40′ to 35° N latitude and 72′ to 74°-6′ E longitude. It is located between the foothills of Hindukush mountain range. It is the part of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. The location of Swat valley has a major strategic importance as it lies in the region where South Asia, Central Asia and China meet.
Accessibility: Swat valley can reach through Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The total distance from Peshawar is 151 km and from Rawalapindi via Nuwshera- Mardan and Malakand Pass is 270 km. We can easily find regular flights to Saidu Sharif, the capital city of Swat. When travelling on personal vehicles, the Motorway (M-1) can be used to reach Mardan Interchange from Islamabad which takes approximately 1.5 hours (131km). From Mardan, a distance of 112 km can be covered via Takh-e-Bai, Dargai, Malakand Pass, Batkhella, Chakdara to reach Mingora or Saidu Sharif. It takes almost 5 hours to cover the distance of 247 km. The travelling routes are open throughout the year. Nowadays public transport facilities have also improved. Daewoo buses are commonly used for travelling.
Attractions: The major attractions of the Swat valley include its archeology, the lush green sites, the history and their art.
History of Swat Valley
The history of Swat valley goes back to around 2000 years ago. It was known as Udyana and later the name was changed to Suvastu. The valley was a very peaceful area for living until the 11th century. The game of power led to the disruption the valley and it was first conquered by Mahmud of Ghazni. The ritual of acquiring the lands continued and Swat valley was then taken over by the Yusufzais.
In the time period of 19th century, swat valley was under Akhund Sahib who believed in the Muslim law. At this time, the economy of Swat valley flourished due to agriculture and it became one of the significant trading areas for businesses.
The population of Swat valley is around 1,257,602 and they have a number of cultural group living in which the most prominent ones are Pakhtuns, Yusufzais, Kohistanis, Gujars and Awans.
Swat Valley is known as the “mini Switzerland”. Its landscapes are a proof of natural beauty and it was one of the most visited areas and had a major tourism industry. There were events which led to the downfall of the tourism which was one of the major sources of income of the Swats economy. The conflicts between the Taliban and the Pakistani army have effected the valleys attractions. The whole conflict started in 1990s when Sufi Muhammad, a cleric figure tried to impose the sharia law on the people of swat valley. In 2007, his son in law tried to follow his foot step by imposing the religion with strength of arms. The Pakistan army took control of the situation and in 2008 the war of Swat was put to an end. Another factor that also contributed in diminishing the tourism industry include the floods in 2010 in which most of the infrastructure was destroyed including the roads and bridges leading to difficulties in traveling to Swat valley.
Buddhism in Swat Valley
Swat valley is also famous in the world as the “holy land of Buddhist learning and piety.” It was one of the major hubs of Buddhist pilgrimage. It was said in the early times that Buddha himself came to Swat in the process of his last reincarnations and he spread the learning of peace and harmony. It was also given the name of “cradle of Buddhism”. As mentioned earlier the name of swat was Udayana and it stands for the ancient epics. It was also mentioned in the history that Alexender of Macedonia had fought many major battles in this land before he was crossed the delta of Indus River. Swat valley has also been named as the “valley of hanging chairs.” The history also states that Swat was once the cradle of Buddhism where 1400 monasteries had survived and flourished and they also made a Gandhara School of Sculpture.
Characteristics of Swat Valley
- Elevation: The altitude of the Swat Valley is 975.36 meters and reaches to 2900meters.
- The highest peak of Hindu Kush Range in Swat Valley is Falak Sher/Sar Peak which is of 5918 metrs.
- The Malakand passes between Mardan and Swat and is 470m to 663 m.
- Shangla pass/ top is approximately 7000 feet above sea level and covers a 56 km distance from Saidu Sharif and 45 km from Besham.
- The total distance between Islamabad and Saidu Sharif is 266 km and travel time is five and half hours.
From March till October, Swat has the best season for tourism. The valley welcomes the people through its magnificent mountains, lush green forests, running streams and meadows.
Some of the major languages spoken in the swat valley area are Pushto and Kohistani. Nowadays Urdu and English are also spoken by the locals.
Swat Valleys Heritage
They are also famous for handmade ornaments and decorative household articles. The embroidered items made by women are the trademark. For example ladies shawls, wooden furniture, handicrafts and honey are famous items. They are also very famous for precious and semi precious stones.
Wood carving: The huge statues of Buddha in Bamiyan, Afghanistan and the elaborately designed statues of Buddha in Swat are sufficient proof of the long lasting and devoted labor of the artists of that era. The tradition still continues in the valley of Swat with great enthusiasm.
In Swat, the dark black, hard, durable and naturally hued wood of walnut trees is used for this art. Its hard texture, pleasant appearance and strong fragrance reinforce the beauty of the designs and labor of the artist. Cedar and pinewood are also used for woodcarving. Especially the naturally hued, shaded, designed and fragranced wood of Deodar tree is used.
Swati Ornaments: Swat is known for its unique culture. The goldsmiths of this valley have made beautiful jewelry and ornaments that are original, typical and regional. The pretty girls of Swat can be seen wearing these artistic forms of jewelry.
Swati Embroidery: Swati embroidery has a great significance and has won a unique status due to its innovative and creative underpinning all over the country. Pure silver yarn was used in embroidery in the past. Unmarried Swati girls have adopted this art as their hobby. These talented girls decorate all the dresses, shawls, blankets, bed sheets, pillow covers, table cloths, veils, head scarves, handkerchiefs, etc. which is to become a part of their dowry after their marriage. The golden lace embroidery of Swat is famous throughout the country.
Areas of Interest
Some of the major places that are the significant tourist spots in Swat valley will be discussed in detail which includes the famous historical Buddhist Stupas, Swat museum, Margazar, White Palace and Fizza Gat. Coming to the upper Swat Valley Miandam, Malam Jabba, Madyan, Behrain, Kalam and Ushu will be explained. We will also be covering the major lakes of Swat Valley that are Mahodand, Kundal, Khapiro and Spin Khawar.
Saidu Sharif / Mingora
A tourist visiting Swat Valley first reaches Saidu Sharif, the capital city and its twin city Mingora. Saidu Sharif is the capital city of Swat. It is situated near the swat river is between the villages of Kanju and Dherai of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Its GPS coordinates are 34°45’0N 72°21’0E and it has an altitude of 970 meters (3182 feet). The capital city is the centre of the administration control and all the regional government affairs are managed in the government buildings. Saidu Sharif has also a medical college.
Mingora is the commercial hub of Swat. It is located 2 km from the capital city of Saidu Shairf. The city is famous for its shopping and has a number of mineral reserves as well such as emerald reserves in hills northward of the town.
Accessibility: Saidu Sharif is 263 km from Islamabad and can be reached through public transport or personal cars. The travel time is around 5 hours. There is also an airport in Mingora and regular flights are available from Islamabad and Peshawar.
Tourist Attraction in and around Saidu Sharif
1) Buddhist Stupas
Nimogram is place famous for its monasteries. It is one of the most famous archeological sites of the Buddhist period. Swat was said to be filled with 1400 beautiful stupas and monasteries. They were used as worship houses for 6,000 gold images of the Buddhist and also for creating awareness about the Buddhism religions through education.
It has a number of stupas in which the 3 most significant stupas will be discussed in detail. It is said that the stupas are built with the special kind of stones known as the “dress stone.” They were the best architect of old times and they are said to resemble the “Andan Dhery” monastery which is situated in Dir district. The Shankardar Stupa is situated at distance of 3 km from Barikot towards Saidu Sharif. History says it was built between the 3rd and 4rth century and it is the only stupa that is left with the original dome still intact. Large figures of Buddha have also been carved on the stones in the nearby places. The second major stupa is called Butkara Stupa. This was one of the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims centre and is situated in the ancient capital of Mingawara. It is mentioned in the history that the stupa “under event five reconstruction.” Another Gumpat Stupa is also a famous site situated in Kandag valley (9km from south of Birkot). It consists of a number of sacred images for worshipping and it is said to be the most preserved stupa as compared to rest.
2) Swat Museum
Swat museum is famous for the old heritage of the Gandhara civilization. It is located between Mingora and Saidu Sharif. The museum showcases the main antiques and Buddhist artifacts which are the proof of the glorious civilization. The ancients jewelry, wooden articles are preserved with care for preserving the old culture findings.
This place is located about 13km from the capital city of Saidu Sharif. It is situated at the foot of Mount Ilam. The meaning of the word Margazar is “green land.” This area is surrounded by green valleys, water springs and mountains. From here one can view mountain Koh-e-Alam, which has a height of 10,000 feet. It is an ideal place for a morning walk.
4) White Place
One of the specialties of Saidu Sharif is the Sufed Mahal (White Palace), constructed right next to Margazar. The palace was used as the residence of the Wali (ruler) both before and after the independence of Pakistan. Its location is on the Margazar Hill (7000 feet above sea level). This tourist resort has around 30 rooms and the charges per day lie in the range of Rs5000-6000 per day.
5) Shrine of Akhund
Saidu is known as shirf (a pious city) because of the shine of Akhund. The shrine of Akhund is housed in the marble courtyard of a mosque in Saidu Sharif. It is open for the visitors, provided they are properly dressed. One also needs to remove shoes outside the compound before entering the shrine.
This is another picnic location along the river Swat. Fizagat has beautiful parks and all the finest quality emerald mines. They have the best restaurants and it is best for the children recreational activities in all seasons. They also have a Rock city resort, another tourist destination with a 30 km hiking track which depicts the complete picture of nature and also provide fishing facilities. Thames hotel is one the best hotels of fizagat with beautiful scenery and is famous for the architectural designs.
Location: Malam Jabba is one of the most beautiful resorts in the area of Swat. It is eighty seven hundred feet above the sea level. Approximately 314 km away from Islamabad, it is situated on the top of Hindu Kush mountain range, in the Northeast of Saidu Sharif. Saidu Sharif is a lovely place 51 km away from this resort.
Accessibility: Tourist can reach Saidu Sharif using the airport facility and from there cars and jeeps are used to travel to other nearby places.
Tourist Attractions: The Malam Jabba Ski Resort is owned by the Pakistani Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC). The Ski Resort was a joint effort of Pakistani government and its Austrian counterpart. It had a ski slope of about 800m with the highest point of the slope 2804m (9200 feet) above sea level.
Modern facilities including roller/ice-skating rinks, chair lifts, skiing platforms, telephones and snow clearing equipment are available at the resort. These are one of the tourist attractions of the area.
Two stations at Malam Jabba provide the facility of chair lift for tourists and couples for their enjoyment. This chair lift can elevate approximately 56 passengers at a time to the height of 10500 feet. Inside the Malam Jabba resort, the facility of indoor games and other ice games are available. In winters, six to eight feet snow falls around the resort.
Two beautiful tracks for walking are also available in the area. The surroundings of those tracks included tall trees and beautiful scenic views. There is a ‘Green Valley’ where the tourist guides can take you to experience the beauty of a valley which has a green carpet of grass. Cattles can be seen grazing around in the valley. Flowers and plants of different kind can be seen there on the way to Green Valley. Following is the view of Green Valley:
Location: Along the upper swat is a beautiful valley, known as Kalam valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is 270 km drive from Islamabad, 29 km from Bahrain and 2000 metres above sea level.
Accessibility: In order to reach Kalam, tourists can use Motorway to reach Mardan interchange which is about one and a half hours drive from Islamabad. Mardan onwards they can use different routes such as Dargai, Malakand Pass, Chakdara which will lead to Saidu Sharif. The total distance from Mardan till Saidu Sharif is 112 km and estimated time is two and a half hours. From here onwards, public transport is available and air conditioned buses. Moreover, Daewoo bus service operates directly from Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar to Mingora without any stops in between.
Tourist attractions: A place known for its lakes, waterfalls and greenery. It is one of the most popular destinations for tourists. There are small and fertile plateaus adding to its beauty. Additionally, the Ushu and Utrot rivers joing in Kalam, to form the Swat River.
Location:It is 56 km from Mingora city and 560 km from Islamabad. It also lies on the main road that leads to Bahrain, Kalam and other beautiful valleys of Swat.
Accessibility: Roads are there which makes it easier to access Madyan. Public transport is also available for tourists. Tourists usually stay here for long as the sites and valleys are easy to access.
Tourist Attractions: Madyan is indeed the best place for nature lovers. Every kind of modern facility is available in this valley such as cellular networks, internet, cable, hotels, restaurants etc. which makes it different from others. Moreover, there are concrete houses surrounded by tall trees and mountains.
Madyan is surrounded by green valley if Chail, Shanku and Bashigram. Quantities of mushrooms, fruits and timber is produced over there. In addition to this, the rivers and streams have swati fish and trout which makes it unique among the other valleys. The major agricultural produce includes maize, wheat, onions, potatoes and beans.
Location:It is a hill station located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is 55 km from Mingora and 56 km from Saidu Shareef. While talking about Islamabad, it just takes 3 hours42 minutes to reach Miandam.
Accessibility: There are metaled roads which pass through the hills and houses. It is a good place for walkers as tracks are there for tourists.
Tourist attractions:few years ago, it completed medical complex, mosque and plumbing system. Moving towards the economy, it focuses on tourism and agriculture such as corn and potatoes. Miandam also promotes medicinal plants and now about 1000 people are dependent on it for their income. The estimated population is 20,000 which have increased from 3000 in 1988. In graveyards, there are crave wooden grave posts with floral designs.
Location: It is a hill station located in Kyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is 312 km from Islamabad and is 10 km from Madyan. Additionally, it is 4500 feet above the sea level.
Tourist Attractions: The meaning of Bahrain is two rivers. This is because Daral and swat rivers meet here. Due to this, the atmosphere is mostly pleasant in Bahrain. There are resorts and bazaars which are known for its handicrafts. Tourists visit this place throughout the year because many hotels can be found at cheap rates. Furthermore, Bahrain is known for its mosques and buildings and the surrounding area has beautiful valleys which are suitable for hiking.
Location: In the Northern Kalam, there is a plateau 6 km wide where two rivers; Ushu and Utrot intersect (one from north east and one from the west). It is 10 km from Kalam and is 3200 metres above sea level.
There are mainly Muslims living in this area who speak Kashmiri, Pushto, Persian and Punjabi. There are mountains which are famous for hiking. As the weather in winter is very cold, so people are usually cut off in winters and move southwards and return back when the weather is suitable, usually in spring. For ushu, tourism is the main source of income till now.
Location : Lake Mahodand lies in the North of Kalam and 12 km away from Ushu. It takes around 6.5 hours to reach this beautiful lake from Islamabad which is 381 km away. It is famous among nature and peace lovers and trout fish hunters. ‘Mahodand’ means ‘Lake of fishes’ (especially trout fishes).
Accessibility: Mahodand valley can be reached through an un-metalled road from Kalam in a 4×4 vehicle. Although the road is rough and tricky, but the beauty of the surrounding landscapes is a treat for the visitors. Small villages are scattered in the mountains and the hollering smoke that coils into the sky from the houses are some attractive views, which live in the memory forever.
The valley is long and wide and it touches Chitral boundary in the extreme North. After driving for about four to five hours from the vast valley of Kalam, 35 kilometers away, one can reach the spectacular valley of Mahodand where the small lakes, tall cedar trees and widespread pastures can be seen. Small birds that are called ‘non-game birds’ fill the air with their melodious music all the day long.
Tourist Attractions: The Lake looks like a river and changes its shape throughout. It is best to visit Lake Mahodand in the spring or late June because that is the time when glaciers have been melted.
Temporary restaurants and hotels have been constructed by the locals, which provide essential facilities of food and accommodation. There is only one restaurant that cooks good local food. Boating facilities are also available on rent.
Fishing permits can be obtained from PTDC resort in Kalam. Rising problems include over-fishing by the locals and the inappropriate ways of fishing e.g. electrocution, large nets and dynamiting. This has reduced the population of the trout fish in the lake. Authorities must take initiatives to save this rare feature of the valley.
Another attraction in the area is the ‘Spring of Healing’ where people come from around the world to bathe in the water that is said to have healing properties. Trekkers can reach Shandoor Top or Gazar in Chitral through a proper track. The valley provides beautiful and peaceful camping sites. Trekkers are advised to arrange gas cylinders. This will help to reduce the burden on the natural ecosystem and also preserve the deteriorating environment of the valley. Smalls huts have been constructed by the nomads of the area who take their livestock to lush green areas for grazing.
There are several waterfalls in this vicinity that increase the beauty of the valley. Waterfalls are of different lengths and sizes. The sound of these waterfalls echo throughout the valley and creates a cracking sound on the rocks. A visitor explained the beauty of this place as “The spectacular landscapes, the canopy of tall cedar trees, the vast pastures, the roaring waterfalls, the shimmering lakes, the sky touching mountains, and the exotic fragrance of wild flowers and herbs leave such strong imprints on the mind that the visitor is always in search of other opportunity to become one with nature again.”
Location: Kundal Lake is situated 21 km from Kalam and 281 km from Islamabad. It lies in the North of Utror valley.
Accessibility: Kundal Lake can be easily accessed from Kalam via Utror from where a link road ends in a green valley called ‘Ladu’ in the foothills of the lake. The trail to the lake from Ladu is easy to follow as a huge stream flows down from the lake, which mingles with River Swat in Kalam valley.
Hiking can be a way to reach Ladu from Utror or a four-wheeler can be used to make the journey easy. It takes four hours to reach the lake from Ladu. The first two hours walk is in a narrow valley beside a stream however the valley becomes wide later and expands till the lake is reached. Good quality shoes with gripping soles must be used to walk through the trail and care should be taken as an accidental slip can be dangerous.
Tourist attraction: Kundal is a huge and extensive lake. Its length is 2 km and width is 1 km. A huge watercourse feeds it in eastern side where huge glaciers melt down in summers. There are two hamlets where two small mosques can provide an accommodation but it is better to have your own tents in case of emergency use. The mountains around this small valley are covered with tall cedar and pine trees.
They have also arranged diesel-operated motorboats in which you can take a tour of the lake and reach the other side easily because otherwise it may take two hours minimum. People who take temporary residency over here during summers plow the open land and harvest potatoes and turnips, which are famous all over the country for its exotic taste. Kundal Sanctuary is situated 15km away from Sawaimadhopur on Sawaimadhopur-Kalibhat road (shown in the picture below on the right).
Local people are friendly and provide guidance if one asks them. They also help in carrying the luggage. They are very cooperative and will provide the typical nomadic delicacies of butter, buttermilk, cheese and maize bread upon request happily. Some of them have also opened a kind of hut restaurants where tea is served upon payment.
The lake seems to be an exact duplicate of Lake Saifulmaluk in Naran Kaghan. Both the lakes are almost of the same size and appearance. Location and surroundings of both the lakes are almost identical but one is known and the other is still concealed in the mountains of Swat valley. The tourism authorities need to wake up to publicize the lake and arrange special tours to familiarize this precious gift of nature for all. Different beautiful views of the lake are shown in the pictures below:
Two other lakes, Khapiro (Faries), and Spin khwar (White Stream) are located in the peripheries of Kundal Lake and can be accessed through the lake in five to six hours. It would take almost four days to visit all the three lakes in a go.
Khapiro/Pari Lake I
Location: The name ‘Pari’ or “Khapiro’ means ‘house of fairies’. It is believed that fairies live there and bathe in the water of this lake. Khapiro Lake is located in the North East of Utror Valley. It has a considerable depth and lies in the foothills of highest mountains. 281 km from Islamabad
Accessibility: Khapiro Lake can be accessed from Izmis and Kundal Lake by trekking. It takes almost 5 hours to reach the top of Izmis and Kundal Lake. The track is very sharp from both the sides. Beautiful flowers and green meadows can be seen in the surrounding.
Tourist attraction: Khapiro Lake is encircled by sharp rough rocks and mountains with grass and beautiful flowers. It is a relatively small lake, triangular in shape and a great Pari Lake which is situated below it is fed by it. Water of this lake is emerald green in color. Crystal clear water fills the lake from the waterfall from the glaciers and mountains. Tourists are attracted by the green highlands, sky touching mountains and beautiful environment in the area. Except for the month of August and September, the lake is sunk in glaciers throughout the year.
Khapiro/Pari Lake II
Location: Khapiro/ Pari Lake II is located near Pari Lake I, at the highest altitude in the mountain ranges of Swat.
Tourist attraction: The Lake is 0.25 km in length and is surrounded by steep pastures. When fodder is limited in the plains, grazers take their livestock to the pastures in summers. It is comparatively greater in size and depth than the other lake situated in its vicinity and remains open in the months of July, August and September. Kundal Lake is situated in the foothills down and water from Pari Lake II flows to Kundal Lake. Due to the uncertain weather and alarming height, the lake remains undisturbed.
Pari Lake II has a twofold importance:
- It provides a huge share of water to the gigantic Kundal Lake.
- It is a safe feeding ground for the native as well as migratory birds.
The high mountains surrounding the lake are a safe dock for the bulky Snow-cock and brightly colored Monal pheasants. These birds can be heard and seen during the early hours of dawn.
Pari Lake II is a beautiful place to visit as its wide horizon, spectacular landscapes and cool breeze are the priceless gifts of nature that remains in the memory of a visitor.
Spin Khwar (White Stream) Lake
Location: Spin Khwar is situated towards the North of Kundal Lake and East of Utror valley. It is 176 km away from Islamabad. The name Spin Khwar has importance as a small white stream in the east flows down to the lake from the surrounding mountains and is a major source of water for the lake.
Accessibility: Spin Khwar Lake can be accessed through two tracks: One from Kundal, and the other from Ladu valley. The track from Ladu is easy to walk and less tiring while the track from Kundal is not only difficult but dangerous; although it is short and links Kundal and Spin Khwar.
Tourist attraction: The Lake is large in size and is an ideal refuge for animals and local and migratory birds. Tall coniferous trees around the lake add to the beauty of the surrounding and the lake. Landscapes surrounding the lake are decorated with wild flowers and green meadows.
Due to lack of publicity and popularity, Spin Khwar is not much visited by tourists. However, it has a great potential to attract tourists due to its beautiful landscapes. Campsites are available near the lake. The lake can become a famous recreational spot if proper tracks and other necessary facilities are provided to the visitors.