Highlights National News

Road to Swat: an eternal journey — Part I

I disagree with those who say Swat is not safe! It was difficult for me to convince my family that I wanted to go to Swat because everyone thought that the place was not safe, it has rigid people, women are not secure there and above all the route is risky.

Finally I was able to convince my mother who remained worried because of my decision to go to Swat with my husband. I soon figured out the reason soon why my mother was so discouraging about my trip to Swat and that was the Malakand mountains and the route which was quite dangerous when she had visited the place almost 35 years ago. She had returned scared of the route and the steep and rocky roads.

I started my journey from Lahore to Swat and on my way, I stopped over at Kallar Kahar for the night. The next morning, I took up the route to Swat and that was an adventure I fell in love with. From Islamabad, I took the route to Swat which is the new motorway and I must appreciate that the government had made a wonderful road. There was no strain of steep and sharp turns; the road is well carpeted and maintained. I passed through the remarkable tunnel that made me land in the Swat valley.

The entire route to Swat is out of this world. It seems as if it is a journey to paradise on earth and no doubt the place is a paradise!

The scenic vistas are breathtaking and you will feel as if it is the road to heaven, because in this world I have not seen such stunning panorama of mountains and plains. The views on your left and right will certainly make you thank Allah for His blessings and nature which He has blessed Pakistan with. Trust me I have been to several countries in West and Europe but the scenic exquisiteness of this road is incomparable.

This is Pakistan, the land of splendour, nature and serenity and I wonder who are the people who say that it is not safe!

Anyhow, I landed at the Mingora town of Swat valley and that was another marvel. River Swat was thriving and people were enjoying the cool breeze sitting close to it. I could hear the splashes and sounds of the waves from a distance as the river was bustling. The river dazzles in the sunshine and sparkles at night under the moonlit sky.

I must say it is now the love of my life. Let me tell you something interesting about rivers.

They have an attraction to pull you towards them and trust me I experienced that in Swat because somehow I wanted to go a touch the waves.

Mingora is the largest city in Malakand Division. It is a main tourist destination; with a large number of hotels therefore even in the busiest seasons you will find a good hotel to stay there. You will find all types of hotels there from one to four stars and all are economical. The city itself is very economical and anything you want you will get at a cheap price, much cheaper than Lahore.

I started my journey from Lahore to Swat and on my way, I stopped over at Kallar Kahar for the night. The next morning, I took up the route to Swat and that was an adventure I fell in love with. From Islamabad, I took the route to Swat which is the new motorway and I must laud the government for this wonderful road

In Mingora you will find a variety of fruits and at a very cheap rate. Like Lahore there is no classification of fruit as A or B class. You will find excellent quality of fruits and trust me you will not even think a bit for bargaining.

Restaurants cook the best food and I loved the mixed vegetables and lamb Shinwari there. Lamb Shinwari is a unique dish which is cooked without any spices other than green chillies and black pepper and salt. The good part is that it is cooked in the lamb’s own fat and it is easy to digest for people who have issues with stomach because cooking oils are the main source of problems in stomach for those who have peptic or other stomach ulcers.

You will find all big brands of clothes, shoes and household stuff. It is a wonderfully developed city. There are huge markets selling car and other vehicles spare parts which are again very cheap in prices.

The city is a modern one and I could see many females around who were also tourists. It is good that you cover yourself with a shawl because every city and place has its own norms and values and I don’t feel any harm in abiding those.

I found the people very generous, hospitable and polite. From the good guard of my hotel to the waiter in the restaurant and the shopkeepers all seemed very humble and polite. Tourists get a lot of protocol there in Mingora and every native will treat you special by saying, “you are a guest”. I really felt honoured and loved at this place and wondered why the people of Swat were given such a bad impression.

The river Swat flows stunningly through the city and there are numerous resorts around the river and the famous one is the Fizagut Park. One thing made me sad there and that was the behaviour of the tourists with the beautiful place and thundering river. I could see plastic bags, wrappers and other waste in the river and at the sitting areas near the river. The tourists should avoid throwing such things in the river and I think there should be a heavy fine imposed on any one who throws anything into the river or any other place.

My one trip to this heaven like place washed away all the negativity of my family when I kept on sharing videos and pictures of the place with them. Then I thought for a while that why they were thinking so? And finally the answer I found was ‘media’. Yes unfortunately this heaven on earth which was also known as Switzerland of Pakistan has been projected very negatively on media and thus created propaganda so that the place loses its value.

Almost 2 kilometres from Mingora is the Saidu Sharif and I will take you there in the next piece.

While staying in a classy hotel at Mingora I roamed around the streets and the city. You will find a lot of resemblance of this city with the old settlement and streets of Abbotabad, which is also the love of my life. Mingora is a well planned city and the traffic policemen there are extremely polite and helpful.

While wandering around the places in Mingora I saw directions to the Saidu Sharif and that was another area to be explored. Saidu Sharif is the capital city of Swat district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The city also serves as the capital city of Malakand division.

This city is named after Saidu Baba who according to the locals was a prominent leader of the Yusufzai State of Swat. Saidu Sharif is the centre of numerous official buildings and archaeological sites. You must visit the Swat Museum and the Tomb of Saidu Baba. While going around the city you will also see the Royal Palace of former Wali Swat and the archaeological remains of the Butkara Buddhist Stupa. My mother and father were once the guests of Wali Swat and my mother still cherishes the crockery and interior of the palace, although I couldn’t see that.

According to the locals and history of the place, the name of Saidu Sharif was “Baligram”. Akhund Abdul Ghaffur, a Muslim religious leader who was known as Saidu Baba, settled there in 1835 and after that the place became to be known as Saidu Sharif but you will still see a place near Saidu Sharif which is called ‘Baligram’. While staying in Mingora you can any time visit the Saidu Sharif. This place too has a lot of markets and sites of interest.

Another fine morning during my stay at an ages old hotel in Mingora I planned to visit Malam Jabba as my husband was keen to visit it. So we started our journey to Malam Jabba which is almost two hours from Mingora.

This is also another wonder on earth and the greenery and picturesque route would capture your senses. Let me tell you that Malam Jabba is a small hill station in the Hindu Kush mountain range and the road to this place is yet to be constructed but it is still approachable. Just avoid visiting the place in rains because there could be chances of land sliding there.

This place is a settlement of various towns but trust me it is a spectacular place. You will see ranges of mountains and striking landscapes at this place. There is a resort and several small hotels will come your way. I was staying at Mingora therefore didn’t check what type of hotels were there near Malam Jabba. I had always heard that these mountains were dangerous but I didn’t find them so. These are much better than the mountains we see on our way to Naran and Kaghan and even the road is safer. After roaming around in the settlements of Malam Jabba I returned back to Mingora and on my way I read a board which directed towards Bahrain. I told my husband that we must explore this place too.

The same day on my way back I went to the elegant pearl like White palace and I must say that it is a must visit site for all who love nature and greenery. White palace is located in Marghazar which is another hill station located in the Swat district of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Now I realize how important and beautiful this province is and Allah has blessed it with the unsurpassed natural splendour. Marghazar which means green land has green valleys, cold springs, and mountains. Marghazar has a 200 year old colossal chinar tree, which serves as a canopy for visitors.

It is said that somewhere in 1940, the then Wali of Swat, Miangul Abdul Wadud, built a summer residence there for himself which became the summer capital of Swat. He named the majestic palace Sufaid Mahal which in English means White Palace and later it became popular as White Palace and the board placed on the palace also has White Palace inscribed on it.

The locals of the area take pride and tell all the tourists that the Queen Elizabeth II had also visited Marghazar in 1961 and stayed there for three days.

Now the White Palace has since been converted into a hotel and you can get a room for six thousand per night there. The palace is really a wonder there amidst the lakes, waterfalls and mountains. One can never think that such a wonder would be hidden there.

As I parked the car I read the board stating “Rs. 500 fine on littering” and yes the place was as clean as crystal. The interior of the palace was beautiful and high ceilings and thick walls and huge rooms which are now converted into dining areas of the hotel.

Fruit trees are in abundance at the palace. You will see several apple trees there and if you try to pick fruits from the trees the locals and management of the palace will be angry at you. There is also a natural spring near the palace and people take along water from that spring. There are beautiful souvenir shops around the palace and inside too. I could see loads of tourist who had come to see the palace and also those who were staying there. I guess staying at a palace must be a royal experience and surely I will stay there the next time I visit this heavenly place called Swat.

White Palace, as I wrote in my last piece, is a wonder hidden in the thick mountains and trees of Marghazar. It is situated at about 13 kilometres away from Saidu Sharif and you will love the romantic journey to this place. On your way you will see several corn sellers and I will suggest do taste it.

According to the historic references the greenery of stunning countryside inclined King of Swat Abdul Wadud in 1935 to build a summer resort there. Would you believe that the marble used in the construction of this palace was brought from Agra, bronze from Belgium and artisans from Turkey who designed and constructed the palace. It does show the finesse of the artisans. The construction of the palace was then completed in 1941.

Another interesting fact is that this palace was first named as Swatti Taj Mahal then the name was changed to Moti Mahal and later as Sufaid Mahal which meant White Palace and now it is popular with this English name even among the locals.

There are 24 rooms in the palace and also the room exists where the Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip stayed for three days in 1961.There are two big conference halls where King Abdul Wadood used to hold cabinet meetings and now these are converted into dining halls for the guests and tourists. Do taste the chicken sandwiches there which are mouth watering. I could not resist eating the French fries there as well because they were being cooked with an attractive recipe.

The lobby or the sitting area of the palace will give you a eye-catching spectacle of the gardens having plants and fruit trees. The original marble podium and furniture is still there in the gardens. The lobby runs on the other side of the palace too where you can see the souvenir shops and the natural spring.

There were rooms for the ministers of the king and a separate section for the prince. These rooms are now being used by the tourists who go to stay there. I would suggest all my readers to go and visit this palace as it is a must see site and do stay there to have the royal feel.

I had roamed around most of the suburbs and the city of Mingora and the next morning I took my way to another station Bahrain. This is another awe-inspiring town located in Swat District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and is at a drive of almost 2.5 hours from Mingora. Let me tell you that the countryside and scenic views on this road will surely make you feel as if you are in heaven and not on earth. The sky is clear and there is zero pollution on this route from Mingora to Bahrain.

Bahrain is named so because of its location at the convergence of the Daral and Swat rivers. It is the place where these two rivers meet and the junction of these rivers is a mind-blowing site. The road to Bahrain is tremendously fine and carpeted.

The writer can be reached at taniashahab2016@gmail.com

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