Swat Valley, known as the Switzerland of Pakistan...
Swat Valley, known as the Switzerland of Pakistan...

known as the Switzerland of Pakistan, Swat valley is one of the major tourist attractions of Pakistan. The best season for tourism is from March till October. The visitors can enjoy 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 valley has one of the oldest civilization’s history and one of the beautiful Scenery one could ever see. Located between the foothills of Hindukush mountain range, Swat valley is part of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Swat valley's location has a major strategic importance as it lies in the region where South Asia, Central Asia and China meet. The major attractions of the Swat valley include its archaeology, the lush green sites, history and the art.

Swat valley can be accessed through Peshawar, Rawalpindi and Islamabad. There are regular flights to Saidu Sharif, the capital city of Swat. Travelling by road M1 Motorway can be used to reach Mardan Interchange from Islamabad, then from Mardan via Takh-e-Bai, Dargai, Malakand Pass, Batkhella, Chakdara to 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 has also improved and Daewoo buses are commonly used for travelling.

The history of Swat valley goes back to around 2000 years. It was known as Udyana and later the name was changed to Suvastu. The population of Swat valley is around 1,257,602 and they have a number of cultural groups 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.

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 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.

Swat Valley’s Heritage

Swat valley is 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 ancient statues of Buddha in Swat are sufficient proof of the long lasting and devoted labour of the artists and the tradition still continues in the valley of Swat with great enthusiasm. 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 labour 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 jewellery and ornaments that are original, typical and regional. The pretty girls of Swat can be seen wearing these artistic forms of jewellery.

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 between the villages of Kanju and Dherai of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. 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 too such as emerald reserves in the hills northward of the town.

Following are the tourist attractions in and around of 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. 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 ancient jewellery wooden articles are preserved with care for preserving the old culture findings.

3] Margazar

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 sharif (a pious city) because of the shrine 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.

6] Fizagat

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.

7] Malam Jabba

Malam Jabba is one of the most beautiful resorts in the Swat area. A 'Hill Station', 8700 feet above the sea level and approximately 314 km away from Islamabad. It is situated on the top of Hindu Kush mountain range, in the Northeast of Saidu Sharif which is 51 km away from this resort. Malam Jabba is home to one of the two ski resorts in Pakistan, other is at Naltar, Gilgit Baltistan. Tourist can reach Saidu Sharif using the airport facility and from there cars and jeeps are used to travel to other nearby places.

On the main Madyan-Kalam road, the road turns to the right at Manglor town (12 km from Saidu Sahrif), for the Malam-Jabba Dara which has a series of small villages and settlements like Salanda, Jehanabad, Talegraam, Badar, Ser, Malam, Kishora, Spine Oba, and finally Jabba. Malam is a small village which comes prior to Kishora village on the main Malam-Jabba road. Malam is nearly 17 km from Manglor while Kishora is at 18 km distance. Jabba (12 km from Kishora) is the upper most part of the whole Dara (gorge).

The Malam Jabba Ski Resort is owned by the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation. It has a ski slope of about 800m with the highest point of the slope 2804 m (9200 ft) above sea level. The resort is equipped with modern facilities including roller/ice-skating rinks, chair lifts, skiing platforms, telephones and snow clearing equipment.

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 winter, six to eight feet snow falls around the resort. Two beautiful tracks for walking are also available in the area. The surroundings of these tracks include 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.

8] Kalam

Kalam valley is located at the distance of 99 kilometres from Mingora in the northern upper reaches of Swat valley along the bank of Swat River in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Kalam is surrounded by lush green hills, thick forests and bestowed with mesmeric lakes, meadows and waterfalls which are worth seen features of the landscape. It is the birthplace of Swat river which forms with confluence of two major tributaries of Gabral river and Ushu river. There are grand hotels in Kalam for tourists to rest and enjoy the cool breeze of Swat river.

Kalam valley is a spacious sub-valley of Swat, at an elevation of about 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level, and providing rooms for a small but fertile plateau above the river for farming. Here, the metaled road ends and single road leads to the Usho and Utror valleys. From Matiltan some snow-capped mountains are visible including Mount Falaksar 5,918 meters (19,416 feet), and another unnamed peak 6,096 meters (20,000 feet) high.

With a mild and generally warm and temperate climate, Kalam features a humid subtropical climate under the Koppen climate classification. The average temperature in Kalam is 13.4 °C, while the annual precipitation averages 639 mm. Even in the driest months, there is a lot of precipitation. November is the driest month with 15 mm of precipitation, while April, the wettest month, has an average precipitation of 93 mm. July is the hottest month of the year with an average temperature of 24.1 °C. The coldest month January has an average temperature of 1.5 °C.

9] Madyan

Madyan 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. Newly built roads make 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.

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 valleys of Chail, Shanku and Bashigram. Quantities of mushrooms, fruits and timber is produced in the area. 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.

10] Bahrain

Bahrain a hill station located about 4500 feet above the sea level. 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. The surrounding beautiful valleys are suitable for hiking.

11] Ushu

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. Locals can speak Kashmiri, Pushto, Persian and Punjabi. There are mountains which are famous for hiking. Winter is very cold therefore, people move southwards and return back when the weather is suitable, usually in spring. For ushu, tourism is the main source of income till now.

12] Lake Mahodand

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).

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 km 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 day long.

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.

Another attraction in the area is the “Healing Spring” 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. 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.”

13] Kundal Lake

Kundal Lake is situated 21 km from Kalam and 281 km from Islamabad. It lies in the North of Utror valley. 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.

Kundal is a huge and extensive lake with 2km length and about 1km in width. A watercourse feeds it from eastern side where the huge glaciers melt down in summer. 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 diesel-operated motorboats are available for the tour of lake and to reach the other side of the lake as well. People who take temporary residency in the area during summer plough 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.

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. 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.

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.

14] Khapiro/Pari Lake 1

The name Pari or Khapiro means “house of fairies”. It is believed that fairies live in the area 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.

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.

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 colour. 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.

15] Khapiro/Pari Lake 2

Khapiro/ Pari Lake 2 is located near Pari Lake 1, at the highest altitude in the mountain ranges of Swat. 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 summer. 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 2 flows to Kundal Lake. Due to the uncertain weather and alarming height, the lake remains undisturbed.

Pari Lake 2 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 coloured Monal pheasants. These birds can be heard and seen during the early hours of dawn.

Pari Lake 2 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.

16] Spin Khwar (White Stream) Lake

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.

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 too, although it is short and links Kundal and Spin Khwar.

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.