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A family trip to

Swat
11th – 14th August 2017

By
Shaikh Muhammad Ali
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The beautiful valley of Swat, popularly known as the Switzerland of the East is a
holidaymaker’s paradise and a hallmark of magnificent scenic beauty and a rich
historical past. With its roaring rivers, waterfalls, meandering streams, glacier fed
lakes, pine forests, alpine meadows, snow covered peaks of Mankial and Falaksair,
fruit laden orchards, lush green fields, flower filled mountain slopes and above all
the friendly Swati people who are famous for their traditional hospitality; Swat is
without doubt one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the northern valleys
of Pakistan.

I first visited Swat in 1986 accidentally when I was visiting Peshawar as a young
man and ended up going to Swat. I was just by myself and was only 22 years of age
then. I remember taking a public bus to Swat and when I got off at the Mingora
bus stand; there were only a few hotels across the road and ended up boarding in
one of them. I hardly remember the name of the hotel where I stayed but it was a
run down, shabby ole’ place but I could not have complained since I was travelling
on a shoestring budget anyways.

The same day in the evening, I got in touch with a friend of my father who was the
bureau chief of one of the newspapers in Swat that my father was representing in
Karachi and being a very hospitable person, he visited me early next day and took
me to places like Marghazar, Miandam, Madyan and Bahrain. We could not visit
Kalam since there was a landslide and thus had to return from Madyan. We did all
this in a single day in his little Suzuki FX, an 800 cc car.

I did take a few pictures but they were neither very clear nor were they digital and
thus cannot post them here which is actually such a drag. Fast forward 31 years
and I got an opportunity to go visit Swat again to conduct an HEC test for the
induction of BS students in different universities there and I decided to say yes with
a thought that I might be able to visualize my dream of seeing Kalam.

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We pack our bags on Friday 11th August 2017 and took to the road around 10:00
a.m. Very soon we were on the Motorway M-1 heading north from Islamabad.

(On the Motorway – M1 up north)

By 1:20 p.m. we were passing through Mardan and decided to stop there for Zuhr
prayer and lunch. Stopping for lunch at Mardan and not having the famous
Chappal Kebab there is almost criminal. We ordered Chappal kebabs with Raita &
Salad and some Kabuli Pulao and while the lunch was being prepared; we offered
our Zuhr prayers.

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(Chappal kebab & Kabuli Pulao)

The smell of freshly fried Chappal kebabs was heavenly and we ate to our heart’s
content. We gobbled it down with a few hot cups of local Qahwa (Green tea) and
hit the road again.

By 3:58 p.m., Swat was only 37 kms far and we wanted to get there as soon as
possible so that we could find our guesthouse and relax for the rest of the evening.

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(Somewhere in Malakand)

By 4:16 p.m., we had entered the Swat valley and were passing by the Swat River.
Later we had to turn around and take a left turn so that we could take the Mingora
bypass since we had to reach the PTCL Kanju campus of the University of Swat. I
wanted to see the location of the university so that I could reach there on time the
next morning to supervise the HEC test.

By 5:00 p.m. we had reached the university, took a survey along with our local host
and after having a cup of tea with him; we went to the guesthouse in Mingora
where we were supposed to stay for the night. Once we reached the guesthouse,
the cook / guard escorted us to our room, which was spacious enough to host all
five of us. After disembarking, my wife Sabeen started unpacking our bags while I
went to a local restaurant to get some food for dinner and bread, butter and eggs
for breakfast.

Had a sumptuous dinner and we all retired early since I had to wake up early the
next morning for the test? The morning sun was out early and I was up too. Asked
Mohsin to accompany me to the test site. We had a lavish breakfast and Mohsin
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and I left for the PTCL Kanju campus around 7:00 a.m. while reaching there around
7:45 a.m. Everything was being taken care of by our local host who was the
supervisor on behalf of the university. My job was only to supervise on behalf of
HEC and after going around and meeting all the invigilation staff and some of the
students, we initiated the test.

(With my team of invigilators at the PTCL Kanju campus, UOS)

The three-hour test was conducted in a professional fashion by the local staff with
no hiccups whatsoever.

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(Posing with my group of security guards)

As soon as the test was over, I thanked my host and his entire team and rushed back
to the guesthouse where we had our lunch with the rest of the family. After having
lunch, we first decided to visit the Swat museum, which is although small, but one
of the best well-kept museums in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

(Posing at the entrance of the Swat museum)


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(The entire Shaikh clan posing in this picture)

Since photography was not allowed within the premises of the museum, thus we
did not push our luck although the artefacts were worth appreciating.

By 3:50 p.m. we got done with the museum and thus left for the archeological site
called Butkara I which was hardly a twenty minutes’ drive from here.

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(The signboard at the famous Butkara I site)

This is what Wikipedia says about this site:


The Butkara Stupa (Urdu: ‫ )بوتکاراستوپ‬is an important Buddhist stupa near Mingora, in the area
of Swat, Pakistan. It may have been built by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, but it is generally
dated slightly later to the 2nd century BCE.

The stupa was enlarged on five occasions during the following centuries, every time by building
over, and encapsulating, the previous structure.

The Indo-Corinthian capital from Butkara Stupa under which a coin of Azes II was found. Dated to 20 BCE
or earlier (Turin City Museum of Ancient Art).

The stupa was excavated by an Italian mission (IsIOAO: Istuto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente),
led by archaeologist Domenico Faccenna from 1956, to clarify the various steps of the
construction and enlargements. The mission established that the stupa was "monumentalized" by
the addition of Hellenistic architectural decorations during the 2nd century BCE, suggesting a
direct involvement of the Indo-Greeks, rulers of northwestern India during that period, in the
development of Greco-Buddhist architecture.

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An Indo-Corinthian capital representing a Buddhist devotee within foliage has been found which
had a reliquary and coins of Azes II buried at its base, securely dating the sculpture to earlier
than 20 BCE.

The nearby Hellenistic fortifications of Barikot, are also thought to be contemporary.1

(The main stupa at Butkara I)

We were done with the archeological site and headed towards Marghazar, which
was about an hour’s drive from here. Marghazar (White palace) as it is often called
is a palace, which was used by the Wali e Swat and was handed over to the
government and is now used as a tourist site.

1
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butkara_Stupa
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(Tourist shops outside the Marghazar White palace)

This is what Wikipedia says about Marghazar:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Palace_(Marghazar)

(The White palace with its lush green lawns)


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After going around the White palace, taking a few more pictures and enjoying a
few snacks, we left the place around 6:00 p.m. and on the way back decided to visit
Islampur, which was famous for Shawls made in Swat. We offered our Maghreb
prayers there and after buying a few beautiful handmade shawls, came back to the
guesthouse and retired after having an early dinner.

The next morning, Mohsin & I got up early and visited the Saidu Sharif stupa,
which was right across the road where we were staying; the family had already
been there yesterday.

(The sign board at the Saidu Sharif stupa)

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(The remains of the Saidu Sharif stupa)

We then went to the PTCL, Kanju campus; the next day being the second day of the
HEC test, which again went fine.

On the way to Kanju, we encountered this particular vehicle, which we had never
seen before, and thus the inclusion here 

(The Mustang Rickshaw)


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As soon as we got done with the test, we returned to the guesthouse, packed our
bags; had lunch and left for Bahrain (Swat) which is about a 2 hour drive from
Saidu Sharif at an approximate distance of 62 kms.

The Swat River constantly twists and turns along with you as you drive from Saidu
Sharif to Bahrain.

(The majestic Swat River)

Bahrain is a sleepy little town located in Swat District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa,


Pakistan, 60 km North of Mingora at an elevation of 4,700 feet on the right bank
of the Swat river.

This is what Wikipedia says about Bahrain, Swat:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahrain,_Swat

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(We took this picture around 5:53 p.m.)

We entered Bahrain around 6:00 p.m. and searched for a hotel on the main road
where we could stay for the night. Being 13th August, the guesthouses were
comparatively unoccupied and thus we found two adjacent rooms to our choice at
the Grace Hotel and unpacked.

Night falls rather early in mountain regions and after relaxing for a while in our
rooms, we went out searching for a place to eat.

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(A walk on the Bahrain – Kalam road)

We found a very nice place right by the river and decided to have dinner there.
The menu included Chapli kebab, chicken malai boti, Raita, salad, Lassi and Qahwa.
Surprisingly, an HEC colleague who was on another meeting trip and was
returning from Kalam made contact and thus we invited him over to have dinner
with us.

After feasting on a brilliant dinner, we called it a day. The HEC colleague went to
Saidu Sharif while we returned to our rooms to retire. I went to sleep early while
the kids were in no mood to sleep and got busy in playing cards.

Much to my amazement, I got up around 11:30 p.m. or so from the noise of loud
music and gunfire which turned out to be fire crackers. I had almost forgotten that
it was the night of 14th August and youngsters downstairs were in a festive mood.
We came out in the balconies and joined the festivities of Independence Day by
bringing out our own firecrackers, which we had brought with us from Islamabad.

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The 70th Anniversary of Pakistan was thus celebrated in Bahrain, Swat with much
fervor and enthusiasm. The furor went on late in the night but I was too tired to
remain out and thus called it a day.

We got up slightly late and went out by 9:30 a.m. to have breakfast. Just down the
block, we found a restaurant where Halwa Puri was served and thus we decided to
have breakfast here.

(Our breakfast restaurant)

The previous night, I had discussed the option of visiting Kalam with the HEC
colleague but he warned that due to the broken road, it usually takes about 2.5
hours to cover a distance of merely 35 kms, which was not very good for the car
tires.

Although this was the second time that I was missing the opportunity to visit Kalam
but due to the lack of time and the bad road conditions; we decided not to visit
Kalam and planned to revisit when the road is built so that we could visit the Ushu
glacier and Mahodand lake as well.

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(Posing outside the Grace Hotel)

We thus went around window-shopping on the Bahrain – Kalam road and took a
few pictures and bought us some dry fruit for the rest of the journey while enjoying
the views of the Swat River.

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(So close yet so far away)

(Posing by the Swat River in Bahrain)


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Since we had decided not to visit Kalam thus we started back to Islamabad. We
returned to the hotel, packed our bags and checked out. On the way back, we
decided to stop at Madyan and visited the famous Trout fish farm there.

Madyan is about a 26 kms, half hour drive down south from Bahrain and took us
about the same time to reach.

(Adil Shaikh posing at the Fish Hut, Trout restaurant)

Before we sat down to have our snacks, the kids decided to get their feet wet in the
Swat River and thus both of us parents went down with them to the river in order
to supervise and keep an eye on them while they frolicked in the water.

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(By the rivers of Babylon…….)

We enjoyed our snacks by the Swat River along with the ambience of the place and
stayed there for a good one hour.

(With the owner of the Trout fish farm in Madyan)

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We may have left Madyan by 2:30 p.m. and around 4:00 p.m. reached a river side
restaurant and decided to stop for a late lunch.

The trout that we missed at Madyan, we ordered it here at this particular


restaurant.

(Waiting for our trout lunch here)

After feasting on our lunch, we were off to Saidu Sharif. On the way back, Adil had
found a particular stupa through GPRS and wanted us to visit there.

It took us around two hours to reach the Shingardar stupa, which was slightly off
the main highway and was about 14 kms south of Mingora.

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(On the way to Shingardar Stupa in Saidu Sharif)

The largest stupa of the Indian subcontinent is located in village Shingardar (a


village between Ghalegay and Barikot). This stupa is a remnant of Buddhist era,
and is one of the thousands ancient monuments in Swat Valley. It was built by
Uttarasena, an ancient king of Swat, to enshrine his share of the relics of Buddha.
The building of stupa is made of large stones and layers of thin slate.

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(The majestic Shingardar stupa)

Right before Maghreb prayer, we left the stupa and stopped for tea at one of the
roadside restaurants and offered our Maghreb prayer too. We again started our
homeward journey and around 10:35 p.m. reached Mardan and stopped at Mr.
Cod restaurant for burgers, fries and coke.

(Chips and fish burgers on the go)


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We were very tired by now and wanted to come home as soon as possible. We
reached home in Islamabad in the next 1 hour and 50 minutes while travelling
another 142 kms down south. We were thus home by 2:00 a.m. while appreciating
the fact that there is no place like home.

Shaikh Muhammad Ali


‘The Wandering Dervish’
E-mail: dushkashaikh@gmail.com
Cell: +00-92-321-5072996
Monday, 18 Shawal, 1439 Hijri
02nd July, 2018, 6:13 p.m. (PST)

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