The beautiful valley of Swat, popularly known as the Switzerland of the East is holiday-makers delight and a hallmark of magnificent scenic beauty and rich historical past.
With its roaring rivers, waterfalls, meandering streams, glacier fed lakes, pine forests, alpine meadows, snow covered peaks of Mankial and Flaksair, 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 destination in the northern valleys of Pakistan.
The Valley of Swat sprawls over 5,337 sq. kilometers. Summer temperature is maximum 22C and minimum 7 C. Saidu Sharif is the capital of Swat and its twin city Mingora is the largest and oldest market town. Madyan, Baharin, Miandam, Kalam and Malam Jabba are its main tourist spots. The elevation ranges from 991 meters (3,300 feet) above sea level at Saidu Sharif to the top its highest mountain Flaksair which is 6,257 meters (20,528 feet) high.
Swat was described as “Udyana” (the garden) in ancient Hindu epics. Alexander the Great crossed Swat River with part of his army in 327BC. He fought and won some of his major battles at Barikot and Udegram and stormed their battlements, before crossing over the plains of the five rivers. In Greek accounts these towns have been identified as Ora and Bazira. After the death of Alexander the Great the Greeks quickly lost effective control of their far flung colonies and soon the northern part of the sub-continent situated west of the Indus which includes Swat was annexed by Chandra Gupta. From the second century BC to the ninth century AD, Swat was cradle of Buddhism where at one time more than 1400 monasteries flourished. The ringing of the bells in these places of worship used to create a strange mysterious impression all around the valley. During this time Swat became famous as the hub of Gandhara School of Sculpture which was an expression of Greco-Roman style mixed with the local Buddhist traditional sculpture. Today, ruins of great Buddhist stupas, monasteries and statues are found all over Swat.
Swat is also the historical land where the Muslim conquerors, Mahmood of Ghazni, Mughal king Babar and Akbar fought their battles preparatory to the conquest of the sub-continent. Mahmood of Ghazni took the valley in the 11th century after a fierce battle at Udegram, where his commander Khushal Khan was killed and buried. A mosque dating from the 11th century has been excavated on the hill at Udegram.
The history of modern Swat commences with the emergence of the Akhund Sahib of Swat as a charismatic religious leader and a reformer. With his help and support, Syed Akbar Shah established the rule of Shariat in Swat from 1849 to 1856. But after the sudden death of Syed Akbar Shah, Swat was again left unorganized. In 1915 the territory again started its progression to a more peaceful and stable life when Miangul Abdul Wadood, the grandson of the Akhund Sahib and a powerful political figure of Swat was unanimously declared by the tribes as their king. The Swat state was founded in 1917 by Miangul Abdul Wadood, known as Badshah Sahib. The state of Swat was accorded official recognition by the British Indian Government in 1926 and the title of “Wali” ruler was conferred on Miangul Abdul Wadood. Miangul Wadood abdicated in 1949 in favor of his son, Miangul Jehanzeb, who continued to develop the valley by building roads, schools and hospitals; and more importantly by institutionalizing land reform.
The princely status of Swat, along with the adjoining states of Chitral and Dir, was brought to an end by the presidential order in 1969. And all of them merged in Pakistan. Now Swat is part of Malakand Division which is Provincially Administrated Tribal Area (PATA) of the Khyber Pukhtunkhawa province of Pakistan.
At Kalam, 35 km from Bahrain and about 2,072 meters (6,800 feet) from sea level, the valley opens out into a fertile plateau. It is the place in Swat Valley which actually gives the name of Switzerland of Asia. This place features thick pine forests, alpine meadows, crystal clear lakes and cool mountain streams and snow covered mountains all at one place. At Kalam the Ushu and Utrot rivers join to form the Swat River. Both of these rivers are also famous as excelling fishing reaches. From Kalam one gets a breathtaking view of the snow-capped peak of Flaksair 6,257 meters (20,528 feet). On the way to Kalam one can also have good view of the peak of Mankial from the village of Kulalai. Mankial (5,726 meters/18,787 feet) is the second highest peak of Swat Valley
Because of its cool weather in summer and stunning scenery, Kalam is the most popular tourist resort among the Pakistani tourists who come here in thousands during summer holidays to enjoy the cool climate of this place. The main bazaar is very crowded in peak tourist season where all the necessities of life are available. There are number of handicraft shops and restaurants along the main road. Across the wooden suspension bridge is the old village of Kalam. During the summer, a favorite activity is to sit on charpoys placed in the shallow waters of river with cool mountain water flowing underneath, sipping hot tea and enjoying tasty Pakoras or Chappli Kababs with Tandori Nans. Kalam has the largest number of hotels of different categories to provide boarding and lodging facilities to the visitors.
Just outside Mingora on the road to Kalam, Fizagat is the first spot where there is a nice picnic spot along the river and a number of tourist class and deluxe hotels are located here. Most tourists prefer to stay in these hotels to avoid the crowd and heavily congested streets of Mingora. Along the river bed there are number of restaurants where tourist can enjoy delicious fried fish.
On the same road from Manglawar, at a distance of about 35 km, Malam Jabba is one of the most popular hill resort located at an elevation of 2,750 meters (9,000 feet) from sea level. This place was developed as a ski resort with the facility of a chairlift and 22 rooms hotel but unfortunately it has been badly damaged during the insurgency is Swat. Presently, there are limited accommodation facilities but visitors can come up here on an excursion trip from Mingora to enjoy the beautiful landscape of the mountain peaks, lush green pastures and thick pine forest. This place is good for a picnic and hiking trip to the top station of chairlift.