A Ravishing Journey To Swat News Story

Khaliq Nawaz | Staff Correspondent TBT | Beaconhouse Hafizabad

“To travel is to evolve.” – Pierre Bernardo

Hafizabad: The idea of an excursion to Swat Valley was floated by Mr. Zulqarnain Jarral in an informal staffroom meeting on April 2019. It was later discussed with our School Coordinator Ms. Sana Shafi, and subsequently we got approval from our Headmaster Mr. Naimat Ullah. His incessant pro-active role in extending every possible support helped us in planning and scheduling this whole tour activity. The Beaconhouse School System (BSS) Head Office provided us with a chauffeur-driven bus. They had modified the back half of the bus and added a facility that helped the whole crew enjoy a comfortable journey. We took turns resting at the back of the bus throughout the long yet picturesque voyage.

Mahodand Lake, Swat

Swat is predominantly a Pashtun district in Malakand Division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Formerly a princely state of United India, Swat was integrated in Pakistan in 1969. It is situated in the foothills of Hindukush Mountain Range. Swat’s administrative capital is Saidu Sharif, though the largest city and main commercial hub is the nearby city of Mingora. Behrain, Malam Jabba, and Kalam are its busiest and most beautiful tourist destinations. Average climatic conditions are similar to that of other northern districts of the province. The upper areas of the valley experience heavy snowfall in winters while an abrupt and rapid change in weather is witnessed in summers. Major fruit crops of this area are apple, prune, and peach.

In the recent past, Swat Valley had been the epicentre of multiple tragedies, facing both natural catastrophe and man-made political violence. Keeping economic and socio-cultural losses aside, pervasive militancy, ensuing military operations and then the 2010’s flood decimated the whole tourist industry of Swat.

Day 1

With pyramids of prayers, our loved ones come to see us off and thus began their wait for our safe return. Departing from BSS Hafizabad, we kicked start our expedition to Swat at 10:34 pm on June 25, 2019. We took the Motorway (M–2) from Pindi Bhattian Interchange, some 45 kilometres (km) from Hafizabad. M-2, measuring 375 km from Lahore to Islamabad, was first of its kind in South Asia and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in 1997. The M-2 led us to another motorway section, M-1. This 155 km motorway section connects Islamabad with Peshawar and was inaugurated in 2007 by the then president Pervez Musharraf. These motorways gave us a smooth and hassle-free travel.

To and from Kalam, our DJ entertained us with melodies and tracks that created an almost ethereal experience and I was sure that if I ever hear these songs again, I wouldn’t be able to stop my mind from wandering back to this trip.

We took an exit at Captain Colonel Sher Khan Interchange, Swabi and travelled for about three and a half hours on the under-construction Swat Expressway. Passing by main towns of Mingora, Madyan, and Behrain, we reached our destination Kalam, at 6:20 pm the next day. The Behrain-Kalam road is just 35 km but it is bumpy, uneven, and jagged. It took us more than four hours to reach there.

We were on our way to Kalam when we heard the wonderful news of Pakistan’s cricket team accomplishing a much-needed win against the Kiwis at the Cricket World Cup 2019! With this win and reaching our first stop, I felt that all things in the universe were finally in order. Later we checked in to our hotel where sleep was the only way forward for us. Our eyes closed but our minds opened to all the wondrous sights tomorrow will bring.

Day 2

Next morning began with a delicious yet heavy breakfast of Paratha-Chaney and Halwa-Puri, though we had an understanding in the pre-departure meeting that we will keep some space in our stomachs to make this trip adventure-specific only. Alas, our Pakistani hearts beat with Punjabi blood; and a Punjabi never compromises on food. At 9:30 a.m., we hired two four-wheel-drive vehicles and left for Mahodand Lake, located some 36 km from Kalam. This road too was very rough, bouncy, and serrated and it took more than four hours to reach the lake site around 1:45 p.m. However, when we reached the lake, its breath-taking landscape, and lush green meadows, coupled with a crisp breeze, made the entire arduous journey with it.

‘’The journey not the arrival matters.’’ – T.S. Eliot

A place in the way of Mahodand Lake

The banks of the lake were covered with pines and pastures that serve as a camping site during the summers. In short, this heavenly lake in itself was quite mesmerizing and captivating. All of us enjoyed boating, horse riding, and even fishing in Mahodand (Mahodand means lake full of fish in the local dialect), though we remained unsuccessful. But I appreciate Mr. Zulqarnain for his relentless attempts. Before packing his fishing gear, Mr. Zulqarnain looked at me with a hopeful smile and said, “We will catch a shark someday, bro.”

Three young adventurers

A few among us went for hiking on the adjacent mountains. Mr. Asim and Mr. Sajid teamed up to prepare a mouth-watering Barbeque feast for all of us. This gesture and their warm generosity was simply awesome. Thanks to these two buddies, we were always able to cut short our otherwise skyrocketing food expenditures. While coming back, we walked around in Kalam’s market and found it far less crowded with lesser variety than the bazaars of Naran and Hunza.

Day 3

Owing to an exhausting journey the previous day, I believe everybody had a wonderful sleep. We woke up around 9:00 a.m. and started to get ready at a snail’s pace because the places we were to visit were in close proximity. Filling our bellies with bread and omelette, we marched on to Ushu Valley, a deodar populated jungle that houses a breath-taking waterfall. Once we reached our destination, we split into groups and began our exploring our surroundings. Men played cricket, children dabbled with badminton while the women captured beautiful views and practiced their photography skills. Looking at the wonderful expanse in front of us, we couldn’t help but imagine the possibility of having an international cricket stadium here. Already suffering from cricket fever, we mulled the idea over and realised that a stadium in this area would only be accessible 4 months a year owing to the heavy snowfall. The government would then have to build a five-star hotel, an airport and most importantly a first-class road network to get here. Weighing the costs and functionality, including the fact that the incumbent government would first have to come out of the current economic emergency, we soon agreed that this dream of ours will require more than a 10 minute discussion.

While coming back to our hotel, we offered Jumma prayer in an old mosque that was around 250 years old. The name of the mosque is Jamia Masjid Kalam. Reportedly, more than 200 people took part in constructing this mosque. Without the help of machinery, the workers used ropes to drag the wood planks and other materials into the place. The mosque still boasts excellent examples of wood engraving.

Jamia Masjid, Kalam, Swat (Source: Internet)

Ms. Najma, along with her team, satiated our hunger with Daal Chaawal for lunch. Everyone enjoyed the delicious food to the last morsel. Some of our colleagues then headed for Charpayi Hotel, located along the bank of Swat River, while some of us opted for hiking towards the nearby hilltop. Three amongst us actually made it to the top! After that arduous climb, we came to a spot where we could see the valley in all its glory; it was an awe-inspiring moment. I could not fathom that this little gorge had once been in the throes of militancy.

‘’Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.’’ – Helen Kellar

In the evening, we took a steep descent to reach back in the Kalam bazaar at 8:15 p.m. As it was our last night in Kalam, everybody rushed to market to buy some souvenirs for their friends and families back home.

Day 4

Today’s far-off destination was Malam Jabba so we woke up at 6:00 a.m. The journey seemed a never-ending one. From Kalam to Madyan, most of us were in search of an ATM. One can easily guess the reason. Reaching Madyan proved to be quite satisfying for all of us especially for our very own ‘’International Monetary Fund’’ – Mr. Zulqarnain. Another good thing in Madyan was, a few among us had biometric identification of their salary accounts so their accounts were accessible.

The Madyan-Khwazakhela-Charbagh road has now been constructed into a double road. A few miles before Khwazakhela, we came across fruit-laden orchards of peach and prune. Some bought that fruit but the majority showed restraint and adopted a pick and eat policy only.

A Peach Tree, Khwazakhela, Swat

We reached Malam Jabba at about 4:40 p.m. Malam Jabba is a destination that’s on the bucket list of all who wanderlust. This place was developed as a ski resort with the facility of a chairlift but unfortunately, it was affected badly by the prevalent militancy a decade ago. Nowadays, most of the visitors go there for a day-long trip and enjoy the striking landscape of mountain peaks, lush green pastures and thick pine forest. Although we had the choice of using the chairlift, we preferred hiking to the mountain top. We decided to use the chairlift on our way down.

Zip line Adventure Facility, Malam Jabba, Swat

After dinner, we began our journey back to our humble homes at 7:25 p.m. We descended from the mountains and reached Charbagh at 9:32 p.m. Meanwhile, in international cricket news, Pakistan was playing Afghanistan and it was a do or die kind of match. Thank goodness Pakistan managed to keep their Cricket World Cup dream alive as they came out triumphant against our western neighbours. The nail-biting-last-over win seized our interest, though for some time, from the ongoing excursion.

Day 5

From Charbagh, we passed through Mingora, Malakand Pass, and Takht Bhai, famous for its Chappali Kabab to reach Mardan. We took to M-1 from Rashkai Interchange and later moved onto M-2. We finally reached our final destination, Hafizabad at 8:00 in the morning. Physically tired but mentally brisk, we bode farewell to each other knowing very well that we’ve left our hearts in Swat.

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