All About Swat Valley

The Middle East is known for many things, mostly most of them have to do with war and fundamentalist religion. However, there is a lot more to this part of the world in terms of history, culture and geography. Speaking of the latter, one of the unsung jewels of this area is the Swat Valley, or Valley Swat. The Swat Valley is a district located in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, 160 kms from the that country’s capital, Islamabad. The capital of Swat Valley is Saidu Sharif, but the main town in the Valley Swat is called Mingora. Its high mountains, green meadows and clear lakes make Valley Swat a popular tourist destination.

History of Swat Valley

The Valley Swat has been inhabited for more than two thousand years, but its administration has changed hands several times. The first Swat Valley settlers lived in two towns called Ora and Bazira, which were invaded by Alexander the Great in 327 BC. The peace and serenity of the Swat Valley draw the attention of Buddhists, who occupied Valley Swat around the second century BC. This occupation declined in the fifth century after the White Huns overrun the Kushan empire who ruled the Swat Valley for about four hundred years. The beginning of the eleventh century AD saw Mahmud of Ghazni, a ruler of the Ghaznavid dynasty, marched through Dir and into Swat Valley, and defeated the local ruler, Gira. Later on the Dilazak, a Pashtun tribe of the Karlani branch, took over the Swat Valley, but were banished by the Yusufzais. History then repeated itself several more times until the Islamic State of Swat Valley was organized in 1849 under Sayyid Akbar Shah. However, this Valley Swat state went into abeyance from 1863 to 1915, when Sayyid Abdul-Jabbar Khan was made ruler by a jirga (tribal assembly of elders). He was followed by Miangul Golshahzada, who was appointed in 1917 in a similar fashion. In 1926 the Swat Valley became a princely state (a nominally sovereign entity of British rule in India that was not under direct administration of the British, but was managed by an Indian ruler under a form of indirect rule). When the British Indian Empire came to an end in 1947, the ruler yielded the Swat Valley state to Pakistan while at the same time keeping significant autonomy. In 1969 the state of Valley Swat was abolished and fell under the civil administration of the government of Pakistan.

Valley Swat Tourist Attractions

Besides the Sufed Mahal white marble palace, there are many tourist landmarks in the Valley Swat. Malam Jabba is a hill station in the Karakoram mountain range, 40 km from Saidu Sharif and three hundred km from Islamabad. The Malam Jabba Ski Resort, owned by the Pakistani Tourism Development Corporation, is the largest such establishment in Pakistan, with a ski slope eight hundred m long and 2804 m high above sea level. It also contains roller and ice skating rinks, chair lifts and skiing platforms.

The Swat Museum is located halfway between Mingora and Saidu and features a collection of Gandhara sculptures gathered from ancient Buddhist sites, as well as terracotta figurines and utensils, beads, precious stones, coins, weapons and assorted metal objects. Local embroidery, carved wood and tribal jewellery can be found in the ethnographic section.

Miandam is a summer resort fifty kms from Saidu Sharif, about an hour by car. The road offers a colorful and picturesque view of hillside villages in which the roofs of one row of houses constitute the street for the row of houses above. This is an ideal place for hiking and trekking.

Madyan is a small town kms from Mingora and 1320 above sea level, with many bazaars where embroidered shawls, tribal jewelry, carved wood and antique coins are available at comfortable prices. Other sites worth visiting in the Swat Valley include the many lakes, such as Pari, Kundal, Bashigram, Spin Khwar and Daral.

Art in Valley Swat

In the previous sections we mentioned the museum and the bazaars, and it was not by chance. As a matter of fact, art is very rich and prolific in this area, especially when it comes to stone and wood carving. Sculptures worked in stone, stucco and terracotta have been found at several Buddist sites, depicting jataka stories, Buddhist mythology and episodes from Buddha’s life. However, non-Buddhists motifs have been uncovered as well, like the Hindu gods Indra, Brahma, Panchika and Hariti.

Stone carving could take years to produce one statue. Wood carving on the other hand is less time consuming; it is further aided by the plenitude of forests and wood in the Swat Valley, particularly the dark black, hard, durable, naturally hued wood of walnut trees. Cedar and pine wood are also used. Flowers, vines, statues and natural landscapes were the predominant themes of wood carvingĀ  in the Swat Valley.