When Alexander the Great trudged around the India-Pakistan area on his travels, one of the rivers he crossed was the Suvastu, which many now identify as the Swat. This river is yet extant and is the source of irrigation for a big part of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The valley area has long been divided into two parts, so Swat has two valleys, the Upper Swat Valley and the Lower Swat Valley. Both are of great interest to tourists in this part of the country, and for a lot of reasons. This is a place rich with both historic and natural treasures, after all.
As far as historic wealth goes, it is hardly a surprise that Swat’s valleys are bursting at the seams with artefacts, ruins, and other remains of impressive age. From the records of Alexander the Great’s passage through the area, we are assured that settlements were already existent here as early as the 3rd century BCE. This was a major set of Buddhism in the area for some time as well, which means that Buddhist sites and excavations abound. Indeed, some archaeologists have noted Swat to have so many sites of importance to Buddhism in the region that it would be no exaggeration to say that people going on digs in the area were at one time simply tripping over more sites as they combed the land. To give you an idea of the sheer density of Buddhist sites here, a single area of about 160 square kilometres has been recorded to yield well over 400 locations marked as Buddhist ruins.
Hinduism is well-represented too, as the Hindu Shahi rulers were defeated only in the year 1000, and had several centuries of ascendancy before that. This means that there are a great many Hindu sites, primarily in the form of ruined temples, that may be found in the area. The rulers of Swat also built several forts, the ruins of which may be found around the towns today. Some rulers’ buildings are better preserved, of course, especially those of more recent provenance. Take the Sufid Mahal Marghazar, a white marble mansion that used to be occupied by the person ruling the valley
There are definitely many places to go to in the Swat Valley. Shoppers had best go to the Madyan and Behrain towns, which are at end of the valley right up against the mountains. These are great for picking up souvenirs and all sorts of local handicrafts-as well as possibly make off with a lucky find at the antique shops, as artefacts are not unheard of in the shops here. And if you want to do something a bit more sporty-say hiking, trekking or even skiing-the mountains are right there for you to explore too. The biggest ski resort in the country, Malam Jabba, is actually in Swat and is set in the Karakoram Range, just over 300km from the country’s capital.
Swat Valley is most often visited by those simply seeking the peace and tranquillity of the location, though. People come here to be spared the summer heat of the lowland cities. Fishermen come to pursue the trout in the valley’s lakes, which include Kundol Lake, Pari Lake, Bashigram Lake and the more difficult-to-reach Spin Kwar and Daral. Whatever your reasons for heading over to this part of the country, it shall certainly be difficult to regret the decision afterwards, given how many have ended up becoming enamoured with the place after only a day or two spent in this idyllic cradle of culture and serenity.