Written by Zeeshan Yaseen
Pakistan is a land of people that belongs to multiple cultures and traditions. Every region or province represents its own historical background, norms and heritage. You might have often heard about “Lahore” because of its food street, “Karachi” because of its fast lifestyle as it is also regarded as the “city of lights”. You guys might have even heard about “Hunza and Fairy Meadows” too because of the tourists who visit from all over the world during the winter season. However, today we are going to talk about Swat, an area which is located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and it is also referred to as the “Mini Switzerland of Pakistan”.
The inspiration to write about Swat came when I planned to visit it with my friends last year in the month of May of 2019. Maybe, a visit to Swat was destined in our lives because we wanted to go to Hunza but due to heavy snowfall and uncertainty of reaching there, we had to change our destination. To be honest, it was a bad start to our trip because who does not want to go to Hunza. Several travel bloggers like Eva Zu and Rose Gabrielle had come to visit Hunza and have inspired so many people from around the world as well as Pakistan to visit this beautiful area. Their videos that have over millions of viewers where they have stated that Hunza is heaven on earth. But we changed directions and went on to explore the Swat Valley instead.
Swat really surprised us with its natural greenery and beautiful lakes, valleys and rivers. The fact that it is called “Mini Switzerland” is because of its natural beauty. It includes high snowcapped mountains that are enormously huge and while travelling through the roads of Swat there are several streams of fresh water flowing down from the mountains. When it comes to the standard of living in Swat, the people live very simple and the whole environment gives a very village tribal feeling. Swat has an environment that is pure, pollution free and very organic as there are very few cars and no factories which adds to the pollution of a city. Due to the serpentine and winding roads, people use the 4 x 4 vehicles (Jeeps) to travel around this kind of area. Once you enter Swat you automatically feel healthy due to the purity of the air.
The people of Swat are very warm and friendly and the food is different in taste when compared to the major cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. When looking at a menu in a restaurant, we did not know what to order, so the server gave us free samples of all the dishes on the menu which never usually happens. At another occasion, when eating at a market-hotel, the owner refused to take money from us for the kebabs we had ordered as they respect and love the tourists that come to the Swat area. We had only heard of such a hospitality in Swat but this was surreal to experience it one on one.
Another thing that really impressed us was that the people living there were not that familiar with new technology nor were they interested. However, they were very close to the people around the area and shared strong bonds of friendships. They respected every person irrespective of their caste, race, religion and their personalities only reflected peace and love. In big cities especially in Karachi, from where I belong, I felt like technology has only made us virtually close but don’t share strong bonds with people. I was glad that in Swat, people usually lived a simple but a very interactive life, where children used to come out of their homes in the evenings and play with their friends and animals like goat, cow, sheep etc. Unlike in my city, where children usually spent the whole time on their phones or being dependent on social media for their entertainment.
The Swat food which is organic and rich were easily available everywhere and the three dishes I enjoyed the most were the Trout fish, Chapli kebab and Dumba (Sheep) Karahi. The food overall was less spicy and it seemed that the people were not habitual of using artificial flavors or different masalas but instead they focused on the organic taste of the food. Chapli kebabs are the signature dish of this region and it is one of the best kebabs I had ever tasted in my life!
Apart from this, there are many different places in Hunza where one can travel to for picnics enjoying the breathtaking scenery. Places likes Hushu forest, Malam Jabba, Naran, Kaghan & Shugran all have their own unique experiences. These places also include activities like hiking, zip lining, chair-lift and many other activities.
At one point this whole region of Swat was controlled by Talibans and the Pakistani army carried out several operations and got Swat under Pakistan’s control. During the trip we got to visit some areas that were totally destroyed by the earthquake and its quite remarkable how the authorities are working to bring things back in shape for Swat.
Swat is an adventurous trip for those who like to wander and explore Pakistan as these areas are still untouched by heavy tourism. The simple lifestyles of the people and their humbleness had made this trip a memorable one for us. The organic food and the rustic cooking made it worth our stay, and we are still yearning to come back for another visit to Swat. All in all, Swat is a unique experience if one wants to get away from the rustle bustle of city life and get back to nature that has been preserved for thousands of years!