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There are several things that keep pushing me, over and over, to visit the Marghazar Valley in Swat: Mount Elum, the lush green gorgeous landscape, serene environment, its historical sacredness, and above all, the White Palace of the state era in its lap.
Located about 13 kilometres southward from Saidu Sharif, the magnificent royal building of the White Palace sits amidst the lush greenery of the narrow valley of Marghazar, in wait to throw a magical spell over tourists as soon they take their first step into its spacious lawn.
I must mention here that the White Palace is located along the sacred stream running down from Mount Elum, where Ram Chandra Jee Maharajah had once spent three years of Banr Bass (jungle life), leaving it sacred for Hindus.
Seeing the gorgeous landscape, there is little surprise that the first ruler of the modern Swat state, Miangul Abdul Wadood alias Badshah sahab, had decided in 1935 to construct a royal summer house here.
The white marbles for this structure were brought from the marble quarry in Jaipur in India, the same quarry from which the Taj Mahal's marble came from.
According to Miangul Shehryar Amir Zeb, who is the grandson of Miangul Jahanzeb (the last ruler of Swat), Miangul Abdul Wadood Badshah sahab visited Rajasthan in India, and was fascinated by the white marble used for the palace of the Maharaja of Rajasthan.
“Badshah sahab was so impressed by the white marble that he brought it from Jaipur in India on his return to Swat,” he said.
About the architecture and its material, renowned architect and civil society member, Shaukat Sharar informed me:
“It was the first building in the entire region constructed on Victorian architecture. It has a multilayered roof, starting from a bronze layer to the wooden layer of deodar tree, lime layer, mud layer, and again a deodar layer with an iron layer to the outer top.”
Its bronze, used in the ceiling, was brought from Belgium, and its artisan from Turkey. Its ceiling fans and its electrical equipment were imported from England, and they're all still working.
When the palace was erected to its 35-feet high stature, it was named Swati Taj Mahal, later called Moti Mahal but presently, Sufaid Mahal.
I especially took note of the thick and well-designed flora and fauna, which adds to the beauty and dignity of the palace. Currently, the palace is being run as a hotel where a large number of tourists come only for its breathtaking architecture and historical background.
“What attract people most is its location, style and material. It is a white jewel stuck in a dark green emerald-green carpet of grass. Its three-terraced building architecture adds detail to its beauty,” Zahoor Ahmad, a tourist from Lahore told me, adding that the building effuses a royal aura into the air around it.
My personal favourite is the Royal Suite, once the personal room of the ruler of Swat state, and where, later, Queen Elizabeth II of England stayed on her visit to Swat valley in 1961.
There are a number of old historical photos in one of the verandas of the White Palace, including those of Miangul Abdul Wadood and Miangul Jahanzeb Abdul Haq – the last ruler of the modern state – and Queen Elizabeth II, during her visit to Swat.
From the King's lobby, one can enjoy a stunning view of the garden lawn; and from the King's veranda, a splendid view of the lush green mountains and a swirling stream of crystal clear water.
“Besides taking in the serene calmness and the cool weather here, the white marble and items made out of it are another thing worth seeing,” says Saira Iftikhar, another tourist from Islamabad. “I really loved to see its olden style fans and electric boards and other equipment. The white lamps and the telephone set of the 1940s in the Royal suite have their own charm.”
Despite its history, it was sad to see parts of the White Palace crumbling away; some of the marble chairs and tables lie broken and scattered, while the bronze ceiling is also chipping in some areas.
During my stay, I couldn't help but reach out to the hotel administration to take due care of these precious items, and carry out regular repair work in them, as it is not merely a hotel but our cultural heritage. On the government's part, I discovered an intense lack of interest in preserving our cultural legacy.
Marghuzar Valley is a famous tourists attraction which to this day remains flocked with tourists in the summer, as well as winter seasons. In the summer, tourists enjoy its pleasant weather, cold water springs, ripe persimmons, apricot and peaches and high peak mountains. And in winter, the valley attracts tourists for its unending white snow sheet.
In both seasons, the White Palace stands tall, casting a spell of enchantment on all who visit.
—All photos by author
Fazal Khaliq is a journalist with a focus on culture, tourism and archaeology.
He is the author of The Uddiyana Kingdom: The Forgotten Holy Land of Swat and runs the website, The Morning Post.