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SWAT: Perched in the middle of a circular range of lush green mountains and sheltered by the historic Mount Elum, Amluk Dara stupa offers both its historic majesty and scenic paradise to the tourists.

Located in Amluk Darra village at a distance of two kilometres from Barikot-Buner road in Swat valley, the second to 10th century Buddhist complex is considered one of the jewels of Gandhara civilisation.

The stupa was first discovered by Sir Aurel Stein, a Hungarian-British archaeologist, in one of his visits to Swat in 1926 who had mentioned that the stupa was possibly one of the best preserved pieces of Buddhist architecture in Gandhara. He described it as any ancient stupa he had ever seen constructed with remarkably careful masonry.

The stupa was first documented by Italian Giuseppe Tucci in 1956 and later Italian archaeologist, Domenico Faccena carried out research studies on the site in 60s and 70s.

However, in 2012 the Italian Archaeological Mission under the Archaeology Community Tourism (ACT) project discovered the complex attached to the stupa, adding further charm and importance to the site and opened new channels for history and archaeology students, researchers and tourists.

The excavations revealed the Main Stupa, a shrine, and a pent-roofed shrine at the bottom of the Main Stupa’s stairway.

“Its main stupa and the sacred area was founded around the third century and lasted until 11th century. The best thing is that the site remained intact when 90 per cent of other Buddhist sties had already been abandoned in Swat,” said Dr Luca Maria Olivieri, head of the Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan.

“It deserves to be noted that the valley of Amluk Dara lies on the route followed by the Hindus of lower Swat on their annual visit to the sacred height of Mount Ilam/Elum which forms so striking a background to the ruined Stupa.

The top of the mountain was an object of pious pilgrimage already in Buddhist times,” Olivieri elaborated.

As the site is easily accessible to tourists, it remains the centre of attraction for local, national and even international tourists.

“It appears immediately once you reach closer to the site which casts a spell of enchantment on the visitors.

It is so beautiful that you want to visit it again,” Ibra Ali, a tourist and historian said during her visit to the site, adding that the site and its location had some wow factor in it.

A stream of crystal clear water, originating from the lap of Mount Elum, trickles down the back of the site where tourists enjoy their picnic meal with amazing scenery around.

“We found dual excitement, today, as we witnessed one of the important archaeological sites of Gandhara which impressed us with its architectural beauty. We also enjoyed the serenity and charm of the scenic valley,” said Zahoor Ahmad, a local tourist.

He said that on reaching Swat the tourists must visit Amluk Dara where they would find both scenic beauty and a leaf from the history of Gandhara.

Published in Dawn, July 18th, 2015

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