As the month of July begins, adventure-seekers from across the country swarm the spectacular Saidgai glacial lake located in the upper gorges of the border between Swat and Dir.
The one-kilometre-long and half-a-kilometre-wide Saidgai Lake is situated in the Hindu Kush Mountain chains. Surrounded by thick glaciers throughout the year, the lake lies at about 11,500 feet above sea level.
The lake can be reached from three trails: Sulatanr Rodingar, Lalko Sakhra in Upper Swat and Hushirai valley in Dir. However, the majority of the visitors prefer to take the Sulatanr trail through the Rodingar valley of Matta tehsil, as it is considered the shortest one.
The trail from Sulatanr to Saidgai is a scenic one, taking visitors across dense forests and green meadows where they can spot multi-coloured flowers and a wide variety of resident and migratory birds.
“It had been my dream to visit Saidgai Lake for a long time as it has its own charm and magic. I had planned to visit this beautiful lake several times with friends but could not make it. This time I did and the spectacular natural scenes filled my heart and soul,” Amjad Ali, a resident of Mingora who was visiting the lake with his friends, told Dawn.com.
Visitors on the way to the lake said that they were tired as the trail was very steep and arduous, but they enjoyed the serenity and the panoramic beauty of the area. “We started climbing the mountain track from Sulatanr and will spend a night at Kangar pasture on the way to the lake. Though the climb is exhausting, the dazzling beauty of the landscape soothes our tired bodies,” said Hamza Khan, a nature lover.
Before reaching Saidgai Lake, visitors are welcomed by a small glacial lake known as Kangar Lake. “I was surprised to see a small lake on the way; it was transparent and beautiful,” said Faisal Saeed, a visitor from Manglore.
On the way to the lake, trekkers often find themselves surrounded by white clouds. “We took a small break as we waited for the clouds to clear and unblock our path,” said Ikram Khan, a regular visitor to the lakes of Swat.
Visitors are awestruck when they climb the last mountain ridge and take in the first sight of the magical lake.
“The first sight of the lake, a huge piece of crystal clear water amid the mountains, so calm and serene, left me dumbfounded,” said Zafar Ali Kaka, another visitor to the lake from Saidu Sharif, adding that the real beauty of Swat lies in the mountains and has yet to be explored.
Mohammad Karam, a resident of Chitkarai Sulatanr area, has visited the lake several times. “When I bring my friends to the lake, I enjoy their astonishment at seeing its beauty, but the people who cannot climb the mountain and fail to reach the lake disappoint me,” he told Dawn, adding that the government should construct a proper trek with resting spots for the visitors so that more people could come to the area and explore the natural wonders of the valley.
The lake lies along the historical Sulatanr valley, which is known as an important site for Buddhists.
“Once there were many archaeological ruins around the area; Sulatanr, Chitkarai, Charrma, Mandal Daag, Dhamkot, and Hindu Baig are the places which have traces of Sanskrit. According to elders, Buddhists and Hindus used to gather at the Hindu Baig area for worship,” said Painda Mohammad, an elder of Sulatanr valley.
Several mythological stories narrated by local residents of Sulatanr valley are associated with the lake. “During the Buddhist era, a golden pot used to appear on the surface of the lake, filled with rays from the sky over it,” he added.
According to cultural experts, the word Saidgai is the combination of two Sanskrit words: "Said" that comes from Siddha or Sadhu, meaning monk, and "Gai", meaning singing or reciting.
“It means a monk who recites spiritual hymns. Legends say that a Buddhist monk, known as Padmasambhava, was born from a lotus flower in a lake in Uddiyana, the present Swat valley. It seems that this is the lake where Padmasambhava, who spread Vajryana Buddhism into Tibet, Bhutan and onward, was born in the eighth century,” said Fazal, a cultural activist based in Swat.