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Swat valley, a paradise that was

August 23, 2012

A villager walks to a Buddhist stupa called the "Amlukdara," which was damaged by thieves looking for statues in Pakistan's Swat Valley. A team funded by the Italian government is working with Pakistan's archaeology department to restore and preserve centuries-old Buddhist sites in northwest Pakistan. Swat was once an important center of Buddhist culture and trade. The monk credited with introducing Buddhism to Tibet, Padmasambhava, was born in Swat.–Photo by AP

PESHAWAR:  The Valley of Swat is famous for its fruit laden orchards, fertile lands, snowcapped peaks, the mighty and zigzagging River Swat, waterfalls, lush green pastures, azure lakes and not the least, the relics of Gandhara and Darada civilisations.

But extremists distorted its hospitable image by their activities.

It is rightly called Switzerland of Pakistan. In 2002, a Swiss tourist declared Swat more beautiful than her homeland.

When asked how she found Swat she replied, “In beauty Swat is more than Switzerland but there is no Gul Khan there in my homeland”. Gul Khan was the name of the security personnel assigned with the duty to escort the tourist. She was very tired of the gun.

Thus security issues destroyed every aspect of our lives. These have even damaged the image of our heavens like Swat. Adding to the destruction by the insurgency the floods in Swat two years back damaged the remaining infrastructure, particularly of the upper narrower valley of Swat. This part is usually termed as Swat-Kohistan, the mountainous valley in the extreme north of Swat.

This valley is almost equal to the rest of Swat in terms of area. The valley begins upward from Madyan and ends with Ghizer (Gilgit-Baltistan) and Chitral in the north; with Indus Kohistan in the west while it meets Upper Dir in the East. This is the part for whose beauty Swat is famous for. Here lie the gleaming peaks of Koshein (Mankiyal Peak) and Palasaar or Falak Ser. Along the main valley of Swat Kohistan a number of sub-valleys lead to the vast pastures and precious forests.

Each of these side valleys has dozen of azure lakes. Mahudand and Kandol lakes are just two among many that have so far been accessed. By the banks of these lakes are the glaciers which feed the River Swat. The sub-valleys have great potential of winter sports such as skiing. Moreover, they can be used for trekking and other eco-tourism ventures.

Ethnically Swat-Kohistan is home to the ancient Dardic languages Torwali, Gawri, Badeshi and Ushojo with Torwali in majority.

Total population is estimated 265,000 with fewer sources of livelihood in the form of terraced and scarce arable land. This is the main reason why the people of Swat Kohistan migrate to cities especially in winter, and almost 30 percent of the Torwali people have permanently migrated to major cities of Pakistan. Other sources of income for a fringe of society are tourism and the loyalty from forest logging.

Men carry carpets through the streets in Badkhhala, in Pakistan's Swat Valley.–Photo by AP

Blessed with natural resources in the form of water and forest Swat Kohistan is equally cursed with acute poverty and utter ignorance. Poverty here is more than 85 per cent while literacy rate in male is hardly 12 per cent and in female it is less than two per cent. Being mostly ignorant people cannot even identify their problems let alone to fix them.

The Taliban insurgency was not as severe here as it was in lower Swat. Only a couple of schools had been blasted by the militants here. But Swat Kohistan is the worst victim of the terrible floods two years back.

The bazaars of Bahrain, Kalam and Madyan along with whole villages along the river bed were damaged by the floods; all the link bridges over the River Swat were washed away and the main road of 70 kilometers from Fatepur to Utror was damaged completely.