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Tourists are back in Swat

Published Sep 11, 2012 07:10am

Visitors resting on charpoys (portable bed) on the bank of Swat River.–Photo by Dawn

MINGORA: Starting from Eid-ul-Fitr over 300,000 tourists from across the country have so far visited Swat Valley.

Confirming this, officials and residents said that during this time not a single act of violence took place in Swat valley, which is known for its archaeological sites of Gandhara civilisation and scenic hamlets. They said that a multitude of tourists were seen in Kalam, Bahrain, Madyan, Malam Jabba, Marghuzar, Saidu Baba, Fizaghat, Mingora and other spots of Swat. They said that restoration of people’s confidence to visit the valley was a great achievement for the local administration.

Since 2008 when Taliban militants loyal to Maulana Fazlullah gained control in the area and parts of Kohistan, Dir, Malakand and other protected area, most of the tourist spots presented a deserted look.

However, owing to sacrifices rendered by people of Swat and law-enforcement agencies for restoration of peace the tourists have started reaching the valley in droves to enjoy serenity and beauty of small hamlets of Swat and cultural heritage.

Internally displaced persons return to Swat. – File photo by AP

People of Swat are known for their hospitality; they welcome visitors with open heart, accommodate them in their homes and hujras (guesthouses) and serve food free of cost to encourage and provide them opportunity to enjoy their tour. However, some hotel owners, tandoor walas (bakers), and petrol pump owners at the main tourist stations have been fleecing tourists on the pretext of artificial shortage of various items. During rush of tourists, Rs2,000 to Rs8,000 is charged for a single room for one night stay in hotels while the price of petrol touches as high as Rs550 per litre.

Khurshid Ahmed, a resident of Bahrian, told this scribe that about 300 motorcycles were seen stranded in different areas and over 1,600 tourists trapped in Kalam due to shortage of petrol during past few days. He said that work on Kalam-Havad road should be completed as proper communications system was vital to growth of tourism.

Kalam Hotels Association general secretary Rahmat Din Siddiqi told a correspondent that this year the number of tourists remained satisfactory despite unfavourable conditions. He said that his union would take action against those hotel owners who had been fleecing visitors by demanding high prices.

He also called upon the government to rebuild roads damaged in 2010 floods and restore telephone facilities to different spots to attract more visitors in next season. He also demanded upgradation of Kalam hospital and appointment of specialist doctors there.

In this May 24, 2012 photo, people sit near a sculpture of the Buddha whose face was destroyed by Taliban fighters at Jahanabad, Pakistan in the Swat valley. – AP

Sub-divisional magistrate, Madyan, Mohammad Naeem claimed that after reports of artificial price-hike the administration checked various food outlets and petrol pumps, and imposed fines on profiteers.

A large number of tourists also visited Malam Jabba Ski Resort, but due to lack of facilities the tourists retuned half-hearted. The dilapidated condition of Malam Jabba road and damaged building of PTDC also forced the tourists to turn to other places.

DSP Madyan Naveed Iqbal said that police personnel had been deployed at various points to ensure smooth flow of traffic.

However, he said that due to poor condition of Bahrian-Kalam road and rush of tourists the traffic jams were seen on some points on Kalam-Bahrian road, especially during Eid days.

Mr Iqbal said that there was complete peace in Swat and urged tourists to visit the valley without any fear. He said that that police was vigilant and providing full security to tourists. He claimed that not a single incident of sabotage occurred during Eid days.