PANGS OF PARTITION… INDIA-PAKISTAN (PART-3)
Can Indians visit Pakistan for tourism?
Day 4: Swat Valley
I woke up with guilt. I should have been at Saidu Sharif already. But I must admit, I was feeling much better and the view of the Indus river from my room was mesmerizing. After a nice hot breakfast, I got ready to leave. Time read 08.00 hrs. Saidu Sharif was about 100 km from here and it would take another 3 hrs to reach there. I got the tank filled up and started driving up north to Swat valley. As the weather was good and the road was decent, XUV picked up speed. After driving for an hour, as the elevation started to increase, the quality of the road deteriorated… I was reaching Shang La top. It has an elevation of about 9800 ft. The air here was much cooler despite it being around 10.00 am. I could see snow at far-off mountains. I parked my car on the side and stepped out in the open air. The SCO signal had already died. Seriously, the quality of cell phone networks in both India and Pakistan is similar. I clicked a few pics from Shangla top, the scenery was stunning.
As I drove on the other side of the hillock, I was stopped at a barricade to check my papers. The rangers of Pakistan asked me the purpose of the visit to Swat valley. They were surprised to see an Indian coming to Swat Valley in his car for tourism. Since I had all papers intact, they didn’t refuse. I was allowed to pass to Swat valley. The landscape changed and turned much greener and lively.
In an hour or so I was at Mingora heading towards Saidu Sharif. By the time I reached Saidu Sharif, it was noon. Perfect time to check in a hotel. I was so impressed with PTDC that I decided to check in a similar property. Fortunately, the PTDC Saidu Sharif was available. The place had a feel of an old mansion with trees and gardens on two sides. The property though old was comfortable and cozy. I thought of ordering food and resting for a while before heading out. There were a few brochures of nearby attractions and cab services. I had exactly 1.5 days to explore the place before heading to Hunza valley, Pakistan . I had plans to stay here for a day and soak in the experience and see Marghuzar Valley.
Marghuzar Valley is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, streams of azure water with a dense forest cover heavily populated by a wide variety of wildlife. The area is perhaps best known among visitors for the majestic architecture of the ‘White Palace’ that adds to the valley’s splendor.
Source of Information: https://tribune.com.pk/story/1365644/white-palace-adds-marghuzar-valleys-splendour/
I strolled out of PTDC after having lunch. There is nothing much to see at Marghuzar other than White Palace built in 1940 by the first King of Swat. This place now serves as a hotel.
To me, somehow, this palace resembled the Chail Palace… both these mansions are quiet, lush green, and built by Maharajas. Having a hot cup of coffee enjoying the lush green lawns is an experience in itself. I was done with Marghuzar valley by 17.00 hrs. So, instead of staying here, I decided to drive down to Miandam, which was 2 hrs away. After settling the bill, I took the route via Matta to Miandam. The road was being repaired at many places so the speed was slow and at times, I had to give way to vehicles coming from the other side. Somehow, this route reminded me of the Delhi-Meerut highway… stop and go traffic, under construction highway, people jostling for space…somehow, I reached Miandam by 20.00 hrs.
I again searched for PTDC which was easy to find. The location of this PTDC is excellent as the building is surrounded by lush green manicured lawns. In the back drop I could see the mighty Hind-Khush mountains. I ordered for dinner and retired to bed. Food was not as good as I had in PTDC Saidu Sharif but considering that I was the only guest at the motel, I appreciate they prepared a meal for me. Time read 22.00 hrs when I slept.
Day 5: Swat Valley
I had a full day to explore places I always wished to go to. I wanted to visit Saidgai Lake. Since it was already November and the trek to the lake from parking would be a long climb, on the advice of locals, I dropped the idea. It was a difficult decision as Saidgai Lake is one of the most fascinating and picturesque lakes of Swat district.
Saidgai Danda is perhaps one of the lakes that has a charm that’s unrivaled anywhere in the province. Whoever has the nerve to tour it, has been fascinated by its stunning beauty. Lying high in the lap of lofty mountains separating Dir and Swat valleys, it’s accessible from both the valleys via different access routes. It’s one of the highest lakes of Pakistan fed by glacier water.
It was morning 06.00 hrs when I was ready to leave for my first stop… Matlitan waterfalls near Kalam, which was around 5 hrs away. I left the hotel with my bag and baggage as I wasn’t sure where I would be staying for the night. The weather in this part was already cold and it was a possibility that upper areas may receive the first snowfall of the season. The road was broad enough for two cars to pass, though the surface wasn’t smooth. As I stopped at a petrol pump for refilling, a policeman asked me about my whereabouts.
As I explained to him my odyssey, I could see the bewildered look on his face. An Indian in Swat for tourism? That wasn’t rare, that was non-existent. Well, he was going on vacation to his hometown Kalam. I offered him a lift as I was also going on the same route, which he gladly accepted. He was Mr. Khan from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police, working at Abbottabad. I was happy that a local guy was with me, as he could guide me through the route and fill me with the information I might need. Besides, traveling alone sometimes gets boring too.
As we drove along the highway in Pakistan, we started chatting on all fronts, from the beauty of the Gilgit Baltistan belt to the development of India to Pakistan–China relations, to the partition era and whatnot. Khan not only knew history and geography well, but he was also a good conversationalist too. We deliberately kept the India-Pakistan tensions out of our conversation as we both would defend our motherland. The route was scenic and he suggested we stop at Toorwal Bridge for pics and a cup of tea. The weather was cold outside as it was still early, around 07.15 hrs. It was a small bridge on river swat with lush green hills around.
There was a tiny tea stall run by a localite, just below the bridge, which caters to local shepherds and villagers. I parked the car and Khan got us two cups of hot tea. This was a blessing in this cold weather. The sun was not really up from its slumber and the wind blowing was cold. Swat river was in full flow. One can see water gushing with such a mighty force, shearing the rocks and making their way. Looking at the mighty mountains, ravines, gorges, and rivers, one realizes how insignificant we are when compared to nature. Passing cars were the only noise that disturbed the tranquility of rural life here.
15 mins stopover refreshed us and we resumed our journey. Local time showed 07.30 hrs. Kalam was still 35 km away but with the road under construction, it was taking a lot of time. XUV was unperturbed and delivered as much power as needed. Fortunately, there had been no trouble with the car. Khan praised the car on more than one occasion, once for the power and second time for the features.
Mahindra was leaving a good impression in our neighboring country Pakistan. We reached Kalam at around 09.00 am. This sleepy town was still asleep as the sun was just peeping out from clouds. I decided to have breakfast with Khan before saying goodbye. There was a small shack that served delicious Kashmiri sweet bread and hot milk with cream. It was delicious and at a very reasonable price. I thanked him for his lovely company and resumed my journey to Matlitan Waterfalls.
Kalam Forest; Pic Credit: Hussain Ali
Just outside Kalam city, there is a dense forest known as Kalam forest. It is a beautiful stretch to drive on with a butter-smooth roads and tall trees. The drive through the forest was very well captured on my action camera. Once I crossed the forest area, the road quality deteriorated. It had lesser tar and more gravel and after driving for about 10 km or so, the gravel gave way to loose dirt and then swamps at many places. The landscape was turning from beautiful to stunning, while the road turned from bad to worse. Soon, at a distance, I could see the Mighty 22 waterfall. It was so white, it appeared as if it was a cascade of milk. Immediately my DSLR started working overtime and it seemed this was the place where my 8GB memory card got exhausted. I now switched to the 32 GB one. Fully satiated clicking pics for about 20 mins, I finally sat on the bonnet of my car to admire its beauty with my eyes (not with the eyes of the camera). The force with which waterfalls from the top, pushing through the cliff, paving its way, it was spell bounding, a treat to eyes, a visual delight. I was lost in my thoughts gazing at the miracles of nature.
The Mighty 22 Falls or Matiltan Falls comes in the way towards the Mahodand Lake from Kalam in Swat district of Pakistan. The valley is full of mesmerizing landscapes and the waterfall is a popular spot among the locals.
Source of Information: https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photos/7795417
Mahodand Lake was still 30 mins away. Local time read 10.30 hrs. There was no cell phone signal coverage here. I resumed my journey up north. There were mountains on one side and river Ushu on the other. The view was mesmerizing and the weather was amazing. The road to Mahodand Lake was pretty narrow. There was no tar and had loose gravel which made the tyre grip weak. I had to switch on AWD mode which made driving a tad bit easier. Fortunately, there was no snow on the road. On more than one occasion, I thought of taking a U-turn and going back. Somehow, I mustered courage and continued driving. The first glimpse of the lake made all my worries go away. Mahodand was a beautiful and huge lake.
Mahodand Lake lies at the foothills of Hindu kush mountains at an elevation of 2,865 m (9,400 ft), surrounded by meadows, mountains, and dense forests. Similarly, the banks of Mahodand lake are covered by pines and pastures that serve as a camping site during the summer. The Mahodand lake is fed by melting glaciers and springs of the Hindu Kush mountain and gives rise to Ushu Khwar, the major left tributary of theSwat River.
Source of Information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahodand_Lake
I parked my car at the parking slot and walked towards the lake. I removed my shoes and dipped my ankle in the waters. It was freezing cold. Still, I loved it. The waves splashing my feet was a wonderful experience. Soon, my feet went numb. The wind now appeared much colder. I desperately needed tea. As my eyes searched for a tea stall, I saw an old man selling tea in his pot. Hot tea and cold water seemed a wow combination. I started chatting with him.
He told me about the good old times of Swat and then the terrible Taliban era. “Par ab koi masla nahin hai”, said the old man, who seemed to have experienced all shades of Swat. Upon knowing that I am an Indian, he seemed happy. I realized that people are similar everywhere… it’s just a border that gives them a distinction, an identity, belongingness. Soon I bid him farewell and continued my journey. Time read 12.00 noon. I was deliberating whether I should go back to Mingora or further travel to Kumrat Valley. I chose the latter.
Source of Information:http://www.narrativepak.com/kumrat-valley/
The Panjkora River is a famous river in the side of northern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, northwestern in the state of Pakistan. It increase high in the glaciers of Hindu Kush Mountains and flows downstream south via the Upper Dir and Lower Dir Districts and joins the spectacular place of Swat River near the areas of Chakdara, Malakand District, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is in the direction of Indus River watershed basin.
To be Continued…