Swat is a river valley and an administrative district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan. It is the upper valley of the Swat River, which rises in the Hindu Kush range. The capital of Swat is Saidu Sharif, but the main town in the Swat valley is Mingora. It was a princely state, the Yusafzai State of Swat, until 1969, when it was dissolved along with the states of Dir and Chitral and made part of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, then known as North West Frontier Province. The valley is populated mostly by ethnic Pashtuns and Gujjar and Kohistani communities. The languages spoken in the valley are Pashto, Gojri, Torwali and Kohistani.
With high mountains, green meadows, and clear lakes, it is a place of great natural beauty and is popular with tourists. Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to the The Yusafzai State of Swat called it “the Switzerland of the east.”
Swat is surrounded by Chitral, Upper Dir and Lower Dir in the West, Gilgit-Baltistan in North Kohistan, Buner and Shangla in the East and south East. The southern tehsil of Buner was granted the status of a separate district in 1991.
As mentioned above, Swat lies in the lap of mountainous ranges, which are the offshoots of Hindukush, so the larger part of Swat is covered with high mountains and hills, the crests of which are hidden by everlasting snow. Though these gigantic ranges run irregularly: some to the west while the others to the east, but the general direction is North-South. These ranges enclose small but very enchanting valleys.
Swat Museum is on the east side of the street, halfway between Mingora and Saidu. Japanese aid has given a facelift to its seven galleries which now contain an excellent collection of Gandhara sculptures taken from some of the Buddhist sites in Swat, rearranged and labelled to illustrate the Buddha’s life story. Terracotta figurines and utensils, beads, precious stones, coins, weapons and various metal objects illustrate daily life in Gandhara. The ethnographic section displays the finest examples of local embroidery, carved wood and tribal jewellery. For the last three years the museum is occupied by Pakistan army and it is not known when they would be leaving it.
Miandam is a small summer resort ten kilometres (six miles) up a steep side valley and 56 kilometers (35 mi) from Saidu Sharif, making it an hour’s drive. The metalled road passes small villages stacked up the hillside, the roofs of one row of houses forming the street for the row of houses above. Tiny terraced fields march up the hillside right to the top. Miandam is a good place for walkers. Paths follow the stream, past houses with beehives set into the walls and good-luck charms whitewashed around the doors. In the graveyards are carved wooden grave posts with floral designs, like those used by Buddhists 1,000 years ago.
By the time you reach this small town at 1320 m and about 60 km from Mingora, the mountains have closed in and the valley is almost snug. Here one senses why Swat is so popular among the tourists. There are a lot of embroidered shawls in the Bazars of Madyan. At 1,321 metres (4,335 feet) above sea level, but it is a larger town and has many hotels in all price ranges and some good tourist shopping. Antique and modern shawls, traditional embroidery, tribal jewellery, carved wood and antique or reproduced coins are sold along the main street. This is the last Swati village, offering interesting two-and three-day walks up to the mountain villages… ask in the bazaar in Muambar Khan’s shop for a guide. North of Madyan is Swat Kohistan where walking is not recommended without an armed guard. The central mosque at Madyan has carved wooden pillars with elegant scroll capitals, and its mud-plastered west wall is covered with relief designs in floral motifs. Both bespeak the Swati’s love of decoration.
A quarter of an hour past Madyan, the road squeezes through Behrain. Tourists stop to shop or have a look around for beautiful carved wood chairs and tables and other handicrafts. Behrainis are a mix of Pashtuns and Kohistanis (Torwali). Behrain is ten kilometres north of Madyan and only slightly higher, at about 1,400 metres (4,500 feet). It is another popular riverside tourist resort, with bazaars worth exploring for their handicrafts. Some of the houses have carved wooden doors, pillars and balconies. These show a remarkable variety of decorative motifs, including floral scrolls and bands of ornamental diaper patterns almost identical to those seen on Buddhist shrines and quite different from the usual Muslim designs. Because of intersection of two rivers this place is said to be call Bahrain. (intersection of two Rivers)