An Emerald, I found

By: Tooba Sheikh

Among both of us, I am the one stricken badly by wanderlust. So driven by this inherited disease my brain gave birth to the idea of fulfilling my appetite to take an excursion and counteract our fussy life with an antidote. What else could be a greater notion than to sail into the harbor of Mother Nature and cozy up there? My husband picked the land where emeralds are found in abundance as our destination and asked me if I was willing. I nodded while thinking ‘’I would be a bigger jackass than anyone can think not to visit Switzerland’’. Then it was my job to execute the plan because I carried the heart that was bubbling with joy.The next day was a scorching sunny day and we departed from home at quarter past three. It was a long drive of six hours to Swat. I was excited as well as apprehensive. I wanted to have my first sight at Swat Valley in daylight as to get amused by it to the fullest but unfortunately, we got there after everything greyed into twilight and I couldn’t see anything except shadows amid dusk. At a quarter past nine, we were in Mingora.Our host, Tahir, a nice and kind person welcomed us warmly and took us to hotel Relax which was relaxing indeed as its name implies. The hotel was located by river Swat and offered a scenic view. The gushing sound of the river was melodizing the atmosphere. We sat in the open air of the hotel and ordered some food. The lawns were decorated with ornamental grass. Gentle whiffs of breeze were stroking us and we felt so refreshed despite extreme exhaustion. Beautiful trees lit up around us mellowing the entire surrounding which was very pleasurable to sit and relax. After two hours our dinner was served and we ate it to our fill. It was my first trip to Swat.Swat is a beautiful valley of Khyber Pakhtun Khwa located in the Hindukush mountain range. Because of its natural beauty, it attracts tourists who flock there to relish it.That’s why its economy is mainly dependent on tourism. It is famous for its majestic mountains, jewel blue rivers, blooming orchards, and balmy weather in summer. The true magnifier of the beauty of Swat is the Swat River which originates from Hindukush Mountains and flows alongside the valley towards the South and terminates in the Kabul River. Mingora is a metropolitan city in Swat District as well as the main business hub which is adjacent to its twin city, Saidu Sharif. Mingora is blessed with lavish peach orchards which is the center of interest for fruit farmers.Over time I have developed a great fondness for nature. I find it very pacifying and curative. I feel serenity in it as a child finds in the lap of his mother. Luckily Swat is rich in natural beauty. Its lakes, hills, and forests all offer a sense of comfort to the soul. But we were there for a short period. And we had to make it as memorable as possible. After dinner, we went to his residence and his family attended to us with great hospitality which we will never forget.The next morning we got ready to go out as I was ardent to explore nature. It was very polite of our host to perceive the true nature of our design and took us to Kalam Valley which is located at a distance of 96 kilometers from Mingora. Kalam is the birthplace of the Swat River and at an altitude of 6565 feet. As Kalam valley started, conifers were getting richer and abundant which proved to be a real treat to the eyes. Throughout our journey to Kalam, we passed by the Swat river which was flowing alongside pine-covered picturesque hills. The turquoise blue sparkly water gave an ethereal appearance when sunlight hit it dazzlingly. We passed through a town called Bahrain. As its name implies, it is the confluence point of two rivers Daral and Swat. This place is very famous for riverside tourists resort and the merging of two rivers. We could easily view Falak Sar, the highest snow-capped peak of Swat which captivates its viewers by its eye-catching splendor. I was happy to see Swat rising again to its peaceful glory. People suffered a great deal there but now life is coming back to normalcy. The bazaars were bustling and shops were open. People were busy selling and buying goods. I witnessed beautiful handmade ornaments and decorative items. The embroidery items displaying in shops were attention-grabbing. Swat is also known for its precious stones.We were heading towards Ushu forest, situated 8 kilometers from Kalam. It is a dense cedar forest and one of Pakistan’s best camping resorts. As we got higher, trees were getting richer and the air was crisp. After 2 hour drive, we reached Ushu and came out of the car. A vast ground was stretched on before us and we beheld lush green sweeping forests in which towering trees were swaying from wind. Rays of sun slanted down and streamed through green pine leaves making the sight a natural art gallery. I took a deep breath in the brisk forest air and felt so refreshed. It is one of the finest hiking spots. We could easily walk over the hills and enjoy the unspoiled nature.Therefore we planned to hike but the sun seemed to be too hot to walk so after a short course of trek we descended.People were reposing and resting, some were riding camels while children were roaming in playfulness and we were witnessing the wonder of nature. People of Kalam don’t speak Pashto (the language of ethnic Pashtuns) but Kohistani. These people offered great resistance to the Taliban and fought them off valiantly. “Taliban were unsuccessful in throwing their weight in Kalam due to the defiance showed by indigenous people”, said Tahir. “These Kohistani men are really tough”, he added. Ushu forest is lacking water so one has to use it sparingly otherwise one can get in trouble. Now, it was time to satiate our hunger so we came back and had our lunch in a hotel at the bank of the river. We chose the place to sit where we could eye the crystal clear water of the river. It was windy and the food was relishing. The taste of trout and chapli kebab is lodged into my tongue and I can still flavor it. Across the hotel, there were charpais anchored in the fast-flowing river. It was a real leisure-seeking spot where people seemed to be enjoying themselves. We sat there and soaked our feet into the water. The sun was on top and the glittery blue water of the river appeased our eyes and soul. We had hot cups of tea there and came back home. By the time night had fallen and we intended to move to a hotel. Soon we found one with moderate charges and after picking our baggage we lodged there. It was quite a bright and airy room. I came to know this when I got up late in the morning.We could not afford to waste more of our time, therefore we got ready to visit Malam Jabba, another gem of nature. It is a beautiful Hill station, about 9000 feet above sea level. It is the highest ski resort in the Hindukush mountain range. Its ski slope is about 800 meters long. It happens to be in full bloom in winters because of heavy snowfall which spreads all over the hill slope and makes it perfect for skiing. People from all over Pakistan throng there to enjoy this exciting sport. We reached there within 1 hour and 30 minutes. This place is a real charmer because of its emerald green meadows flaunting against the bright blue sky. Its matchless beauty reminds me of the Swiss Alps (as I have seen in pictures) and I was taken aback to behold the uncanny resemblance between the two (as I grew up listening about this likeness). I could relate to Victor Frankenstein who sought refuge in the hills of Geneva from distress and dismay. The road to Malam Jabba is a gradual slope with an abrupt change of weather that turns cool and shady. The air was chill as we were in summer clothes but it was enjoyable.Another noticeable thing in Malam Jabba is zip lining, famous all over Pakistan which is1000 feet high and about 2000 feet long. People crowded there to undertake this fabulous experience of the zip line. It was wonderful. Once in the stronghold of terror, this resort has become again a tourism hub. But the scars of yesterday are indelible. The chairlift is another fascination of Malam Jabba which attracts people to ride and enjoy themselves. It was a pleasure riding it. Looking down the grassy slopes blossoming with yellow flowers and cattle grazing over those highlands made a panoramic view of the place. Nature was uninterrupted there. We were moving lazily in the air, staring at the mesmeric hills with pine trees topping them and masked by thin layers of clouds as the summits were playing hide and seek. I felt hypnotic. Going on such an altitude surrounded by beauty is so good. Malam Jabba bewitched me and I didn’t want to leave that place but we had to come down to have our lunch which our courteous host packed from his home. It was delicious. We stopped at a paddock where cattle were grazing, we sat on green grass and ate the food. Twigs of trees around us stooped down and fondled the gentle breeze. It was spectacular. We strolled there for a long and then sat in our car and returned to the hotel. The next day we had the pleasure of visiting the white palace, Marghazar Valley that is another interesting story to tell. In short, this marked an end to this trip and it was time to pack. We were not alone but the beautiful memories collected from an endearing Valley and lovely images of a delightful family were also traveling with us.