ISLAMABAD: Once falling under the reign of terror, faced with the largest displacement in the country after a military operation against radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah and his band of myopic Taliban, the breathtaking beauty of Swat valley once again invites nature-lovers to flock to its scenic treasures.
Located about 250 kilometres from Islamabad, Swat valley comprises the main valley of the upper course of the Swat river for a length of about 200 kilometres from the source. After restoration of peace, the valley seemed tranquil. Shopping plazas have reopened and streets are bustling. Traders, shoppers, bicyclists, donkey-carts, auto-rickshaws and tractors jostle for space in the narrow arteries. The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) is on its toes, putting in maximum efforts to promote tourism in the valley.
It is offering attractive packages to foreigners for Udyana and Suvastu – the most frequented areas in the region. Apart from its fascinating landscapes, crystal clear streams, diverse flora and fauna, mesmerising lakes, there are some “installations” preferred to be “overlooked” yet widely observed by visitors. Factually, the Pakistan Army restored peace in the region by flushing out Maulana Fazlullah and his loyalists. But it still shoulders the responsibility to continue to maintain normalcy in the valley.
Visitors come across army troops at different checkpoints on the way to the valley. But this deployment is part of a long-term strategy to ensure durable peace in the region. Another factor which discourages tourists from visiting the valley is the stinky atmosphere that surrounds the area. Even worth-watching places have been abused by people having no concern about natural beauty. Apart from this, the quality of local hotels and food is unreliable and probably unregulated. “Whose fault is this - tourist’s?” said a visitor staying at a low-paid motel.
He added that the motel management probably don’t filter the drinking water (forcing each and every guest to buy bottled water), don’t provide garbage bins and don’t bother to change bedsheets in the rooms. It is not limited to local businesses, some tourists and local residents were noticed throwing their garbage on the ground without even looking for a garbage bin - someone will deal with it, sometime. “I saw heaps of garbage on the way from Islamabad to here,” said a local journalist on a trip to Swat.
It is a big issue, not to be overlooked, if we really want to revive the lost glory of the valley, to make it a tourists’ hub. The spokesperson for the Ministry of Tourism, Muhammad Yasin Janjua, described the issue as “very important” but passed the buck to the Tehsil Municipal Administration of Swat. Local residents should at least be given training to save the environment, for it would promote business in the city, heralding prosperity in the region.
With regard to the ubiquitous presence of security forces in the valley, the spokesman said the matter had already been taken up at a meeting with military officials. “We told them to remove security checkpoints or at least reduce their numbers,” he said. Local leaders say the federal and provincial governments are making efforts to revive tourism in the picturesque valley. They believe the Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa government has an added responsibility to restore the lost glory of the valley. Swat is certainly a living paradise where nature-lovers can feast their eyes on the bounties of nature.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 24th, 2010.