Goats and jeeps usually don’t share the same ground, but they do come face to face during tourist season on the narrow and rocky road leading from Bahrain to Kalam onto Saifullah and Saifullah Fall. The result of the stand-off on the road, some 36 kilometres from Mahodand, is inevitable—a traffic jam of man, beast and machine.
Few places on Earth match the scenic beauty of Kalam Valley. Tourists are flocking in their droves to catch a glimpse and find cooler ground in the punishing heat.
But Kalam is far from peaceful. As locals move in the opposite direction after having rented their houses to the visitors, their sheep and goat herds block the road from the Mahodand side while jeeps and motorbike riders crowd the side from Bahrain. Locals, mostly from Gujjar and Swat Kohistani, were trying to reach the plains to earn some extra cash in addition to the rent tourists will pay them.
Flooding the valley
Swat Deputy Commissioner Muhammad Aslam Wazir said authorities do not have an official record of the number of tourists entering the valley. “We will know once the season is over” he told The Express Tribune.
Like previous years, tourists are rushing to the valley, but authorities did not expect such an influx in Ramazan. “They are increasing with each passing day” he said, adding all security measures are in place with the help of the military.
Wazir shared most tourists are coming from lower districts like Peshawar, Mardan, Swabi, Charsadda and Nowshera this year. People are also arriving from Punjab and Karachi to spend the month in hotels, while many have rented houses in upper Swat,” he added.
Bringing in the money
Gul Wali, a jeep driver in Mahodand, said businesses was usually tough during Ramazan, but they are booming this year due to the tourist invasion.
“I have to keep myself very busy from dawn till dusk as this is the season to earn money.” He was earning around Rs5,000 per trip to Mahodand and other areas. Wali expects to earn up to Rs10,000 a day after Ramazan is over and the real tourist season kicks in.
Afreen Khan, a hotel owner in Kalam, also did not expect the large influx. “In Ramazan, people don’t leave their houses and such a phenomenon was hardly expected this year due to the heat,” he said. His 23-room hotel is booked for the entire month with each guest paying Rs40,000 for a room for the duration of their stay. “We have no more space and people come every day to ask for accommodation.”
Kalam Hotel Association President Dr Malik told The Express Tribune rates of rooms had not been inflated and owners are trying to provide the best possible facilities for tourists.
He added the only hurdle for visitors were dilapidated roads, which cannot be built during winter. However, he bemoaned the snail’s pace of work on these paths, even during the summer. Dr Malik suggests the government hasten work and remove debris from the roadside so tourists are not left stranded in traffic. “If the government cannot complete this task, the locals will do it.”
He urged the roads be patched up before Ramazan draws to a close as the number of tourists is expected to double by the time Eid comes around.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2015.