It has been more than five years since peace returned to the once militancy-hit Swat region that is blessed with picturesque sceneries, including thick pine forests, lush green plains, snow-covered mountains, lakes, streams and pleasant weather.
Visitors, which include foreigners, have to still go through a checking or a verification process upon entrance to the Malakand division. They are required to pass through three military and police check posts during their about 160-km journey to Kalam.
Reasonably well equipped hotels at rates cheaper than other similar tourist destinations is an attraction for people who intend to spend some time in the valley. Even during the peak summer season, most hotels in Mingora, Madyan, Bahrain and Kalam do not cost more than 2,000 rupees per room per night.
Another factor is the friendliness and hospitality of the people of Swat. They always treat tourists as their guests, which is why most visitors take away charming memories and an increased social circle when they return home from holidays in Swat.
Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (TCKP) has been organising a number of events for tourists in past years. These attractions include summer and winter festivals and traditional sports and music events. Such events in recent years successfully attracted up to half a million visitors from Punjab and Sindh, in particular Karachi, which is situated more than 1,600 km away in the south.
Some places in Swat, including Kalam and Bahrain, have an uninterrupted power supply. The provincial government, with funding from foreign donors, has managed to set up a number of micro hydro power projects that generate cheap electricity from different arteries of Swat River.
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One of the hurdles in pulling people towards Swat is the dilapidated condition of the N-95 highway that runs along the river from Chakdara all the way up to Kalam.
Zahid Khan, the president of All Swat Hotels Association, says the dreadful condition of major roads in Swat is one reason holding tourists back from visiting the valley.
“Only adventurers dare to travel on the road to Kalam, which is virtually non-existent beyond Bahrain. We hear about accidents on this section of the road on a routine basis. These travellers then go back and tell others about the bad roads, which compels them to change their minds about visiting Swat,” he says.
The approximately 34 km road from Bahrain to Kalam was mostly washed away in the devastating 2010 floods. However, despite about seven years the National Highways Authority is yet to rebuild the main section of the road, which takes more than three hours for commuters without 4×4 vehicles.
“Every year the road becomes more difficult for drivers. There are countless ditches and potholes on this road. It is a jeep-able track now,” says Mumtaz Khan, a Kalam-based businessman who runs a small tour and travel agency.
“That’s not the only road that has been neglected by the authorities. The road to Malam Jabba is also in bad shape. Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s Amir Muqam Khan has the contract to reconstruct that road. However, the work is yet to start work despite a deadline of May 15 by the courts,” claims Zahid Khan.
Another problem that has affected tourism in Mingora is the long power outages. “We have one hour power supply after every two hours of loadshedding. The hotels, shops and markets can’t afford to run their business on diesel or petrol generators,” says Khan.
The All Swat Hotels Association and the Upper Swat Hotels Association are offering budget packages for tourists wishing to spend the month of Ramzan in the pleasant weather of Swat.
Tourists can rent a hotel room for Rs15,000 to 20,000 for the whole month anywhere in Swat. These rates are arguably far cheaper than other tourist destinations in the hilly North of the country.