Heavens are waiting for you at Kalam

My travelogue in ‘The News’ (Pakistan’s second largest English-language newspaper) published on 29 July 2001

Visit Kalam in Swat which is comparable to the scenic spots in Switzerland or the South of France, writes Ijaz Chaudhry 

Swat is a large beautiful mountainous area in the Malakand division of NWFP which has a number of spots/places worth visiting.

One of them is Kalam. It takes about nine to ten hours from Rawalpindi by car to reach this picturesque place. Public transport, mostly wagons from Pirvidahi Bus Stand, Rawalpindi, take a couple of hours less. From Rawalpindi, one reaches Nowshera via the Peshawar road and turns right for Kalam. The road is excellent and quite wide throughout. The landscape alters gradually. From the brown barren hills of the Potohar area, the hills gradually become green. The number of trees also increases in direct proportion. The temperature, on the other hand, decreases. In Kalam, the weather is ideal from May to August.

However, it should be mentioned that if some people do not want to subject themselves to a long car journey (though quite comfortable) or want to save time, there is the option of air travel. There are daily flights from Islamabad to Saidu Sharif (subject to the weather of course). And from Saidu Sharif, public transport for Kalam is easily available.

On reaching Kalam, one comes across a plethora of hotels. These hotels cater for all income groups but even the rates of the most ‘expensive’ ones are also reasonable.  Unlike many other such places in Pakistan, these hotels are well-kept.

One of the most striking features of the area is the River Swat running through the whole valley in a majestic style. There is also the eye-catching sight where River Shu and River Utroor join the river Swat itself. Most of the hotels are on the river front and a few of them are even built on the river. Here, sometimes one gets the feeling as if the hotel is floating on the river.

All around are hills covered with lush green plantations.  This greenery has a wide variety thus preventing the scene being monotonous.  At some places there are rows of pine trees, while at other points the greenery comprises of smaller plants. The air is very clean and the whole ambience is mesmerizing. This feeling is not peculiar to Kalam only.

There are quite a few other places to explore, nearby. The closest is Ushu, hardly 30 minutes drive from the central Kalam where there is a rather narrow stretch of the River Swat − a spot worth spending a few hours. Many small restaurants are located on either bank of river.

Further up from this place is Mahoodand Lake. The route to Mahoodand Lake is very rough and hilly, and one can only travel there by jeep which can be easily hired from Kalam and even from Mutiltan near Ushu. From the latter, jeeps can be rented for less. From Kalam, the rent of a jeep varies from Rs. 800 to 1,200, depending upon the number of visitors and the resultant demand at that particular time of the season. It takes about three hours to reach Mahoodand from Kalam. En route, there are a couple of mesmerizing spots. One of them is a waterfall cascading down in almost a straight line. Kiosks have been established in these tiny locations offering cold drinks, biscuits, etc.

On arriving at Mahoodand, an extremely clean and large lake welcomes you. The sprawling green lakeside area adds to the beauty of the site. A couple of small restaurants even offer tents for those interested in camping. Some people bring their own tents. Boating facilities are also available in the lake.

Yet another place, commonly frequented is Utroor, also a couple of hours drive from Kalam. On the way is a restaurant-cum-park-cum-zoo. Utroor on its own does not have much to offer but there is an extremely captivating lake not far from it. The lake is only accessible on foot and the trek is difficult and steep.

So much for the sightseeing. There are culinary attractions as well. Trout is a delicacy of Kalam not be missed and is available in most hotels, big and small. Some hotels even have their own fish farms, from where the fish is picked up and readily cooked.

What if one wants to do some shopping, especially ladies, and bring home some mementoes or gifts for near and dear ones. Kalam caters for this as well. It has quite a sizeable bazaar. Apart from the items of daily utility, the shops also sell Swat caps and beautiful dresses with famous Swati embroidery.

However, what is the most pleasant (and surprising) about the bazaar is the attitude of the shopkeepers. Unlike several other tourist destinations in the country, the Swatis are not bent on fleecing the visitors. Almost all the prices are reasonable.

Another place which can be and should be seen during this trip is Malaam Jabba, which is very much a resort in its own right. It can be visited en route to Kalaam or on returning from Kalaam. After a two and a half hour drive from Kalam, a left turn near Khazakhela leads to Malaam Jabba, located at a height of more than 7000 feet. It has a wonderful PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) hotel and a chairlift. People throng this place mostly during winters because it has been developed into a very good ski resort.

So do visit Kalam which is comparable to the scenic spots of Switzerland or the South of France. And we are fortunate enough to have it in our own motherland.

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