Forming history within a valley of beauty

By | Travel
Kundol, one of the many lakes within Swat ValleyCredit@Tour Swat Kundol Lake Swat Valley

On the 10th October 2014, the Norwegian Nobel committee made history as the youngest ever co-recipient was announced of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. At 17 years old, Malala Yousafzai, a female education activist from Pakistan entered the history books as the youngest recipient for any of the 5 Nobel categories and the first Pakistani to be awarded the Peace Prize. Malala was awarded the prize in recognition of her defence of the right to education for young people. Her co-recipient is Kailash Satyarthi a child’s rights activist from India.

Although Yousafzai’s advocacy has since become an international movement, it initially began in her native Swat valley in the Khyber Pakhunkhwa province in North West Pakistan. With her family running a chain of local schools within the region, Malala campaigned for the liberation of girls’ education, the laws having been placed upon the valley district by Taliban militants.

Malala Yousafzai's story has gone global. Credit@World Bank Photo Collection via

Malala Yousafzai’s story has gone global. Credit@World Bank Photo Collection via

From late 2008, Malala began speaking out through talks and campaigns to revoke the control on female’s right to attend school. Her activism continued, with Yousafzai providing interviews on television and in print on the conditions within her hometown. On 9 October 2012, an attempt on Yousafzai’s life was committed on her school bus home in Mingora. This attracted national and international support, with a UN petition in Yousafzai’s name, demanding all children worldwide be in school by the end of 2015, thus aiding Pakistan’s first Right to Education Bill.

The Swat valley in Pakistan received worldwide attention from this high profile case. Inhabited for almost 2,000 years, Swat valley has a far-reaching history and has claims to greatness particularly within the Buddhist religion. Around the 2nd century BC Buddhists arrived in Swat, thought to be attracted to the peace and beauty of the valley. The valley is acknowledged as the birthplace of Tantric Buddhism, with proof of their existence in Swat visible by the sculptures and architecture still standing today.

Kalam is a popular destination for its breath-taking views. Credit@sarfraz hayat Kalam, the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

Kalam is a popular destination for its breath-taking views. Credit@sarfraz hayat Kalam, the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan

It is a district of natural beauty in various forms: the high mountain ranges and numerous lakes of Swat valley were described as “the Switzerland of the East” by Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Pakistan. The area is almost entirely made up of ethnic Gujjar, Kohistani and Pashtun who centre around two main cities, Saidu Shariff and Mingora. Lying in the lap of the Hindu Kush mountains, this upper valley of the Swat river is full of greenery, snow capped peaks and the largest ski resort in Pakistan, Malam Jabba.

Map of Pakistan and its neighbours. Credit@atimes

Map of Pakistan and its neighbours. Credit@atimes

With Saidu Shariff as its capital, Swat valley is home to many varied towns that offer various displays of culture and beauty. Madyan is home to eclectic Bazaars selling native; shawls, traditional embroidery, tribal jewellery, carved wood and antique coins. Close to Yousafzai’s home town of Mingora is the Swat museum, where many Gandhara sculptures have been taken from various Buddhist sites in Swat and rearranged to tell the life story of Buddha. The Ushu and Utrot rivers collide in Kalam to form the Swat river, with the Pari, Kundol and Bashigram lakes places of breath-taking natural creation.

The high profile case of Malala Yousafzai and her advocacy towards female education has shed certain light onto aspects of life for those within Sway valley. Once a prime tourist and travel destination due to its high density of culture and landscape, the focus has now changed, redirected towards rebuilding and surviving the pressures faced through political and extremist differences. Swat valley, has become a place of historical importance and its inhabitants offer examples of determination for the progression of human rights.

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