Words and Pictures: Saifuddin Ismailji

As time goes by, seven months after I had returned from my journeys in the South East Asia, I am set with the goal of taking a trip to a place where bliss awaits on the top of the world. And so, I hit the road in celebration of one of my favourite places in Pakistan – a dream destination for wanderlust.

Suvat (wrongly spelt and written as Swat but correctly pronounced in international vocabulary as “sua:t”) is derived from Sanskrit word Suvastu or in ancient Aryan literature Suastus , given to the river (Suvastu) that sources out in upper Kalam valley at the confluence of Ushu River and Utrot River.

The present corrupted word: “Swat” got widely adopted – foolishly and thoughtlessly (what a shame!), after some foreign writer mischievously spelt it after a USA crime series SWAT (Special Weapon And Tactics).

In the Malakand Division of the Khyber Pakhtun Khwah (KPK), Saidu Sharif is the administrative city of Suvat and the point of entry to access the side valleys in the shadow of soaring Hindukush mountain range. Malam Jabba, Marghazar, Bahrain, Kalam, Matiltan and Utrot valleys sparkle like emerald abound the awesome Hindukush terrain.

The naturally romantic valley is a fabulous place for inspiring breaks all year round. Fresh mountain breeze, beautiful scenery in the wilderness, orchard fields, flowing rivers, thundering waterfalls, serene lakes and rivulets dotted with flowers, and local hospitality make this place appealing to our five senses.

 It’s impossible to find the words to describe the magnificence of mountain scenery on a grand scale, some of the upper valleys, untouched by human development – thanks to Mother Nature’s weather condition.  

On the crossroads of ancient invaders from the West and Central Asia, Suvat remained a centre of Gandhara Civilization and had become a Holy land for Buddhist pilgrims. Buddhism thrived since the reign of Asoka, the prince of Mauryan Empire, from 3c BCE until 1200 CE. Today, you can explore some of the 400 Buddhist sites, which span across Suvat valleys over an area of 160 kilometres. The Museum located in Mingora display some of the finest Gandhara art pieces, objects and artifacts, more than 5000 years back in time.

We begin the journey to Suvat from Islamabad via Motorway (M1) connecting “Swat Expressway” (N-45). The high speed dual-carriageway made the journey much safer and comfortable, though occasional stretches of two way traffic. With a couple of refreshment break, we made it in about 6 hours (non-stop about 4 hours), approximately 280 kilometers journey to the welcoming doors of the newly opened Pearl Continental Resort, Malam Jabba.  This swanky hotel with a soul in one of the most loved valleys of my country is located at the height of 2650 meters (8694 feet).  

 The place will truly disconnect you, if you will, from the worldly rat-race into an urbane space and here you reconnect with nature while indulge into recreational activities. If ever an abode, insanely magnificent, in a stunning natural surrounding with the fresh mountain air was to outshine your one and only for your mind and spirit, the Pearl Continental Malam Jabba is it.                                                            

The exterior is neatly done in sand stone and earth-colour columns, which goes hand in hand with nature in the proximity. The hanging balcony in the centre of the front exterior is inspired with the design of the historic Baltit Fort in Karimabad, Hunza. 

These are the kind of structures that should spell a Code of Standard in building infrastructure in harmony within natural environment, although more care is needed to minimizing cutting the trees around the structure. Stakeholders in tourism, and tourists alike, should take care of and preserve nature for future generations to rejoice.

After a quick Check-In at the friendly Reception, I settle down for a few days in my comfort zone at this high-key luxury at a new level. My room is genially tailor- made for maximum comfort and meet up with 5-Star features, including a fruit basket on arrival, tea and coffee making facilities, high speed Wi-Fi, flat screen TV with satellite television, bathrobes, slippers and so on.

The Executive Floor features a glamorous red carpet hallway that links into Executive Lounge, Governor Suite, Royal Suite and family rooms. On the top floor the generously spacious Presidential Suite is the place to live your if-I-were-a-crowned Maharajah dreams and lose yourself in self-indulgence.

The abode offers a wonderland-esque appeal, decor in finesse local handmade wooden furniture, earth-colour carpets and curtains. A lavishly opulent seating area is trimmed in 5-star amenities. Impressive paintings, on the walls, probably work of local artists, depict scenes from local lifestyle and people. The Relaxing Area at the Balcony propounds a million-dollar view.   

In the naturally pictographic setting of the lush mountains, breathtaking view of the lush Hindukush Mountain from my room and the relaxing terrace of the hanging balcony of the Presidential Suite is one strikingly obvious hint why you would want to bed down here.

The GM of the Resort, Aqeel Abbasi, a hotelier with a sound academic background with a vast hospitality experience in Europe and Middle-East, has a challenging role play with the opening of the hotel. He said that at the time of Grand Opening, likely by the end of this year, there will be much more additions at the Resort, including rooms, dining outlets, Spa and Fitness and upgrade of services including personal butler service at the Presidential Suite.

While the Resort is still in its final phase of completion, I have access to only one of the dining venues at the Marco Polo Bar and Restaurant – a Pearl Continental brand Restaurant. It was a busy time at the Resort with a Convention taking place at The Marquee, but I got lucky to steal a few minutes of the Executive Chef, with many years of working in top hotels in Middle-East, for an acquaintance about the food philosophy at the eatery.

Food is perhaps the most exciting part of travel. It’s not just about eating to live but living to eat and indulge in history and traditions behind each bite that tells a story on the culture and people of a country.

At meal time, the kitchen – in a quest for best food, dishes out some of the favourite local delicacies with an irresistible layout of a variety of international cuisines on the buffet. Local favourites including a variety of deli and snack at the High Tea (1430 to 1730); there is plenty of choice from the international menu including irresistible dessert corner.

If you are a Food pilgrim, not to miss the obvious local dishes, including the trout and bhuna (steamed) beef. In my past experiences, I had tried trout simply steamed and sprinkled with little salt; here I get a tongue-smacking spicy taste.

Every Friday is the BBQ Night at the vast back-garden of the Resort with a whiff of fresh mountain air – an exclusive dining experience where you can sit by bonfire under the stars.

If you want to get more active, a myriad of activities will take you closer to nature. Take a hike along winding path up the mountain that looms in the distance by the hotel premises that lead to the other end of chair-lift station. Or, you may opt zip-lining, which will bring you back on the rooftop of the hotel.

(Note: No part or any word of this article NOT to be copied and used by anybody without the written permission of the author)




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