Swat Valley, Ayun and Chitral

An eye opening few days travelling in north west Pakistan, close to the border with Afghanistan, exploring a completely different culture with relatively few Western influences. Here we were the exotic ones, with passing cars of families stopping to take selfies and group photos with us.

Mingora Bazaar and the bustling streets around were an introduction by sensory overload, with rich colours in the bazaar, chaotic traffic on the street, colourful vehicles, rather a lot of rubbish in the river, and a lot of noise! We were escorted by three armed policemen. It felt safe but it wasn’t that long ago that the Swat Valley was full of Taliban.

Nearby the Swat Museum and Saidu Stupa were reminders of the importance of the area as a hub for Buddhism between 1,700 and 2,300 years ago.

We followed the Swat River, spanned by many bridges, the newer ones painted in patriotic colours.

Switching from a bus to jeeps we headed up toward the Lowari Pass, now bypassed by the near 10km long Lowari Tunnel, saving a couple of hours of narrow roads.

While waiting to go through there was time to check out these amazing parked trucks, pretty standard for Pakistan, but wonderfully intricate and detailed.

There were some pretty stunning landscapes on the other side of the tunnel, including views of the sun setting on the 7,726m Tirich Mir, the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush.

We spent the night in a lovely house up the hillside in Ayun, built for one of the princes of the region. The lush garden and mountain views were an unexpected treat.

The drive from Ayun to Chitral was rather scenic.

Chitral is the main town in the region, and where as foreigners we had to register at the Police Station. The area borders Afghanistan so is understandably sensitive for Pakistan. There were some fascinating overseas visitor statistics on the wall. The region has yet to regain its pre-9/11 popularity but is becoming more popular again, with 924 overseas visitors in 2018 at the time of visiting (late September). The most frequent visitors between 1997 and 2012 were British, Japanese, French, German, American, and Dutch.

Nearby were the remains of an old fort, and a rather lovely mosque.

The old bazaar is close by, though it started to quiet down when we visited as everyone was off for Friday prayers.

There were some flash trucks parked in the bazaar, I just couldn’t get enough of these vehicles in my time in Pakistan, they were endlessly colourful and fascinating.

Author: jontycrane

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