Stereotyping is something we all are quite familiar with, as we go through it on a regular basis. Mention the word Pakistan & the usual statements and associations are listed out for you. So it is not surprising that when someone visits, all their preceding views come crumbling down.
‘This is the story of the outside world’, sadly not. When it comes to stereotyping & image building the majority of the Pakistanis also don’t bother to take a different route and are all too happy to follow in the footsteps of the ‘outside world’. I recently had a similar personal experience when I got to tag along with my mother to Swat, for a medical conference at Saidu Medical College. Personally I never knew that there was one in Swat & a lot of the people from the medical profession are guilty of this ignorance.
Anyone who got to know that we were going to Swat, would follow with a one worded WHY? Some went even further when they saw that their full of expressions, why question wasn’t getting any second thoughts, they took great pains to elaborate that going there was a stupid thing to do. The Talibans are roaming free & there is no peace, the operation didn’t really work etcetera. My mother even got reprimanded for especially taking me along. When the plan survived all these verbal attacks, it was made sure that we have chaadars cum burqas with us, which we were instructed to don when we reached 50 meters of Swat.
This was the image with which we started off a ten hours road trip to Swat from Lahore.
Fast forward to when we entered the 50 meters mark, and thankfully before following the given instructions blindly, we had the sense of looking out the car windows. Even though I tried my best to look for all the said danger, all I could see was the very familiar morning school hour rush & the related buzz. Groups of children (both boys & girls); going to school on foot, in their vans & other with their parents. It took some time to absorb this normalcy. What followed was the spell that the mesmerizing beauty casted on the visitors.
The management had arranged for entertainment sessions at the end of the conference sessions for all three days. There were musical evenings on the first two days. Each day a different local singer was invited and the event lasted around 1am in the morning. The students behaved just like any other set of students that one comes across. There were dance performances and a lot of noise, features that are a sort of trade mark of such events.
When it came to the outing section, they too didn't reek of any special treatment. All the delegates along with the students & faculty of the college were loaded in buses & taken to enjoy what the city had to offer & believe you me, it has loads to offer.
As far as the natural beauty of the place is concerned I will leave it to the following pictures from my collection, as words will fail me in that section.
Then the people; the modernity, diversity, education, women hating and all dressed up in the same attire. I didn’t come across any such breed there. They are the most humble, respectful & hospitable people Pakistan has to offer. Education is quite high on their priority list & it can be predicted that in the future that region will be at the top of our overall education rate. Above all unlike the image portrayed they are quite proud of their culture & heritage. They love their music & can surely give a tough competition to Punjabis when it comes to their love for dancing & have a great time. The musical programs lasted past midnight & we were told that this is a norm, not an exception.
The area’s history includes the presence & the spread of Buddhism which the locals are not ashamed of celebrating as part their heritage. There are three main Stupas known as Butkara among the locals. These locations are not some abandoned ruins but have been turned into tourist spots and the archaeology department’s presence can be seen. The same is true for the Swat museum, which unfortunately we could not visit as it was being renovated & therefore closed to the public for the time being.
As far as the Swat operation is concerned there are two main opinions, depending on who you talk to. One says that the entire thing was orchestrated from the installation of the Taliban to the subsequent operation. The other is that there was genuine trouble but the intensity was overhyped and after the operation the area has been thoroughly cleaned. Whichever version one agrees with, the undisputed result is that it is the locals that were the victims, from what they had to suffer as IDPs & the destruction that took place. An example is the PTDC’s hotel at Malam Jabba that was destroyed during the operation. It was built at the top most spot in the area. To imagine the impact of the sound of destruction is that area where the only regular sound are that of the wild birds is the trees, is enough to give you the chills.
The media is not playing its part in the restoration of the image of the Valley but then our media is a total disappointment on the whole when it comes to building Pakistan’s image, therefore, the people should take it up & chip in as much as they can. This was one appeal that the locals made repeatedly, that do tell when you go back what you saw & experienced & encourage people to come visit.
Both the people & the army have been through more than their share of horror, the least we can do to reward their resilience is to help them rebuilt what they have lost. So the next time you are looking for a vacation spot, do consider Swat, the time spent there will result in some of the most cherished memories that you will carry with you.
Following are a couple of videos for you to enjoy.
Traditional dance by the students of Saidu Medical College