By Car, Kalam
The route to the Swat Valley is from Islamabad to Nowshera and then taking the turn to Mardan and after crossing Mardan you have to negotiate the Malakand Pass and land safely in Mingora in the Swat Valley. Sounds tough? Well, it really isn't that tough.
The journey from Islamabad to Nowshera is pretty uneventful on the 16th century old (but constantly repaired) Grand Trunk Road. Some nice views at Hasan Abdal as you pass through the Margalla Pass (nothing to worry about on this pass). Taxila and Wah Cantt are the only other reasonable places. Check out the museum at Taxila and also some archealogical remains lie there as well. Crossing the Attock River was cool though there was a traffic jam. Attock Fort was pretty cool place too. There was a nice old-fashioned train bridge over the Attock River as well. As you enter NWFP Province, there is a toll plaza which collects a toll to enter NWFP. Here, it just seems that the power of the government is fading and the tribal powers have more importance. You will see several Pathans carrying Kalashinkov's on the way as you move in NWFP. No shorts or half-sleeves here please. Women should try to cover their heads and avoid tight clothes. Reaching Nowshera you see bright gardens and nice roads. Nowshera means "New City" which lies just before Peshawar. Take the turn to Mardan where you will notice miles and miles of tobacco and maize fields on the road. Pretty uneventful, just the odd train zipping past you on the rail track beside the road which lasts till Risalpur at the base of Malakand, until you reach the Malakand Agency. This part of the journey can be really boring. However, you now get your first view of the huge mountains of Malakand over which the road ascends. A new world lies ahead.
Well, I said a new world lies ahead. It definitely does! Suddenly, among the plains at Mardan, you see huge mountains ahead. These are the Malakand mountains. The road change remains 2 way roughly 3 lanes. The road creeps up into the mountains. The plopping of the ear is normal due to decrease in pressure. Brilliant view down from the Malakand Road. You can almost see a 1000 m below from where you are driving. The road is a bit scary at a few places especially with trucks also driving on the same route. Also, there is a tunnel or two on the road which is pretty interesting. The hairpins can be a bit scary too. Visibility on the road can be reduced a lot in rainfall. At the peak, there is a minor fort and a town. This was the place where the British fought several battles with the locals. Also, a graveyard near the top. On my return jouney, I saw several people looking down beside the road. I didn't ask what the problem was but I think I knew the answer already and It wasnt much of a relief! So be careful, there isnt much protection on the sides except for some rocks cemented into the road.