The Valley of Mankial
The beautiful valley of Swat is a conglomeration of different and varied valleys and plains. The southern region is comparatively wide and open, consisting of plains that are cultivated through out the year and yield extremely large quantity of fruits and crops. The Northern region is a congregation of tall high rising mountains where small valleys provide little ground for cultivation and residentiary area for the small mass of population scattered in different groups and families. The valley of Mankial is one such place located in the north of Swat on the main road leading to Kalam. The total distance of the valley from Saidu Sharif is about eighty kilometers. The condition of the road is not gratifying but still the scenic beauty all around, the cool and invigorating breeze and the whirling, foamy and gurgling water of River Swat keep the visitors engaged and delighted.
The fascinating valley of Mankial is famous throughout Swat for its several sharp and jagged summits or peaks, which can be seen hundreds of kilometers away from down the plains. The tallest peak's height is 18750 feet above the sea level. Several national and international mountaineers have attempted to reach these dizzy and awesome summits and in the course have lost their precious lives but still some others have conquered these intimidating heights. A Japanese mountaineer conquered mount Mankial in 1975. Climbing up these treacherous and unpredictable heights needs a strong heart, firm determination and above all strict professionalism.
Several ancient myths and tales are associated with the razor sharp peaks of Mankial. Most of the people believe that it is the abode of supernatural entities like fairies and jinns where intruding human beings are severely inflicted and who ever ventures into their dwellings either loses his life or is haunted by hallucination and illusions everafter. The immense height of the mountain and enchanted atmosphere sometimes compels one to think that these myths are true and real.
The valley of Mankial has a T shaped location. Towards the western end, above the main road, the villages of Balakot and Dawanr are located face to face the towering summits of Mankial. The dominant language in the area is Kohistani but Pashto is widely spoken and understood. The people of Balakot rely mostly on farming and some of them are employed in foreign countries. The cash crops are maize, peas, potato, turnips and cabbages. Natural and pure mountain honey is also one of the products of these exotic vales, which has high demand in the national and local market and is mostly used as a base in herbaceous medicines. Telephone and electricity have been provided to these villages and some daily consumable items can also be procured in the small shops scattered in the valley.
The valley of Mankial is two pronged with the population scattered on both sides of River Swat. A wooden bridge connects the left segment of Mankial valley with the main road from where an unconstructed link road leads towards the mesmerizing and beautiful valleys and pastures of Jaba (Marshes), Badai, Serai and Chokkail Banda. This link road plies side by side with the roaring, thudding and foaming stream of Mankial, which empties down to River Swat in the central Mankial Valley. The condition of the road is miserable and only four wheelers can tackle the bumpy and sturdy ride of the treacherous and tricky bends and turns. The maximum time to reach Badai where the road is forked, one leading to Jaba and the other to Serai, is forty to fifty minutes. Badai is famous for the mausoleum of Badai Baba where several people go in search of spiritual solace and cure for mysterious diseases. Badai is the only village where the houses are closely located with some shops catering for daily consumable items.
The road turning to right hand leads to the beautiful and exotic highland of Jaba where the local people of Mankial reside in summers, growing potatoes and raising livestock. The slightly open valley of Jaba is wearing a thick blanket of cedar or deodar forest decorated by the mosaic of colorful wild flowers and fruits during early spring. The valley is guarded by the sky touching peaks of mount Mankial in the east where huge glaciers melt down and form spectacular waterfalls and cataracts, which cool the eyes of the beholder and reverberate in the valley, like the enchanting music of mermaids in myths.
Several other pastures and grass lands situated at a relatively high altitude from Jaba including the misty pastures of Boksar and Sor Kar can be easily accessed from this area. The sprawling meadows of Boksar are incomparable in beauty and are identical with the splendid highlands of Dewsai in Gilgit. These hypnotizing valleys are famous for its rich wild life in which Snow Leopard, Markhor, Black Bear, Flying Squirrel, golden Monal, Koklas Pheasant and the bulky Snow Cock are some well-known names. Jaba has several potentials of eco-tourism, which can be beneficial for the community particularly, and the country generally. A strong initiative from the department with support from the local community will certainly make the area prosperous and will help to conserve the ecosystem.
The road turning to left hand in Badai comes to a halt in the splendid valley of Serai. The valley is hubbub of activities in summer but in winter the valley is deserted due to severe snowfall and avalanches. Serai is a wide valley with ample land for potato, peas and turnip cultivation and the people of Mankial exploit the land diligently. The cold and freezing springs and streams in the valley form a web that provide drinking and irrigation water. Most of the houses in the valley are constructed with wood, mud, and stones but still modern architecture can be observed in the valley. A huge mosque constructed with durable cedar wood is a special feature of the valley where collective prayers are performed during summer.
Chokail Banda (Valley) is located in the north of Serai valley. An ascending trail leads to this picturesque summer pasture and highland from Serai, which takes three to four hours to reach this sparkling jewel of nature. The towering peaks of mount Mankial in the south looks like mighty Titans who are always vigilant and ready to guard the valley. Chokail is also famous for the endangered Markhor and elusive Snow Leopard. Wolf, Black Bear, Golden Monal and the bulky Snow Cock are the regular features of Chokail. The area has also been declared as a National Park by the government and the diverse fauna and flora has been given a status of national heritage. Poaching and hunting is strictly prohibited in the valley but poachers still manage to thwart the initiatives of the conservation department. The eye cooling glaciers, the fresh and misty breeze, the elusive calls of birds and the sky touching mountains are some of the exquisite and special features, which make Mankial valley different, beautiful, and a radiant gem in the enchanting valley of Swat.