Swat valley has a marvelous landscape, archeological richness and a distinctive history. Alexander the great entered the valley in 327 BC and captured the areas of Bazira (Barikot) and Ora (Udigram). Later on it became the hub of Buddhism and Gandhara civilization. The Yusufzai tribe took over Swat in the first quarter of sixteenth century.
Swat was unapproachable for the outside world till the first quarter of the twentieth century. It remained independent to a larger extent and was outside the sphere of influence of the various forces in terms of administrative control. As Swat was outside the administrative sphere of British, the Englishmen too were reluctant to visit the state till 1926. However, the scenario changed in 1926 when the State was recognized by the British. This led to a major change in the functioning and overall development of the State. The initial phase of infrastructure development was carried by Miangul Abdul Wadud (Bacha Sahib). After coming into power, the last Wali of Swat (Miangul Abdul Haq Jahanzeb) took unprecedented steps in terms of infrastructure development and communications in the state. He opened the valley for tourists from all around the world. His correspondence with the officials of the government of Pakistan is on record which speaks of his aspirations to develop Swat into a tourist’s haven. He was of the opinion that the tourists should be allowed to enter the state without any interference on the part of Government as such formalities will be a waste of time and energy of all those who intends to visit Swat.
The administration of Miangul Jahanzeb was efficient by inviting Liaqat Ali Khan (1949) and Queen Elizabeth II (1961) to the State. This initiative gave the people confidence in terms of safety to visit Swat. The growing family relations of the Wali e Swat with Ayub Khan, the then President & Chief of Army Staff also contributed to promotion of tourism in the State. The visit Queen Elizabeth and her husband in February 1961 received wide media coverage and thus made the people in the country aware of the tourism potential in the valley.
Muhammad Zahid writes about this visit:
“Zebu Jilani, the granddaughter of the former Swat ruler recalls, ‘I was probably eight years old when the Queen visited Swat. It was a great moment. Though my grandfather was regularly receiving foreign dignitaries including the Queen of Malaysia, everyone was really proud and honoured that the British Queen was visiting. We all wore our best clothes for that day.’ Prior to the Queen’s visit, an advance party from Britain visited Swat to assess whether the place was suitable for her to visit. When the day finally arrived, the royal guests received a very hospitable welcome. Jilani says, ‘Me and my elder cousin presented a flower bouquet to the Queen and her husband Prince Philip in Saidu, home to the ruling family. They shook hands with us and asked us our names and whether we go to school.”
It is worth mentioning that in February, 1961 Swat was hit by one of the harshest winters. Thousands of people stood by the roadside to catch a glimpse of the Queen. The Queen was greeted all the way from the Malakand Pass, where once Winston Churchill had been sending war reports from his pickets now known as Churchill’s pickets. The queen was shown this famed picket on her way to Swat. Interestingly she called Winston Churchill and told him that she was visiting the Churchill Picket in the Malakand Valley.
The Queen travelled in an American roofless car from the fleet of the ruler of Swat. The Queen was very enthusiastic and she waved to the people. The natural and wildly enthusiastic reception accorded to the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth throughout Swat was unprecedented. The heavy snowfall blocked the roads and thus the queen was unable to visit the far-flung and scenic areas.
The queen was also interested in the archaeological sites of Swat.
According to a english writer it was bitterly cold on that day and the rain during the night made access from numerous villages to the royal route difficult. Yet the people left their hearths and homes to have a glimpse of royal couple. The route from Peshawar to Saidu Sharif was aptly described as the route of triumphal arches. There were some interesting designs and patterns on them. Alongside the arches they put things like oranges, a tea set, a looking-glass or a photograph of the royal couple nearly cut from the newspaper supplements.
The Queen also visited White Palace along with her husband, Prince Philip. During her visit, the Queen made her famous comment calling Swat “The Switzerland of the East”. The White Place has preserved the Royal Suite, the Wali of Swat’s bedroom where Queen Elizabeth stayed for three days.
Miangul Jahanzeb, the Wali of Swat and the host of royal couple has mentioned in his autobiography that:
“In 1961, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited Swat. It happened like this. In February 1959, Prince Philip was touring Pakistan and India, and he decided he would see Swat. He had a chakor shoot in the morning and a duck shoot in the evening – and the next day he left, after spending two nights. He liked the place very much, and enjoyed the shooting. And 1 was very impressed by him; he is a highly intelligent person. The President, Field Marshal Ayub, went on an unofficial visit to England in 1960. While dining at Windsor – the story was told to me by my son Aurangzeb, who was there – Ayub suggested that the Queen make an official visit to Pakistan. So suddenly Prince Philip jumped in and said: “Provided you take us to Swat!” That was the reason they came here, on the 7th of February 1961. As 1 saw them, during that visit, I think the Queen loves the Prince immensely. And he behaves in a very manly way. In no way subdued by her position – he has his say. But both are very devoted to each other, which is good. May God bless them! He has such an active, original, and observant mind; and they show the greatest respect for each other’s judgment. They left on the 10th of February, having spent three days with me.”
Written By: Jalal Uddin Yusufzai