Known more for being the Switzerland of the East and less for its rich heritage, the Valley of Swat is the embodiment of ancient cultures and civilisations that have passed through its splendidly transparent lakes, magnificent snowy mountains, lush meadows, posh fruit orchards and mighty waterfalls.
It is truly an archaeologist’s paradise known to have conquered by the likes of Alexander the Great, birthplace of most revered Buddhist Scholar Padmasmabhava, home to a rare Mehmood Ghaznavi relic and having traces of Gandhara, Buddhist and Hindu Shahi civilizations in its quiet nooks and corners.
Buddhist Archaeological Sites in Swat
It is believed that the ancient valley of Swat is the site of glorious land of prehistoric Buddhism, the Uddiyana Kingdom. Thus, a lot of remnants of the Buddha Dynasty such as stupas, monasteries, viharas, settlements, caves, rock-carvings and inscriptions can be found in the plains and hills of the Swat Valley.
Colossal Statue of Buddha
In the heart of Swat Valley, 18 kms from Mingora, near the Ghaligay village; sits the magnificent statue of Buddha; meditating on a high throne at the foot of a rocky slope; about 4 meters high; exuding an unreal calm. Carved out of marble stone cliff, the statue is a characteristic art of late phases of Gandhara sculptures.
Known as one of the most revered places in ancient Buddha Dynasty, the remains of the monastery of Ta-loo are present to date east to former capital of Uddiyana, Meng-Chich-Li, now known as Mingora. The central Stupa stands tall and mighty in the middle of the monastery while other Stupas, Viharas and Columns are dispersed around it. The significance of the site has also been mentioned by Sung Yun in his accounts when he visited the area in 520 AD. The Buddhist pilgrims from China during the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries A.D have also written about it.
Nemogram Stupa and Monastery
Discovered in 1966, Nemogram is another site of immense archaeological significance and is located 45 kms west of Saidu Sharif in Shamozai valley. Three central Stupas stand side by side from North to South. The courtyard consists of 56 sanctified Stupas and a Monastery, next to central Stupas in the West. The exact history of Nemogram Stupas is still not known; however the coins discovered there date to the period of Kushana, around 2nd or 3rd century A.D. Besides the coins and pottery of Scytho-Parthian period, there are a large number of stone-carvings and Stucco-sculptures signifying the Buddhist Mythology.
The Elephant Paw and The Queen’s Throne
The Elephant Paw or Hathi Darra is a Buddhist road, about 20 feet wide and going 6 miles across the mountain, joining both sides of the Shahkot pass. It was specially constructed for the elephant caravan of a ruler of the Kushan period.Accompanying it on top of a hillock near the road is the famous Queen’s Throne, a seven-storied mammoth structure made up of chiseled slabs of granite. The surroundings of the Throne contain various relics that proves the fact that here existed an exhilarating, well-built town of Kushana civilization. Relics like coins, pottery with unique designs, beads, bangles, utensils etc can be found in great quantity.
Located in Kandak valley of Swat and in the South-West of Barikot village, The Gumbat of Balo-Kale is another important, one of the most well-preserved remnant of the Buddha Dynasty. The memorial is an exceptional double-domed typical Buddhist shrine that has great archaeological, cultural and historical significance.
Built by the emperor Ashoka to house some of the ashes of the Buddha, the Saidu stupa is one of the most important relics of Buddha regime. Built in 2nd century B.C, the stupa was enlarged five times in the centuries that followed by enclosing the existing structure in a new shell.
Amluk Darra Stupa
The stupa of Amlukdara is situated about 2km on the north of Nawagai village in the small, scenic valley of Amluk Dara, on the main road to Buner. Protected by the mighty mount Elum, the stupa structure from base to the top demonstrates an extraordinarily fine, semi-ashler masonry, preserving good stretches of the architectural decoration, typical of the Gandahara valley during the period Kushanas.
Tokar Dara Stupa and Monastery
At the entrance of a small, picturesque valley about 1 km from the village of Najigram lies the Tokar Dara Stupa and Monastery. The site consists of a large stupa; accompanied by a monastery; living quarters; assembly hall, and an aqueduct cave, two other stupas that are severely damaged and other unrevealed remains.
Mehmood Ghazanavi Mosque, Odigram
Discovered by the Italian Archaeological Mission in 1985 on Odigram Mountain, the Mosque, originally known as Raja Gira, is one of the most ancient remnants of the old, quintessential Muslim Architecture in North of Pakistan. The traces of a Buddhist stupa can also be seen that might have existed before the mosque. In 1984, an Arabic inscription engraved on a black marble was found accidentally on the slopes of the hill beneath the castle of Raja Gira. The inscription verifies the foundation of a mosque in HE 440 (1048–49 CE) ordered by Amir Nustagin, a Ghaznavid General. It is said to be the mausoleum of a General named Pir Khushal, who defeated Raja Gira and embraced martyrdom there.
Ram Takht Elum
A highly sacred relic of Hinduism, Ram Takht is located on the top of Mount Elum at an altitude of 9200 ft. above sea level, aka Jogyano Sar(yogi peak). Hindus have a sanctified belief that Ram Chandra Jee Maharajah spent 3 years of his Banr Bass here. Hindu pilgrims from the nearby areas visit this place once a year on first day of Sawan, to plead, worship and seek unity with the Almighty.
Other than these sites, there are various carvings and paintings from prehistoric times found all over the valley such as Oba Ghat and Khazana Ghat Rock Carving, Painted Shelter of Kaferi Smasta Kukarai, Charai Madyan Rock Carving and Gogdara Rock Carving.