by Oshin Fatima As we set out on a 6 hour journey from Islamabad to Swat, my assumption of what Swat was like was one of beauty, despite the broken houses and lack of education for girls. To my surprise, the only broken houses in Swat were due to recent floods in the area, and not only did girls go to schools, but they had pictures of girls (in Niqab) receiving awards for high achievement in their high schools. Swat, a district in Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa (land of the Pakhtoons/Pathans), was under army operations against the Taliban for nearly a month in 2007 and again in 2009, resulting in more than 2500 casualties on both sides. Malala Yousafzai was shot in the same area in 2012, hence, my fear. The 6 hour long journey actually turned out to be 13 hours long due to the poor conditions of roads and because our car kept heating up. We eventually took the car to a workshop nearby and waited over an hour before we were good to go. The workers hospitality left a deep impression on us. The place where I come from, Islamabad, is said to be one of the most expensive cities of Pakistan. If you spend more than an hour at a workshop in Islamabad, they would charge at least Rs. 1000, if not more. These workers only asked for a hundred rupees! Of course we thought this was their humility, so my father took out Rs. 200 and made the payment, to which the mechanic hurled the extra money inside the car saying, “Tum humara mehmaan hay, hum iss say ziyada nahee lay ga!” (You are all our guests; we will not take any more!) After talking to locals, we realized that children going to schools, was a norm in Swat, and the Taliban wasn’t causing problems there anymore. The people of Swat appreciated the efforts of the Pakistani army a great deal. After the army operations, things started to return back to normal. The army also helped rebuild Swat. Whether it be fixing roads after landslides, or building schools, the army was always at the forefront. Perhaps due to the unrest in the area, or otherwise, the kids of Swat would stare at you from a distance, with excitement in their eyes. The moment you walk towards them, they would giggle amongst each other and run away. Waking up in the morning to see snow peaked mountains after heavy rain during the night. Just getting some petrol filled from Waseem Oil Agency in Kalam for a bumpy ride to Maho Dand lake. Probably one of the purest forms of water, either from glaciers or waterfalls nearby No road ahead? Check your tires, and cross the rocky water in speed! This spring is known as Chashme Shifa (spring of cure). It is said that the water from this spring cures all sorts of diseases. There was no concept of refrigerators at shops in Swat. Rightly so, bottles were placed in cold spring water, just as cool as in a refrigerator. Finally reached Maho Dand Lake from Kalam after 6 hours! Hotels have these tents for tourists to sit inside and have food. Cousins playing around. All these kids go to a school nearby. We got a chance to talk to their aunt who could only speak broken Urdu. Her hospitality was remarkable. Just two minutes after having talked to her, she kept insisting to come join them for food. “Aao na humaray ghar roti khao! Ammi ko bhi lay aao!” (Come have food with us! Bring your mother too!) I met this kid at a car workshop, and gave him a piece of cake. This super shy kid kept refusing to take cake from my mother. My father offered it once, and he took it. We knew just enough Pashto to ask him his name, to which he replied, “Nouman”. That thin line near the mountains is the Maho Dand lake Adorable Swati kids having some crisps and water outside a general store. Their cup of water was made out of the top of a plastic bottle. Waving at them brought excitement among these kids, and they waved back cheerfully. Kids selling figs on roads on the way to Madyan. “Injeeray! Das rupay!” (Figs, Rs. 10) The experience in Swat was a different one, yet exciting. Despite not having access to proper toilets and bumpy car rides, the breathtaking scenery and the amazing people of Swat made up for it. I will definitely recommend you to pack your bags, and spend a lovely vacation in the valleys of Swat.