Till the time I had not started exploring higher altitude meadows of Swat, I used to wonder what is in Swat that made people call it Asia’s Switzerland? The sightseeing trip to Kalam I did back in around 2006, when I was just entering into this trekking thing, left me pretty disappointed about Swat. It was only after visiting these upper valleys and bandas(summer settlements of local herders), I came to appreciate the natural beauty and awesomeness that Allah has bestowed to this particular land. There are literally countless trekking opportunities in these remote sub-valleys of Swat, some of them even unexplored by trekkers.
Last month, I and Babar went to explore one of such meadows in Upper Kalam. We had a plan to kickoff our trekking season 2018 with a short weekend trek. I called Nazeer – the local guide in Kalam and asked him about the options. He recommended a few from which Jag Banda was one. This seemed like the most feasible option and so we decided to go for it.
Trek for Jag Banda starts right from Kalam so one does not need any additional transport to the starting point. The walk starts from the bridge behind Kalam’s main local settlement on a well-built concrete road that connects Kalam with Buyon village. The walk till buyon takes around 1.5-2 hours. Buyon in itself is an amazing place away from the mess and commercialisation of Kalam bazar. There is an abandoned rest house, which from the looks no more seems to be liveable. A large flat land surrounded by mountains from three sides and Kalam down below on the other end, Buyon could be an ideal place for a few-days extended family stay if one needs to be away from hoteling luxuries. This village seems to be a pretty well-established one with a school and multiple mosques situated in it. It . However the location and the road access now might tempt investors to open up hotel resorts here that will go unplanned as usual and could potentially destroy this beautiful place too, a pattern we have unfortunately seems with other other places.
Another couple of hours walk from Buyon village in the deep pine forest with a gradual ascent is the summer settlement of Jag Banda. Surrounded by amazing landscape with snow-capped mountains, this place seems out of the world kind of thing. Locals have used meadows for potato farming but despite that the meadows look amazing. This is ideal place for the night stay either in camps or in any of the local huts if available – we preferred the later.
The trail continues upwards from Jag Banda till Darang Banda above tree line and from there to Bishain top at around 3500m. This last section till Darang and then Bishain is pretty steep. Water is available at darang where there is a small settlement.
The most unfortunate scene visible from the area is massive deforestation and illegal tree cutting being done apparently by the locals. The volume of tree cutting is beyond alarming and even the young fresh ones are not being spared. If this doesn’t get controlled, unfortunately we will not have much left in coming decades.