Trout By The River: Our Trip To The Swat Valley

By Madiha Hamid

The Swat Valley is a true treat for any foodie traveler. Swat has been on our ‘places to visit’ list for a long time. The area is known for it’s fruits, especially peaches. It also has other delicacies, such as its sweet tomatoes, an assortment of dried fruits — and trout!

For our fashionista foodies, it is also home to beautiful shawls and handmade phulkari work; an art form that’s slowly dying. From Islamabad, you can take the motorway towards Peshawar till Mardan, then cross Mardan and Takht-i-Bai to enter the Swat Valley.
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The beautiful tall mountains and curvy roads welcome you into the valley. This winding road offers beautiful valley views, with many travelers parked by the edges just taking it all in from the roadside.
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We took a break on our way to Swat at Takht-i-Bai for chapli kababs, and later booked ourselves at the Swat Serena Hotel for two nights, where we were welcomed warmly.

On the first day there, we were pretty tired after a 7-hour drive and decided to relax. The hotel has beautifully landscaped lawns with architecture hearkening back to days past. The hotel also had a tall swing tied to an even taller tree. It was my childhood fantasy right before my eyes.14358769_10157464671955710_5844859854516018773_n

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Since we were on a mission to try trout, we ordered one at the Swat Serena Hotel as well. It was a bit bland, but the pine nuts came to rescue! Or perhaps it was just our overstimulated palates adjusting to the spice levels of Swat.

The next day, our goal was to see the area around Swat. The hotel staff helped us with directions on our map and we headed towards Madiyan. Our first goal was finding the trout farm near Madiyan and eating fresh fish by the river.

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The trout farm is located on a twisty narrow road which goes through the small town of Madiyan.  The drive down to the hotel was pretty adventurous, but well worth it!

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Yes, this is the road (not the river) that we crossed!

We picked a restaurant that had charpais set up in the cold Swat River. Keeping this seating arrangement stable in the fast currents is an art in itself.

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You can walk up to this fish farm and pick your own rainbow trout! The fish here was priced at Rs. 1,300 per kilogram. This is very reasonable when compared to what you get in the bigger cities, especially when you consider you’re getting about 2 to 3 fish worth in one kg.   img_2539This dhaba was pretty busy, and we had another family sharing the makeshift river restaurant area who was there from Islamabad as well. While you wait for the fish, you can enjoy the cold water, practice your stone skipping skills, and just enjoy the beautiful landscape. It surely was special and beautiful.

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This is how the fish is served, coated in a thin layer of masala, lightly spiced and cooked inside out. You can actually chew away the fish bones — they’re that soft! (So chance of getting stuck in the throat!)

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You surely can’t have enough of this! We wanted to order more but the process takes about 30-45 minutes, so we left this craving for our next trip!

After the trip to Madiyan, we were told by the Swat Serena Hotel guide to go down to a place called Bahrain and have tea by the river, and so we did. The tea was nothing special, but it was pleasant enough. We had to get back to our hotel before dawn so we left soon after.

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On our way back to the hotel, we stopped to buy fresh walnuts, dried shahtut, some lovely almonds, injeer and of course Baby Z’s favorite kishmish (raisins).

The day after we decided to just have a relaxing morning, check the swimming pool area and head out. I ended up stopping at Svastee, this gorgeous shawl shop. They had exquisite shawls in phulkari. One shawl takes up to 5-6 months to complete, and depends on the number of children these women have.

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On our way back we also decided to stop by an excavation site. The digging was well underway and it was quite a sight to see the walls and fort-like structure in the middle of a town dating to the second and fourth century. This area was conquered by Alexander the Great. There are a number of ancient stupas around the Swat Valley that we couldn’t visit, but come recommended if you have the time on your trip.

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Since it was lunch time, we couldn’t help but stop by on one of the many riverside hotels. These hotels are located right at the entrance of Swat City. They had only two types of fish and we picked macher. With just Rs. 800 left in cash, we ordered one kg of fish and good old daal maash. The best thing about the fish was that it was served with vinegar, chilies and a tomato pureed spiced sauce. These added a great taste to the fried fish and we truly enjoyed the lunch. We were so energized after our meal that we decided to make the 7-hour drive back to Islamabad non-stop!2016-10-14-photo-00005238-1Swat is a beautiful valley. However, urbanization, population growth, and a lack of sustainable tourism initiatives have sadly turned it into a garbage dump. Our country is blessed with a lot of natural beauty, but we need to realize that we cannot trash our rivers with plastic bottles and bags! On the one hand you see a beautiful river and on the other an ugly garbage dump. It is important that we tourists take responsibility for making sure places like the Swat Valley stay worth visiting.

Madiha Hamid

Chefling-in-Chief Founder Chefling Tales. A foodie that loves to travel and explore different flavors of Pakistan and the world. She loves to cook recipes that are different , yet simple. She wants people to know and understand the beauty of Pakistani Regional Cuisines @madihamid