This year I promised myself I’d go around Pakistan and explore as many places and their food culture as I could. During the extended Eid holidays, I forced Shahab to make a plan to visit Swat.
On our way from Islamabad, we decided to make two stops: the Takht-i-Bai Buddhist Monastery, and finding the original Takht Bai chapli kababs. On the Peshawar-Islamabad motorway, we took the off ramp onto the Mardan interchange, then opened up Google Maps to guide us to Takht-i-Bai.
The Buddhist Monastery here is first-century BC ear architecture. It’s also one of UNESCO’s heritage sites in the country. You reach the top of the monastery after climbing more than 500 steps. Quite a hike, especially when you have to carry a toddler! The views from the top are pretty amazing; with lush green mountains and panoramic views of the nearby town.In the center of the monastery, you find a cluster of stupas. You also see markings for where auditoriums and meeting halls used to stand.
Since it was the extended Bakra eid holiday, the monastery had turned into a picnic spot for tourists and locals. You could see people bringing in food and enjoying traditional favorites like Kabuli pulao while enjoying the views — it is a UNESCO heritage site after all. This is the kind of experience you can’t get anywhere else in the world. The area itself was unfortunately full of garbage, with no trash cans or warning signs to make people aware of how criminal it is to trash a world heritage site. This was a sorry sight indeed, and I hope this get better after the holidays. Considering visitors are charged a ticket for entering the monastery, it’s shameful the site is not taken better care of. I wonder where the money goes!
We found local vendors — small girls — selling cold water and juices everywhere. A boy was even racing around selling just chewing gum! But the most memorable young boy was the one who was busy in keeping the place clean! He did his best, though the grounds are far too large for him to clean every corner.We were pretty exhausted by the time we left, and all we needed were those chapli kababs! We scoured Google for THE most famous spot. Finally, we got hold of a local, who told us that Safdar Hotel was the place to be for clean, quality kababs.
Unfortunately, this place was closed! You can imagine our heartbreak. We did however manage to find one open shop in the entire area. They say the taste of all chapli kababs in Takht-i-Bai is more or less the same, and we certainly hoped that was true.
Chapli kababs are ordered not by number, but by the kilogram. You have to tell them how much meat you want to eat! For the two of us and our baby boy, we ordered one kg of meat. Yes, we were hungry!
As a family, you are given seating in a covered area. There were two charpais, a table in the middle and a water cooler next to you. While baby Z was occupied with a bunch of rabbits hopping around him, the two of us dug in. The hygiene level at the restaurant is best not discussed, and this is an aspect you just have to ignore to enjoy authentic food in Pakistan.
And it’s good that we did, because the chapli kababs themselves were something else! The first bite hit all the right chords! Anything else in the country claiming to be a chapli kabab comes even close! They were fried to perfection; the crust was crunchy but the insides were soft. It was served with the famous Peshawari naans right out of the tandoor. We ate our fill.
Have you had a chance to visit the area? If you’re planning one now, let us know what you thought. I will tell you more about our trip to Swat in my next blog!