Chukail Banda (meadows) is located in the north of the Mankial valley. These highlands, surrounded by picturesque summer pastures, have become a popular tourist destination for many tourists. The magnificent peaks of Mankial shade the green pastures and seem to protect the valley from evil omens.
The Chukail Meadows are home to the famous endangered Markhor, snow leopards, wolves, golden monal, black bear and many other wild species and the valley is declared a national park by the Government of Pakistan. This unique trek to Chukail Meadows is designed to provide an exciting opportunity for nature lovers to witness the enchanting hidden beauty of Swat Valley.
The Swat district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is often referred to as the Switzerland of Pakistan for its picturesque valleys and pleasant weather in summer. Every year, as temperatures rise in the plains of Punjab and Sindh, hundreds of thousands of domestic tourists head to the district to cool off at Malam Jabba, Madyan, Bahrain, Kalam, Utror, Mahudhand or the hill stations of Upper Swat. During the three days of the Eid-ul-Fitr holiday in June 2019, 400,000 to 500,000 tourists aboard 197,000 vehicles visited Swat.
Tourism Potential in Chukail Meadows
Realizing the province’s tourism potential, the Pakistan Government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) began exploring ways to promote the industry. New tourist destinations have been added to the already long list as the Government has opened sites in Naran, Dir and Swat, including camps at Gabin Jabba.
Recently, a new tourist attraction called Chukail Meadows came into limelight when some stunning photos of the sprawling green grasslands were posted on social media.
Reaching Chukail Meadows is nothing short of a challenge. Only specially modified 4-wheel drive pickups can withstand the track, which seems to disappear at every bend or behind the massive rocks ahead. Tourists can rent vehicles either in Bahrain or in Mankyal, which is right in the middle of the 34-kilometer Bahrain-Kalam stretch of the N95 national highway. The fare price is contractual.
Route to Chukail Meadows
The drive to Mankyal is smooth and takes no more than half an hour on normal days. The real off-road experience begins soon after leaving the town of Mankyal, as the approximately eight-kilometer track, mostly narrow and dangerously winding over old wooden bridges, green fields and beside the noisy tributary of the Swat Mankyal River, through the villages of Serai and Badai, takes more than an hour and a half before arriving to Kamar Khwa.
People of Chukail Meadows
The ethnic Gujjar population in Kamar Khwa is friendly and hospitable. Even children welcome visitors and offer tea or food depending on the time of day.
It is recommended to hire a local guide from Kamar Khwa. They are very adept at showing off across meadows and can help in finding shelter or clean and safe drinking water. In addition, it provides a chance to the youth to earn a daily wage of Rs 1,000 to 1,200.
After leaving the village on foot, it takes about two and a half hours of slightly steep ascent, first along a rocky torrential flood path, then through dense forest to the summit.
In summer, a small stream of water flows from the melting glaciers on the right side of the road. After about 35 minutes of walking, the path leads into a forest of Deodar and pine trees, which thickens with increasing altitude.
Resting at proper intervals during the trek will refresh visitors and allow them to listen to the melodious songs of a range of birds, including Pakistan’s national bird, partridges and the Himalayan monal pheasant, or watch the playful monkeys hopping from branch to branch. Locals claim to have seen leopards, wolves, ibex, musk deer and markhor in the jungle and grasslands above.
At 3,000 meters, the trees suddenly disappear and visitors are greeted by a vast belt of greenery. Scattered along the length and breadth of Chukail Meadows are small houses made of stone and pine wood.
These houses remain empty for most of the year and are occupied only between the first week of July and the beginning of September, when the people of the villages of Serai, Badai, Balakot, Birna and Kamar Khwa take their cattle for grazing. The grass in the meadows is so dear to the villagers that they hire a young man from each village to protect the green pastures from cattle and wild animals during April and June.
Attractions at Chukail Meadows
The Chukail meadows offer wonderful scenery and peace. One can spend a whole day without wanting to move on. Spending the night in Chukail is not a problem as visitors carry portable tents with them. However, it gets really cool at night, even as the rest of the country is engulfed in extreme summer heat. Local houses can be used with the permission of local men.
Chukail meadows have a variety of wild flowers that bloom from May to July. The plains are covered with at least 11 types of wildflowers in various sizes and shades from bright yellow to blue, pink, purple, red and white. The plains also have a number of streams that are fed with fresh and cold water by nearby melting glaciers.
Another hour and 40 minutes or roughly three kilometers through green plains and a slightly steep hill will take visitors to Chukail Kandao at an altitude of 3,600 meters. The view from the top is amazing as the N95, Kalam and Byoun valleys lie in clear view.
From there, people can proceed to Khanaqo Dhand at a height of 4,000 meters. The lake is another three-hour hike along a challenging road that is covered in snow until the end of July. Lake Khanaqo is also mostly frozen by the end of July, with only a stream of water flowing beneath it, forming a massive waterfall that flows downstream towards Mankyal.
For those who dare, reaching the foot of the famous peaks of the five sisters of Mankyal is another adventure. However, most visitors prefer to return to Mankyal by the same route to Kamar Khwa or by different routes to Badai and Serai.
Others press forward towards Pishmal, a small town on the N95 before Kalam. While the enthusiasts progress even further before spending the night en route to the Byoun Valley and later climbing out of the mountains at Kalam.
The main reason for developing the area is to provide tourists with an alternative to Kalam. Currently, Kalam is a dead end for tourists. It will remain so till the Kalam-Kumrat road is built. “Tourists spend more time in blind valleys. It is overcrowded, extensive trade and sporadic infrastructural development is destroying the ecology of Kalam,” says the DC.