Thursday, 30 August 2012

WHITE PALACE, MARGHAZAR VALLEY SWAT


WHITE PALACE, MARGHAZAR VALLEY SWAT
PROF WAQAR HUSSAIN
           When you travel 13km southward from Saidu Sharif, a beautiful lush green Valley of Marghazar welcomes you. There is narrow curly metalled road running among lofty mountains, trees laden with fruits and unique houses of mud and stone. This greenery of gorgeous landscape persuaded King of Swat Gul Abdul Wadood in 1935 to build a summer resort here. The King brought marble from Agra, bronze from Belgium and artisan from Turkey who not only designed it but also constructed it. Thus, in 1941, a beautiful palace of white stone was erected which was first named Swatti Taj Mahal, later Motti Mahal and now Sufed Mahal(White Palace). Then it was enriched with selective fauna and flora that made it mini zoo as well as mini botanical garden.
           When we, me and my family, reached near White Place, a beautiful lawn teeming with flowers laid on green carpeted grass offered welcome greeting. When we saw up the splendid White stone building saluted us and when turned out eyes still higher a sky high mountain hailed us. For a moment, a wave of ecstasy ran through entire body. In this state of trance, a voice: “Salam, there is lot more to see!” of Mr. Naveed Ahmad, broke the spell of enchantment. He further added: “I am Manager of the hotel”. After brief introduction from both sides, he showed us every inch of the palace. Mr. Naveed Ahmad Awan is permanent resident of Mianwali, did his BBA and Hotel Management Course from Manchester UK. Then the love of country took him back and has been working as Manager of White Palace for the last 10 years. Finding a golden opportunity, I started asking questions in an interview style.
         About the interior of Palace, he disclosed that there are 24 active spacious decorated rooms and started showing us the palace. First, we saw Royal Suite (ex-King’s bedroom) where once Queen Elizabeth also stayed for three day. There are two big conference halls where King Abdul Wadood used to hold cabinet meetings. There is a Noor Restaurant equipped with cooking facility of Chinese, continental and Pakistani food. There is King’s lobby to have beautiful view of the Garden Lawn. On the right side, there is a king’s Veranda to have a glimpse of swirling stream of water. The stream of water is not only cool but also pleasant in taste. Water seeps through different coloured stones to present a kaleidoscopic view.
              On the left side of palace is situated six-roomed Lord’s Block for the residence of ministers and advisors. From there we climbed stairs and reached eight-roomed Prince Block, it is totally enclave in tree and shrubs. Climbing further stairs, we reached twelve-roomed Queen’s block. King Abdul Wadood had two wives so he built this block in way that each wife got 3 rooms, 3 servant rooms and a separate lawn in her share. The counterpart portion of second wife is replica of the first one. In front of the lawn, there is single balcony with marble benches and table with engraved painting of grapes. From here, one can see a marvelous boulder mountain. On the top of mountain, there is a house with electricity available since 1941. It was amazing.
                About the material of White Palace, Mr.Naveed told that marble was imported from Jaypure India, the same quarry that supplied marble to the Taj Mahal Agra. Chuna (lime) is used as binding material in place of cement. It is so compact to be drilled. The height of ceiling is 30-35ft to give extra strength and ward off heat. Ceiling fans were imported and installed in 1941 and are still working.
             The king paid special attention toward roof construction. It has many layers; first bronze layer, deodar wood layer, lime layer, mud layer, again deodar wood layer and finally top layer of iron. This multilayered roof gives extra strength and keeps heat at a bay.
             In the meanwhile, we returned to lawn, where we saw a beautiful green coloured insect known as Ghana Kai(leaf beetle).Here Mr Naveed pointed towards a kachchi road(unmetalled road) on the east, leading to Koh-e-Elam; mountain of 10,000 ft height with thick forest, springs, meadows, etc. According to a tradition, Rama Chandra spent 14 years of his exile at mount Elam. It is said that Rama Takhat (seat of Rama) still exists in good condition. There is also a small pond. This mountain has Buddhist place of worship, church and mosque. It is considered sacred by the Buddhist and the Hindu. It is 4 hours trekking from the palace, horses are also available. Foreigners whenever stayed at White Palace, essentially visited Koh-e-Elam.
              Chinese travelers Fahein, Xuangzang and Sang Yun visited this mountain and used this very route. According to another tradition, Alexander the Great climbed to the top to hold Jopeer star (probably planet Jupiter). There are many small villages on the way to mountain, for example; Joghiano, Elam Kalay, Jauz, kodona, Biloo Khan, etc. There is famous flower “Namer” having size of rose. It is of red color and eatable. One person who has eaten this flower told it to be sweet in taste and has no seed. The Hindu regards this flower sacred. This mountain is also famous for hunting desert sheep, ibex, chikor (pheasant) and Murgh-e-Zarian(golden cock). On the other side of the mountain is the city of Buner.
            In a question regarding fauna and flora in White palace, Mr. Naveed told that there was a mini zoo containing pheasant, partridge, love bird, peacock, monkey, etc. During the flood of 2010, it was shifted to Islamabad and not yet returned. Here, he also informed that vulture in the area is facing extinction, dying of goiter due to eating dead animal of dairy form as they are vaccinated profusely. King of Swat planted apple, apricot, persimmon, plum, grapes, amlook, walnut, etc- fruits tree of all seasons so that he could eat them the entire year. Woody trees are deodar (Himalayan cedar), chinar, pine, poplar, dhreek(melia azadarach), wild kikar(acacia), bekana,  kathol (only present in white palace),etc.
           In question about the keen areas of tourist’s interest, Mr. Naveed said most people visit to see the building; some likes the noise of running water of stream and wind chime. Other likes bonfire; a famous event of White Palace especially in cold season.
           To a question about promotion of tourism, Mr. Naveed told, there is no tower of mobile in nearby vicinity so cell phone doesn’t work. Second, there has been no facility of internet since the flood. Now a day these two things have become part and parcel of our lives. So tourists get annoy and quit early.
             In a question about the ownership of white palace, Mr Naveed told, after the death of Mian Gul Wadood, Mian Asfand Yar of PML (N) became the owner but was martyred in 2007. Now a day Mian Gull Aurangzeb of PML (N) is the owner.
             About a question how much damage incurred in 2010 Flood, Mr. Naveed told, flood washed away the back side of palace having water bank, bridge, washrooms and a small lawn.
Water tank (reservoir) was not only a recreational spot but also a main source of clean drinking water. He further said in intermittent sentences; it rained for just four hours on 10th July, 2010 and a huge torrent of water came that rose to 3 feet level in the palace… The American has “Harp technology” which creates waves under ocean… It may be activity of sabotage… After the flood, USA provided help in 2010-2011 for development of tourism, rehabilitation of economy and employment. USA AID poured but with a condition to provide informational data. I handed over entire data to them… We took blankets, television, refrigerator etc from Americans. Now they have data of all the area and what will they do? God knows better! We are worried at the moment as flood doesn’t seem a natural phenomenon!
         In a question about the dignitaries who paid visit to White Palace. He said Queen Elizabeth visited in 1961 and stayed here for three days as she discovered the deep tradition and history which surround the Swat Valley.
           Other includes Murtaza Bhutto, Pir Sabir Shah( ex-Chief Minister Khyber-Pukhtonkhwa), Abdul Aziz Mirza (ex-Chief of Naval Staff), justice Rana Baghwan Das, justice Javed Iqbal,    D K Mehta Indian commissioner, Mustansar Hussain Tarar and now you. I laughed, then we both, etc.
             Finally he escorted us to Parking area where king of Swat made a Visitor place. There were placed ortho benches of stone. They are cured in way, one who sits; they take off all the signs of weariness and tiredness. Then there is 200 year old colossal chinar tree, serving as canopy for the visitors.
               At the end we thanked him for his hospitality and information about white palace and adjoining area. He advised us to see the place while returning to Saidu Sharif. He said; at Mian Baba, there is a tomb of Hazrat Mian Baba, at Sappal bandi Sindya Baba tomb and a newly discovered stone having naturally inscribed name of Muhammad (PBUH).There are archeological remains at Bali Gram and Shana Sha. Also visit Salampure Village, it has hundreds of khadian (weaving machines) engaged in manufacturing of wool and silk cloth, blanket and Shawls. These products have countrywide good reputation. Then we offered parting greeting and departed. We followed his advice and visited almost all the suggested places.
          Marghazar, literal meaning greenland, is really so with green valleys, splendid mountains, pleasing atmosphere, cold water springs, fragrance of flowers, prettiness of hanging fruits,  etc. Its good looks are further enhanced by White Palace and the myths of mount Elam mystify it. A magnificent matchless meadow of Marghazar multiplied by mammoth, mystifying mountains and marvelous marble mansion—make mode of a man mellow.