Islamabad: A group of 100 people have become the first tourists to visit Pakistan`s picturesque Swat Valley after the area, once referred to as Switzerland of the East, was cleared of the Taliban.
What attracted the visitors, largely from Lahore, Gujranwala and other areas of Punjab, was the 10-day free stay from January 1-10 offered by the local hoteliers association, which is now hoping for the revival of the tourism industry in the district that has been ravaged by two-and-a-half-years of Taliban occupation.
According to Rahmatuddin Sadiqi, the general secretary of the hotel owners association of Kalam town, one of several resorts in the Valley, four hotels were made available for the tourists and they were provided all facilities free except food, which they had to pay for.
On the last night, the Pakistan Army too pitched in by staging a three-hour concert for the tourists.
It was a good beginning and more tourists would hopefully start visiting the area, The News Monday quoted Sadiqi as saying.
The Swat Valley is an administrative district of the North West Frontier Province, located 160 km miles from Pakistani capital Islamabad. It is the upper valley of the Swat River, which rises in the Hindu Kush range.
With high mountains, green meadows, and clear lakes, it is a place of great natural beauty.
In December 2008, most of the area was captured by the Taliban, which had begun occupying the area from mid-2007.
In late April 2009, the Pakistani government began a military offensive to regain control of the area and declared by October that the area was largely free of militants.
Among the more popular spots in the valley is the ski resort of Malam Jabba, 40 km north east of district headquarters Saidu Sharif. It was burnt down by the militants in June 2008 and the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation that ran it now hopes to restore it to its previous glory.