The Swat Project
In 1964 Prof. Giuseppe Tucci, renowned orientalist, asked a group of mountaineers of the Italian Academic Alpine Club in Rome to organise an exploratory mission to assess the chances of developing mountaineering and hiking activities in the mountains of Pakistan’s Upper Swat, HKH. Carlo Alberto “Betto” Pinelli was appointed head of the mission. The expedition, which took place in October, achieved interesting results: several virgin peaks above 5,000 m asl were climbed. Despite those achievements, the project was not further developed.
After more than half a century, in 2017 conditions seemed ripe for implementing such initiative, with the aim of enhancing the mountain heritage of the Swat region, in line with environmental and landscape protection priorities, as a new expressway would soon connect Islamabad with Swat, halving journey times and leading to an increase in tourism.
Therefore, ISMEO (Italian Institute for the Middle and Far East), Mountain Wilderness International and its Asian Desk, led by “Betto” Pinelli, as well as Mountain Wilderness Pakistan developed a project for the enhancement and protection of Swat’s natural and cultural heritage, with the support and financial involvement of the Italian Ministry of Culture, the Mountain Partnership – FAO, the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Research, the Italian Academic Alpine Club, the Rome section of the Italian Alpine Club (CAI) and some generous private donors.
In 2017, members of Mountain Wilderness Italy, Italian Academic Alpine Club and mountaineering instructors went to Pakistan for a first reconnaissance of the territory as well as to make contact with the local population and the tourist organisations operating in the Swat region.
The project would envisage three stages: the first would aim to train young local people as eco-friendly medium-mountain guides, organisers of hikes and small peak expeditions, as well as nature rangers for Pakistani and foreign tourists.
The second stage would aim to collect information, pictures and drawings for the publication of a paper guidebook, explaining the whole hiking and mountaineering potential of the region, with a view to protecting the environment, developing local economy and respecting local traditions and culture. This would imply the organisation of expeditions envisaging the participation of mountaineers from Europe and elsewhere, as well as of local people who had been trained in the previous stage.
The third stage would envisage the establishment of a national park.
The first trainings were successfully held in August 2018. Since then, several environmentally friendly mountaineering courses were held.
The first expeditions to explore hiking and mountaineering routes and trails were held in 2019.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to temporarily suspend activities, for everyone’s safety.
In 2021 we resumed our project activities: hikers and mountaineers explored three routes. But exploration is still far from concluded.
Next year, with the support of the KP government and the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, Mountain Wilderness International and ISMEO are planning to send a larger group of mountaineers to Swat, not only to conclude the survey of all potential trails, but also to summit the main Swat peaks along new challenging routes.
The publication of the guidebook is scheduled for the end of 2022.