Swat or Udyana as it is in the Sanskrit sources, is a valley in the mountainous region to the north of the Peshawar Plain, at the foot of the mountain range connecting the Hindu Kush with Karakorum; it includes the main valley of the upper course of the River Swat, for a length of about 200 Km from the source as far as the gullies through which the river flows down to the plain, and the lateral valleys of its tributaries. The valley conquered by Alexander the great in 327 B C, and over the following centuries by the Indo-Greek, Saka, Parthian, Kushan, Sasanid and Hephthalite kings, was a prosperous region. It constituted a trading center between the plains of Gandahara and the mountains of the northern areas looking towards Central Asia, and at the same time a great Center of Buddhist culture with an ample scattering of Buddhist monasteries, representing an important stopover on the way to the holy places of Buddhism, traversed by numerous Chinese pilgrims (including Faxian in the 5th century A.D., Sangyun in the 6th, Xuanzang in the 7th and Huizhao in the 8th).
By virtue of its position open to the Iranian world, Swat was always characterized by the powerful influence that the local-Dardic-Substratum exercised over Buddhism, to the extent that it became a center for the formulation and dissemination of esoteric doctrines merging into the “Diamond Vehicle” (Vajroyana) tradition. As commercial traffic increased between the Tarim basin, in modern-day Chinese Xinjiang, and the Indian ports through Karakarum, Swat found itself at the point where these routs issued into the plain of Gandahara, thus becoming a place of transit not only for goods but also ideas- a role it maintained even after the economic decline that marked the late 6th and early 7th century A.D. It was in fact from region that Padmasambhaua, the moving force of Tibetan Buddhism, set out in the 8th century, and it was indeed the suggestive accounts of this “holy land” of Buddhism contained in the Tibetan texts that brought Guiseppe Tucci in the Swat Valley in 1955.
A fairly large number of Buddhist sites preserving stupas, monasteries, viharas, settlements, caves, rock-carvings and inscriptions are scattered all over the Swat Valley. This heritage of immense interest may be seen both in plains and in the hilly tracts. Fa-Hein, who came to Swat in 4th century A.D, wrote about 6000 monasteries in the valley. The report of Sung-Yun, who visited the enchanting valley in the 6th century A.D, saw 6000 images in the sacred monastery of Talo (Butkara). The most famous of all the Chinese pilgrims, Hsuan-Tsang who graced the valley by his presence in the 7th century A.D, mentioned 1400 monasteries in Swat, which eloquently confirmed the extensive remains of the Buddhist period.
Even today over 400 Buddhist stupas and monasteries may still be seen in ruins in Swat covering an area of about 160 square km.
The Buddhists built mostly their stupas and monasteries higher on the hills with the aim that agricultural economy may not suffer and also to provide a sort of protection and security to them from the invaders.
The Buddhist sacred precint of Buutkara identified as the monestry of Ta-Lo, mentioned by Sung Yun (520 AD) visited and described by the Chinese Buddhist pilgrims of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries AC lies at the eastern end
The Buddhist site of Nemogram is situated about 45 km west of Saidu Sharif and about 22 km from Birkot,on the right bank of Swat river in sub valley of Shamozai.This site was discovered in 1966 and excavated in 1967-68.
Shahkot Pass, lying between the Mura Pass on the East and the Malakand Pass on the West, is an enchanting valley, on the North-East lie vast plains and a small hamlet, Shahkot Banda, with numerous Buddhist settlements,
The colossal statue of Buddha lies near the village of Ghaligay some 18km away from Mingawara at the foot of rocky slopes, on the left side of the main road leading to Mardan. The Buddha facing west is situated about 1km from the left bank of the river Swat.
A.Stein in the Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of India first mentioned the site of Gumbatuna in 1930. Berger and Wright who carried out some small-scale excavation (Berger et al. 1941). Professor G. Tucci followed it in 1955-56.
The stupa of Shingardar is situated about 3km to the northeast of Brikot village, by the left side on the road from Mingawarara to Mardan. The stupa stands in the mouth of a small glen descending from a bare spur above the valley plain.
The stupa of Amlukdara is situated about 2km on the north of Nawagai village in the beautiful small valley of Amlokdara, on the main road to Buneer.One is required to walk about 1km through the village in order to reach the site.
The Buddhist site of Tokar-dara is situated about 5km on the south of Barikot on the way to Karakar pass and lies about 1km from the modern village of Najigram at the mouth of a small picturesque valley.
The huge image of a seated Buddha carved into a high rock face of reddish colour that rises on the hillside to the southwest of Janabad (Shakhorai) village. It is situated at a distance of 5km to the N-E of Manglawar.
Ram Takht is one of the sacred places in Hinduism. It is only second to Amarnath Cave regarding its sacredness and sanctity. Ram Takht is situated on the top of Mount Elum at an altitude of 9200 feet above sea level. This point is called Jogyano Sar (yogi peak).