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Elephant Paw: Shahkot Pass

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, on the South-West is located the famous Hathi Darra, or the Elephant Paw, near village Zalam Kot, about 10 miles from village Thanra , on the main road leading to Swat.

A Buddhist road, about 20 feet wide and meandering 6 miles across the mountain, joining both sides of the pass, was magnificently constructed for the elephant caravan of a ruler of the Kushan period. This ancient road, which came to be known as "The Elephant Paw", and the famous Queen's throne on top of a hillock near Hathi Darra, are a feast for the eye and can be developed into an excellent tourist resort.

The seven-storied structure of the Queen's throne is made with neatly chiseled huge slabs of granite. Though people have dug deep pits in and around this structure, the throne itself is fairly intact and exists in its pristine form. A massive surrounding wall in a radius of 500 meters fortified the throne. A large number of chipping from earthenware strewing the mountain slopes indicate that clay pipes had been laid out for supply of water from a fountain above to the people inhabiting downhill. This whole set-up suggests that here once existed a well-fortified and well-engineered town of the Kushana period. Artifacts like coins, household utensils, beads, bangles, and pottery of all types, with geometrical and floral designs, are found in abundance.

The retaining walls on the mountain slopes, which present a thrilling, sight, run down to the valley below and stretch from Shahkot plains to the village of Palai.

The history of this area dates back to the 4th century B C. When Alexander the Great crossed River Swat at Chakdara and subdued the local residents. Thence forward this area remained under the administrative control of the Greeks for about 20 years which made a great impact on the Socio- Economic life of the local population. In 308 B.C., the great and powerful Maurayan ruler, Ashoka, held sway over this area. He was an ardent and passionate follower of Buddhism. He greatly serve the cause of Buddhism by channeling all his energy and resources for the dissemination of the Buddhist doctrine, with the result that Buddhism struck roots among the local residents. During his reign, a very large number of stupas and monasteries were established in this area. However, with the death of the great Ashoka in 232 B.C., his dynasty began to decline. Later, Bactrus Greek Demetrius invaded and conquered this region. The Sythinans who established their rule in the area followed him, but they were themselves routed and driven out of this region by the Parthian Condo Pares in 35 A.D. The Parthians met with a similar fate at the hands of a tribe called Kushans, in the year 60 A.D.

Kanishka, a renowned and powerful ruler of the Kushana stock, patronized Buddhism, with the result that Buddhist culture and religion reached their zenith in his area. During his reign, a large number of stupas and monasteries were set up every where and Buddhist philosophy of the Hinanayan school of thought flourished not only inside Gandahara but outside it as well. The Kushan dynasty was overthrown by king Shahpur of Persia in 241 A.D. and the Kushan Kidara submitted to the military might of the Persian potentate. In the 5th century A.D. the white Huns, a barbaric tribe from Central Asia, invaded this region. They ransacked the entire area and destroyed the stupas and the sacred monasteries. This tolled the death knell for Buddhism in this region. Subsequently, a new philosophy of Buddhism, called vijrayana, was introduced in this region. Vijrayana, which was different from the Hinayanian philosophy of Buddhism, was mostly based on magic incantations and rituals.

In the 9th century A.D., when Hindu Shahi conquered this land, the Buddhists were forced to flee this area and take refuge in the distant mountains of the North. The forces of Mahmud of Ghazna subdued raja Gira, the last king of Hindu Shahi, in the early 11th century A.D.

The Elephant Paw and the Queen's Throne are valuable relics of the past. But, it is regretted that no attempt has been made by any government in Pakistan to either excavate it or preserve it from further decay.

Courtesy: Fazal Wahid khan of Thanra, Lower Swat valley.