Swat has been called “the paradise on earth”, and many in Pakistan know about the beauty of Swat valley. Swat used to attract high profile guests to its beauty; indeed, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip of England visited Swat in 1962. Queen Elizabeth II restricted herself to Swat only and denied the rest of Pakistan a visit. Similarly, in summer thousands of tourists pour to Swat for relief from the scorching sun in the cities. Every visitor and resident of Swat is well aware of its azure lakes; waterfalls, crystal clear streams, lush green pastures and fields, fruit laden orchards, and the mild cold breeze during summer. What most of the residents and tourists miss is Swat’s rich cultural and ethnic diversity which add to its natural beauty.
In Swat seven languages are spoken. Besides Pashto, the majority language, Torwali, Gujri, Gawri, Qashqari, Ushojo and Badeshi are also spoken in Swat, although Badeshi and Ushojo are now moribund. Gujri is a commonly known language in Pakistan and its speakers are scattered throughout the whole Swat; however, other languages are much less well known. Torwali, Gawri, Qashqari (a variety of Khowar/Chitrali language), Ushojo and Badeshi are all among the Dardic group of languages of the Indo-Aryan family.
The Torwali community is said to be descended from the original inhabitants of pre-Muslim Swat, before the invasion of Swat in the second millennium. Recent research, and excavation (2012) by the Italian Archeological Mission in Swat, show traces that suggest that the Torwali community was inhabiting Swat even before the Buddhist and Hindu period. The region between the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas – from Nuristan and Laghman provinces in Afghanistan to the bottom of Himalaya including Indian Kashmir via the ranges of Karakorum – was the land of Dardic or Darada (a Romanized name for Herodotus’ Dadakai) people, with indigenous worldviews different from the major religions. The Torwali community is now confined to what is known as Kohistan of Swat – the upper narrow but beautiful valley beyond the town of Madyan up to the boundary of Kalam in the north; and to the Chail Valley to the east of Madyan. The speakers are a little over 100,000 people.
Gawri, another Dardic language, is confined to Kalam and Utror valleys with about 60,000 speakers; however, a considerable number of Gawri language speakers also dwell in the Kohistan of Upper Dir generally known as Dir Kohistan.
Qashqari is a variety of Khawar, which is also a Dardic language. Qashqari is spoken by a few thousand people in Kalam and Mitiltan.
Ushojo is now moribund. It is Dardic in origin and resembles the Shina language of Gilgit. It has now a few hundred speakers. Badeshi is now completely extinct; its last two speakers died a couple of years back.
These languages are still not well documented. However, endeavours are carried out by the few researchers and civil society workers in the communities. Preservation, documentation and promotion are now being carried out for the Torwali and Gawri languages.