Heights really give me the jitters. Just thinking about peeking down from a rooftop or a ginormous hill makes my anxiety do the cha-cha. So, when my friends brought up a trip to PC Malam Jabba for their hi-tea experience, I was quite hesitant. It took some serious pleading from all sides, but eventually we reached an agreement. As long as I could keep my feet firmly on the ground and still enjoy the spectacular view from its base, I’d be fine.
We set up camp at the Serena in Swat, just an hour’s drive away from Malam Jabba. The journey was a serene drive through picturesque landscapes, each curve in the road bringing a cooler breeze. Malam Jabba holds a magical charm. As Swat Valley’s renowned ski destination, its elevation of 9,199 feet is often wrapped in mist and fog, which feel more welcoming than eerie.
Navigating through a donkey traffic jam for about 20 minutes, we finally reached our destination — the ski resort, with the Pearl Continental Malam Jabba standing out. This charming timber-style resort perfectly complements Swat Valley’s timeless beauty. It’s hard to believe that this very place was torched during the Taliban regime over a decade ago. However, with safety restored, it has been transformed into a luxurious five-star hotel at Pakistan’s only ski resort.
Although November and the autumn of 2021 weren’t skiing seasons, travelling during the off-peak period made the experience even more special. The landscape was adorned with crimson leaves against the backdrop of the still lush greenery from summer.
In retrospect, choosing PC Malam Jabba over Serena Swat might have been wiser. Yet, we opted for the latter due to its proximity to neighbouring towns and villages. While Malam Jabba’s beauty is captivating, getting around without personal transportation isn’t as convenient. Whereas Swat offers plenty of taxis, and most places are within walking distance.
The hotel boasts 76 rooms and various amenities such as a business centre, fitness facility, tour assistance, and ski equipment storage. Both self-parking and valet parking are complimentary. But what makes this resort hotel stand out from its city counterparts is a special feature — the PC Malam Jabba brings together wonderful food and breathtaking views for their exceptional hi-tea experience.
The air was crisp and refreshing as we settled into our seats at the renowned Marco Polo restaurant. Our table was perfectly positioned, offering a front-row view of the magnificent snow-capped mountains. The laughter of children on the chairlift added to the cheerful ambiance. With perfect weather, we left our belongings and headed to a lavish buffet that seemed fit for royalty. Little did I know, our table was only for appetisers; the main chai would be served elsewhere.
A server approached me while I loaded my plate with their haleem. She carried a tray of various teas and said, “Miss, aap ki chai aur snacks uper serve hogein [Miss, your chai and snacks will be served upstairs].”
Perplexed, I asked, “Sorry? Uper kahan? [Where upstairs?]”
“Mountain range ke uper — chairlift ke through [Up on the mountain range — via the chairlift].”
I turned around, raising an eyebrow, to look at my friends, who appeared both sheepish and proud.
“Bohut shukriya, per mein apni chai neechay hee piyoon gee. Mujhay oonchai pasand nahein hai [Thank you very much, but I’ll have my tea down here. I don’t like heights].”
She looked at me and smiled, “Miss, it’s very safe. Aap se waada hai ke aap bahut enjoy karein gee [I promise you’ll enjoy it very much].”
I was suddenly surrounded by friends, with a staff member encouraging me to embrace this bucket-list adventure. While I’ve always needed gentle persuasion for height-related experiences, the feeling of accomplishment after conquering them is incredible. Each of us had travelled from London during a brief period of decreasing Covid-19 cases, following months of closed borders. What if I regret not joining this adventure with my friends?
Pulling up my big girl pants, I picked up my phone and a jumper and followed everyone outside into the fresh air. The mountain range was shrouded in mist as staff guided us to the chairlifts at the far end of the Pearl Continental parking area. Taking a deep breath, I examined all the nuts and bolts of the cable car, making sure it was secure enough to prevent the plummeting of my premature demise. After thorough inspection and unanimous chants of “we’re navigating a pandemic and surviving” and “Allah malik hai”, I (somewhat) confidently settled onto the chairlift seat. A friend joined, reciting the Ayat-ul-Kursi to soothe my nerves while stifling nervous laughter.
As the chairlift ascended the mountain, it felt like being carried by a gentle whisper of wind. The world below transformed into a canvas of colours and shapes, each moment revealing a new facet of the snowy landscape’s beauty. The rhythmic clinking of the chairlift’s mechanisms blended with the symphony of nature’s sounds, creating a melodic experience.
As the ground receded, a sense of liberation replaced my fears. The crisp air carried the scents of pine and earth, invigorating my senses and connecting me with nature’s embrace. The 10-minute ride felt long in hindsight but passed quickly. Upon disembarking, we were enveloped by a dense white fog. A small team of hotel staff magically appeared, serving tea and pakoras generously to hungry guests. A bonfire crackled in the centre, casting a warm glow onto folding tables. Portable fires and heaters kept snacks warm as they ascended. A road also transported meals and snacks directly to visitors via car.
Guests were encouraged to place their food into provided paper tupperware boxes and enjoy it after disembarking. The experience cost Rs5,000 per person, covering Rs3,500 for high-tea and Rs1,500 for the chairlift trip. It’s offered only during specific times and based on demand. The on-ground high-tea features over 30 dishes and is available year-round, ranging from Pakistani to continental cuisine. Guests could choose to take the chairlift up and then back down for high-tea, or vice versa. Even those not dining at the PC could experience the chairlift ride.
With my karak chai and a hot samosa, I approached the mountain’s middle where benches were placed. It was the most comforting cup of elaichi chai and aloo samosa I’d ever had. People below appeared as small as Lego blocks. Laughter from my friends echoed. The past year and a half had been challenging worldwide, and I was relieved I hadn’t let my fear control me. The high-tea experience in Malam Jabba is unforgettable and highly recommended. At that moment, I recalled Stephen Chbosky’s words in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The mountain air, post-vaccination relief, the joy of travelling again, or perhaps the chai better than what I was used to in London — whatever it was, the glorious Pakistani ski resort of Malam Jabba made me feel infinite.