A trip to Malam Jabba as a 50th birthday treat was the most unexpectedly ethereal birthday celebration getaway I could have imagined. These were a few magical days spent at Heaven’s feet, which I would redo in a heartbeat and maybe again before the real heavy snowfall season ends this winter.
Malam Jabba is a Hill Station situated in the Swat Valley, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the North of Pakistan. Located on the Hindu Kush mountain range, it is almost 40 km from Saidu Sharif and 314 km from Islamabad. It home to one of the two ski resorts in Pakistan.
Booking the Trip
The trip was arranged through the travel platform, FindMyAdventure (FMA) that connects Pakistan’s vibrant cultures and fascinating landscapes with the rest of the world. They managed to not only set up a Nathiagali option at Panache Stays for me super fast with all the details I asked for visually but then at my sudden interest in Malam Jabba, made the same efficient booking and all necessary arrangements at the Pearl Continental there, effortlessly.
I had to buy my Karachi – Islamabad – Karachi ticket, the rest was organised by the FMA. This included the excellent car pick up from Islamabad airport right from the arrival gate to the hotel.
The car was brand new and super clean with a well-spoken, polite, friendly driver who didn’t for a moment make it feel like a rental car service. He drove very responsibly on the motorway and the winding mountain roads to Malam Jabba. A total of an easy, comfortable 4.5hrs drive. The FMA team member assigned to me the brilliant and very professional Hammad who was available for any question immediately at any time regardless of how mundane my query was. Truly impressed. These are the young guns that will set tourism standards and guide the infantile industry into a bright future.
The Hotel : PC Malam Jabba
The PC Malam Jabba building, an enormously costly and impressive reconstruction, opened in December 2019. (Due to Covid, it had been closed from March-August 2020). So a pretty new operation, all things considered. The stone-clad property is built on the same PTDC site, which burnt down many years ago, at the top of the mountain and the famous ski slopes feet.
The interior of the PC Malam Jabba is somewhat disappointing. It is generic and unimaginative. It does not feel contextual based on its spectacular location nor its cultural context. Although it maintains a PC feel, it does feel dated and not an innovative contemporary ski slope inspired interior experience (e.g., if compared to The Kempinski Mall of The Emirates Dubai, Serena hotels Shigar Fort, Khaplu Palace, Serena Quetta, or even The Hindukush Heights Hotel, Chitral). I hope that some missing details are overcome in time as part of their new and expected growing pains once the new manager gets all the wheels operating in well-lubricated motions. Its other facilities are opened in due course.
Spacious, clean, and comfortable with massive floor to ceiling picture windows looking out at heavenly views 360 degrees.
Anything one needs is provided including heating, AC, the works. The artwork on the walls made no sense with portraits of Europeans (scholars, philosophers, scientists – not sure, no labels, so we had no idea. Wished they were locally painted watercolors by Adnan Syed).
The beds could do with a more plush dressing: missing pillows and a bedspread, a loose sheet under the duvet, another rug on the cold wood parquet style tiled floor. Wall-mounted bedside reading lamps have dimmers, which is a lovely detail when they work—lots of countertop space and storage. Comfortable armchairs.
The room had a full set of bathroom amenities and 24 hrs running hot water in the washbasin and rain shower. The antique brass bathroom hardware was also a beautiful detail that added character to a very well designed modern bathroom experience. The housekeeping team we encountered provided fabulous service. Zia, the one who seemed to be looking after our room was well-spoken, motivated, well trained and well-groomed. He knew his job and performed it to the with pride. Was so refreshing !
The Dining Experience
The PC Malam Jabba food, for now, seems to be their weakest link. Whether I tried a western/continental meal or Pakistani, it wasn’t enjoyable and not so good on our digestive systems. A decent spread of buffet options at their solo dining option Marco Polo needs some attention. The service there was awesome, led by senior staff Asif. Another asset to the hotel team. For anyone who visits, ask for him. He’s the main manager there, on his feet, running around making sure everyone is looked after perfectly well. Very much a member of one’s own home team. Warm, welcoming, polite, and extremely helpful.
The decor for this large Marco Polo dining space again, same as the rest of the hotel, a tad dated in color selections, materials, and soft furnishings, maybe rushed in detailing too. I am not sure. But one expects a more contextually relevant environment and experience from the PC group for this unique magnificent location.
The older man Rubab player in one corner of the long main lobby was enchanting. I would like to see him given a more visible, comfortable, and respectful location. Those pretty sounds echo throughout the ground floor and are the one element that truly brings the space alive in such a delicate lyrical romantic manner.
Skiing on the slopes of Malam Jabba
An experience not to be missed by anyone ; novice like myself or an expert/enthusiast. The hotel is at the feet of the Ski slope. There is a rental shop right there with all the equipment anyone needs to get skiing along with fantastic local trainers to help you and/or children to get going regardless of their experience or lack thereof. Really positive energy and vibe would inspire the least motivated person to get into the gear and onto the slope—so much fun.
And for those looking for inspiration, there’s the well oiled, well maintained, smooth, silent, slow chair lift climb alongside the ski slope to the top and back unless one wants some chai and samosas at the mini cafe atop the ski slope or even may want to wander up further on the steps carved into the mountain leading to viewing decks among the tall, elegant conifer forest.
On our last day, after a gentle start overnight, as the snowfall increased through the morning, covered the mountains with gorgeous Narnia-like layers of powdery snowflakes, the phenomenal reception team helped arrange a car with chains on its wheels to drive us safely down 6 km to where my own car was waiting unable to do the climb up without chains on its wheels. Another fantastic experience. A giant thanks to Ashfaq and Saeed Sahab at reception. Kudos to them and the rest of the reception team to make these impromptu arrangements and look after us extremely well throughout our stay. Effortlessly, elegantly, efficiently. Really wonderful.
Contact Ashfaq for when you want to make your booking, with my reference.
Even as I write this review and bask in the fresh memories of a trip I will never forget, I want to go back. Soon!
A final thanks to the Hashwani Group, PC Hotels for opening the PC Malam Jabba with such a great team!
Thanks to Komail Abbas Naqvi & his team of young enterprising professionals at Find My Adventure.
About the Author : Zain Mustafa is an Architect and Educationist based in Karachi. He is also the founder for Cube Edutours – a unique heritage architecture education tourism initiative, taking learning about bio regional shared history to heritage sites across Pakistan. He is president of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights, on the advisory board Pakistan Chowk Community Center and a trustee on the board for The Garage School.