The insensitivity of tourists towards Kalash social set-up is one of the main reasons behind changing culture of Kalash Valley.
The concern was shared with ‘The News’ by Sayed Gul, the first archaeologist from Kalash Valley and second woman in the region who was able to get a master’s degree, while she was attending an international archaeology conference organised in the capital. She said that tourists from other parts of the country fail to respect the privacy of Kalashi women. “The majority of tourists are young. They enter any place without permission and start taking pictures. Sometimes, they harass them by giving remarks or singing songs and laughing every time they spot Kalashi women,” she said.
A resident of Bombort Valley in Kalash, Sayed Gul, said that they could no more move freely in their valley as they used to do a few years back. “Women now prefer to stay indoors to avoid stares and comments of tourists,” she added.
Kalash is one of the most famous tourist sites of Pakistan. The indigenous population of Kalash is considered to be the descendants of Alexander the Great but many scientists and anthropologists dispute the legend, as they believe that no genetic ties between Kalasha and Greeks have been discovered. They believe that Kalash people are actually Indo-Aryans. Decedents of Alexander the Great or Indo-Aryans, the Kalash people have one of the most unique cultures that exist in the world.
The women in Kalash wear vibrant coloured embroidered dresses and beaded headdresses and have always been the centre of attraction of the rich Kalash culture. Young archaeologist from this valley, Gul is determined to preserve and promote the Kalash tradition. She said that brochures are available for the tourists mentioning ‘do’s and don’ts’ while visiting the valley but hardly anyone follow them. “It will be a great help to our culture if these instructions are followed,” she said.
The brochure she shared with ‘The News’ strictly forbids tourists to take photographs of Kalasha women without permission. “Do not give payment for photographs. Do not photograph women washing their hair in the river. In bad light or at night be sparing with your flashguns,” mentions the brochure.
It instructs not to distribute medicine or money or other things including unwashed second-hand clothes to women. It also forbids those visiting the place from walking into people’s houses and temples uninvited or park their jeeps in the fields.
Other instructions direct tourists not to disturb the Kalasha working in the fields or harass their women in any way. It also instructs them not to preach any religion or seek to convert. It even asks them not disturb or dance at Kalasha funerals and festivals.
The brochure also informs tourists about a movement among the Kalasha people to ban all paid dances. It restricts tourists to invade the premises of the Bashali (female) Houses built especially for women where they can stay during the days of their special needs.
She said that though Kalashas once numbered in tens of thousands, the current population of Kalash is only 3,000 and not much has been done to preserve the culture. “It is the religious extremism in the adjoining areas, uncontrolled tourism and influence of the media that is responsible for these changes,” said Gul. She agreed to the media reports that Kalashi religion is also under threat due to religious extremism and activities of missionaries in this area.
“Just recently, the historical horse-shaped effigies that enjoy religious significance for Kalash people were axed and destroyed by unidentified people,” she said. She said that it is unfortunate that Kalashi religion is not recognised in the country. It does not make part of the list of religions when you apply for identity cards and passports. “We have no choice other than selecting Buddhism whereas these are two completely separate religions,” she said.
Another request she made was that Islamiyat should not make compulsory subject in Kalash schools as a vast majority is non-Muslim. She said that there are almost no health facilities available in the valley. “There is one hospital but there is never any doctor in that facility.”