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The spectacular Kalash valley

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By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 10, 21

When I got an opportunity to visit Kalash Valley, situated in Chitral, I was more than thrilled...

The spectacular Kalash valley

travelogue

I heard a lot about magnificent Kalash Valley and its beautiful people but never got a chance to go there. So, when I got an opportunity to visit Kalash Valley, situated in Chitral, I was more than thrilled. I was with a group of journalists and photographers, from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, along with the organisers – 16 people altogether. It was a 5-day trip to Chitral and Kalash valley from 13th September to 17th September.

On the eve of 12th September, six of us from Karachi travelled to Islamabad. We stayed a night at a local hotel as we had to catch an early morning flight to Chitral from Islamabad airport. There we met our other companions from Lahore and Islamabad. It was a one-hour flight to Chitral. When the plane touched the ground at the small Chitral airport, we all knew that it was the beginning of an exciting journey. The lounge area of the airport was cosy with a tiny luggage belt at one corner of the room. Four 4x4 jeeps were waiting for us to take us directly to the Kalash Valley. The two-and-a-half-hour-drive was a bumpy one but the striking scenery, all along our journey, compensated for the rough drive.

The newly-built pods amid a starry night
The newly-built pods amid a starry night

Finally, we reached Kalash Valley by late afternoon. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by a Kalashi woman in their traditional way. Our stay was arranged in pods, surrounded by mountains. Staying in pods was a different experience altogether. It was so refreshing to view majestic mountains from your window in mornings. The nights were calm and peaceful – when the mountains disappear in darkness and the sky is dominated by the stars, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of city life. Interestingly, we were the first ones to stay in these newly-built pods – a gracious hospitality gesture from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Culture & Tourism Authority (KPCTA). “It will be formally inaugurated next year, in March, 2022, by the Prime Minister. It will be open to public then,” informed a member from KPCTA.

The spectacular Kalash valley

“Kalash is a scenic valley in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan; unfortunately, due to its remote location and isolated cultural identity, most of its beauty is still left unseen by majority of Pakistan and the world. In a bid to highlight the picturesque beauty and rich culture of Kalash, OPPO arranged this media trip in collaboration with KP Culture & Tourism Authority,” said Capt. (R) Kamran Afridi, Director, KPCTA.

A Kalasha woman welcoming a guest
A Kalasha woman welcoming a guest

“The idea behind arranging this trip was to share the untold stories of Kalash with the world. Making the intangible culture tangible and memorable to more people was the mission behind the project – ‘Discover the Face of Pakistan’. Through the power of portraits, the professional photographers were able to capture and preserve the intangible culture heritage of Kalash with the powerful portrait capabilities of the Reno6 Series,” shared Arfa Shahoor, spokesperson of OPPO. “We are hopeful that more Pakistanis and people around the world will choose to come and discover this part of Pakistan,” added Kamran Afridi.

Discovering Kalash

The Kalash or the Kalasha are the only pagan minority residing in the Chitral district of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhua. The language of the Kalash is the Kalasha and is a Dardic language. It has no proper script. Enriched with culture and their own traditional values, the total population of Kalash Valley is somewhere between 4000 and 5000.

The spectacular Kalash valley

The Kalashas live in three valleys namely, Bumburet, Rumbur, and Birir, which are collectively known as Kalash Valley. We were staying in Bumburet – the biggest valley of Kalash. We visited three traditional villages including Batrik village, the oldest village in the valley. It was fascinating to see how Kalashas have preserved their typical lifestyle till today. Bumburet has all the tourist attractions – it has sparkling streams, shady meadows, apricot and walnut trees, wide mountain ranges and yellow and green fields. And top of all that Bumburet offers a range of guest houses and hotels where one can comfortably spend few days while enjoying picturesque view of the valley.

Kalash Museum Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Kalash Museum Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The other two valleys, Rumber and Birir, are less developed as compared to Bumburet. But if you really want to explore Kalash and don’t care much about the facilities, then you must pay a visit to Birir where a wide majority of the residents are purely Kalashas with the rituals and traditions closest to the original dwellers.

History: There are three theories about the origin of the Kalash. Some historians believe that the Kalash are descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great. While the second group believes that they are indigenous to Asia and came from what is now the Nuristan area of Afghanistan. The third theory claims that the ancestors of Kalashas migrated from a distant place in South Asia called Tsiyam. The Tsiam is considered to be the traditional home of these people. The Kalasha folk songs and fables hint the existence of Tsiyam and that their roots belong in that region.

Kalash architecture is a unique mixture of ancient woodcraft and the medieval traditions of figure art. Kalash buildings typically feature magnificently carved wooden pillars and beams decorated with human and animal figures and effigies – each one depicting a certain myth and superstition.

The local houses of a humble neighbourhood in one of the old villages of Kalash Valley
The local houses of a humble neighbourhood in one of the old villages of Kalash Valley

Under the shadow: Having fresh meals under the shadow of a tree sounds romantic, right? As much as we appreciated Kalash scenic beauty, we also relished freshly-cooked meals under the shadow of a tree at a local restaurant (which was at a walking distance from our pods). Every day we crossed the wooden bridge and gladly came to the restaurants to have our meals. The food was fresh and tasty but they had limited choices. We almost had standard menu every day – paratha, omelette or fried egg (no bread and jam) at breakfast and karhai chicken, daal or beans at lunch.

It is interesting to note that Kalash cuisine consists of indigenous dishes as well as many local Pakistani cuisine influences. Food stuffs such as apricots, grapes, mulberries, walnuts and wheat are grown in the Kalash valleys. Bilili or Walnut Bread is one of the most popular traditional Kalash staples, which we all tasted too. Besides that, different types of cottage cheese are also included in their diet.

There is no concept of teabags in the mountains and everyone drinks ‘doodh pati’, since I am a compulsive teabag drinker, I survived on green tea throughout our tour. Night time was always fun time – listening to Kalashi musicians live around bonfire, followed by barbecue was a pure bliss. Since we went in September, so it was hot in day time but nights were chilly.

Kalasha Dur Museum: Wherever I go, I always make a mental note to visit the museum of that area. Housed in an attractive building in Bumburet Valley, a tour to Kalash Museum was no less than a treat as it is the storehouse of unique and mysterious Kalash culture. Our local guide told us that the construction work of the Museum was started in 2001 and was completed in 2005. There are about 1300 objects exhibited at the museum. There is an impressive collection of exquisite weapons, household items, ornaments, clothes, instruments, tools for working in fields etc representing the ancient history of Kalash. All collections are illuminated and housed within wooden glass frames safely locked. The setup of the museum shows traditional modes of showcasing and interpreting collections.

– Photographs by Amir Khan of KP Culture & Tourism Authority.

– The writer is indebted to KP Culture & Tourism Authority for the relevant info.

– To be continued…