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The amazing women of Kalash

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By Erum Noor Muzaffar
Tue, 10, 21

There is mystery surrounding Kalasha women, around their colourful costumes and their unique way of life....

The amazing women of Kalash

travelogue

When I came to Kalash on a 5-day-trip with a group of journalists and photographers, I was as curious to know about unusual women of Kalash as I was interested in exploring Kalash Valley. There is mystery surrounding Kalasha women, around their colourful costumes and their unique way of life.

The women of Kalash wear long black loose robes with colourful embroideries and cowrie shells. These women are also found wearing colourful beads and necklaces. They accessorise their black robes by making use of colourful long braided head wears. However, what really distinguishes them from the other women of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) is their outlook towards life. They are quite liberal in their thoughts and have no inhabitations in marrying their sweethearts. They are hardworking and energetic and know how to smile even in the hardest time. What’s more, they are eager to learn and a vast majority of girls go to schools. For them, education is a tool to move forward.

The amazing women of Kalash

“I am doing MA in Tourism and Hotel Management from University of Chitral. I live in girls’ hostel in Chitral. I am from Kalash and these days I am visiting my family,” says Sharia, a young educated female from Kalash who has a dream of becoming part of Tourism and hospitality industry. “We are four sisters and two brothers. A majority of People in Kalash are educated. Their main occupation is agriculture but the educated ones have jobs in public and private sectors. Some also work with different NGOs who are working for the development of this region. I want to serve in the hospitality industry as I want more and more tourists to come here,” expresses Sharia. “I am not under pressure to get married. In our culture, we are allowed to marry whoever we want to,” she adds.

The amazing women of Kalash

“We are used to tough life but we have learnt to stay happy in our given circumstances,” elucidates 25-year-old matric-pass Razia who runs a shop of Kalash traditional dresses in Bumburet Valley. “I am married with three kids. My husband is very cooperative. In fact, men of our valley are generally very nice. We have got all the freedom. There is no restriction from our parents or from our husbands,” elucidates Razia. On inquiring how much time it takes to make one traditional dress, she tells, “Normally it takes us a month to stitch one dress as it is all hand-made with elaborate embroidery on it.”

The amazing women of Kalash

“We, mountaineers, lead a simple life and live in the wooden shacks. Our staple food consists of rice, beans, vegetables, walnut bread, yogurt and cottage cheese,” shares 45-year-old Shahi Gul. Though Shahi Gul is not educated herself, she made sure to provide good education to her children. Kalasha people speak their native language; however, some also speak fluent Urdu and bit of English. With Shahi, I did not need a translator as she was fluent in Urdu. “Women don’t observe pardha as such, we roam around freely in the valley. I do social work. I settle disputes among local women. You can say I perform the duties of a judge. People respect me a lot,” smiles Shahi Gul.

Talking about the problems facing by the locals, Shahi points out, “There are no facilities as such. Most families rely on the sun to have electricity, we don’t have running water. There are no hospitals. If someone is seriously ill, he/she has to go to Chitral to get them treated. Well, there is a women maternity home in Kalash. Here roads are bumpy and narrow and it’s difficult to commute especially in winters.”

The amazing women of Kalash

Clueless of the outside world and modern technologies, the people of Batrik village (one of the oldest villages of Kalash) follow age-old customs of their ancestors and are content with their life. For Jan-e-Gul, her world is limited to her village where she has been living since her childhood. She is married with six children. Her husband goes for work in the fields while she stitches clothes. “We walk miles on foot but we never complain as this is where we belong,” comments Jan-e-Gul. “We, women, have to face a number of problems. Even we have to call midwives from other villages as there is no lady doctor in the village. Men of Batrik village are nice but they are careless and are not responsible. Though we are free to choose our own partners, we don’t marry in the same clan,” informs Jane-e-Gul.

Bold and beautiful: Today, around 4000 to 5,000 Kalash people live across three different valleys. Generally, people of Kalash valley happen to be quite liberal. Theirs is not a patriarchal society. However, during childbirth and menstruation, the Kalasha women are secluded and confined to special places called ‘Bashali’.

The amazing women of Kalash

There is no concept of arranged marriages in their culture and one can choose whoever one wants to marry. Kalashi women are independent in their decision when it comes to marriage. Indeed, marriage and divorce is simpler for women than for men. Marriage by elopement is more frequent in the Kalash valley and is also common amongst women who are already married to another man. “Women have followed the tradition of marriage by elopement for generations, it’s nothing wrong for us,” states an old Kalasha woman.

The colourful festivals: Through the wooden window frames and ladders of the houses are panoramic views of immense jagged stones and gloriously green mountains surrounding this mesmerising valley. The inhabitants of this valley are happy people. One sees free mingling of men and women in their festivals. They dance with men along with the beat of the drums during the seasonal festivals. The Kalash people love music and dancing and celebrate three main festivals every year – the Chilam Joshi (spring festival), Uchal (summer festival) and Cohimus (winter festival). The Chilam Joshi festival is celebrated in May and marks the arrival of spring.

The amazing women of Kalash

 Women of the Kalash valley dress up in their traditional black clothes, embroidered heavily with colourful threads and accessorise themselves. The celebrations include worshipping God and thanking the spring season, dancing and socialising. One of the most fascinating traditions is men and women choose their future spouses during the dances. On the other hand, Uchal festival is held in August of every year, where cheese from the pastures is brought and celebrated. Singing and dancing to the folk songs makes it charming to the tourists. Choimus is a winter festival and holds great importance among the Kalasha. The event symbolises and forecasts prosperity of the village and its people in the coming year.

The amazing women of Kalash

Time to promote our indigenous tourism industry:

Kalash is truly a tourist destination with its unique culture, festivals and scenic beauty, however, very little has been done to promote tourism in this region. This tourist destination lacks basic facilities and proper infrastructure; the roads are uneven and there is shortage of clean toilets on the highways. The initiative taken by OPPO in collaboration with KP Culture & Tourism Authority is indeed a very encouraging and positive step towards the promotion of tourism in Kalash, but serious and persistent efforts are needed by the Government to develop tourism in this region.

The amazing women of Kalash

 Instead of lip service, concrete steps should be taken by the concerned authorities on an urgent basis. Countries like Nepal, Thailand, Maldives, Dubai, Srilanka and Turkey thrive on their tourism industry, we can also do the same if only we develop our infrastructure and provide basic facilities to tourists in far-fetched areas like Kalash.

Photos by Khaula Jamil, Anam Hakeem and Amir Khan

Erum Noor Muzaffar is the editor of You! magazine. She can be reached at iram29@hotmail.com

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