Wednesday, June 6, 2012

3 Days in the Colorful Kalash Valley

Rumbur Valley - Kalash
The Miraculous Survival of Kalash

After selecting the room in Saifullah’s guesthouse, unpacking the luggage, taking a quick refreshing bath, and having a couple of cups of the due and strong hot tea, we headed towards the uphill community arena. Frenzied drumbeats and rhythmic roars had been giving us strong hints that the colorful festival, which had entered into its second last day, was in full swing.

We took no time in realizing that the strenuous journey from Karachi was completely worth it. The tranquil village ambiance along with the colorful peeps of the distinctive Kalash dress was reassuring us a lifetime experience. In fact, we all had forgotten, at once, the intricacies related to traveling and to the urban life the moment we soaked into the rural setting. The next few days had to be completely rejuvenating, soul soothing, and carefree.

But we had to pass through one last hurdle before entering into the total blithe; the omnipresent security check. There was an electronic body scanner, same as the one installed on airports, mounted on the narrow staircase going to the showground, which crudely beeped as that I was taking sabotage equipment in connivance with Taliban who were sitting just behind the next mountain on the side which belonged to the haunted Afghanistan. It was actually my cell phone which was irritating the electric circuit!

So I had to go back all the way back to the room to leave my cell and to pick my CNIC up. Luckily, the guards allowed us to carry Nadeem’s digital camera effectively for the benefit of blog followers!

Gradually, the security hype started diluting in the following days as we started getting immersed ourselves in one of the most distinctive cultures of the world.

Before I go back to the spring celebration, let me share what I could absorb from our 3 days of the endangered Kalash life which is surviving on the determination of its few thousand remaining followers.

The village was a basic setting with houses made of a wafer like stone and wooden beams while fruit trees, crops, and the livestock were the main sources of income. Tourism could also be considered an additional earning, especially the selling of the homemade brewages which attract good prices in the otherwise dry surrounding, however, this was limited to a very few influential families like Saifullah’s.
A View of the Village from Our Room
Village Life
Community Washing Area
Deep Inside the Village
Birds Eye-view
Beauty All Around

Men appeared soft-spoken, hardworking, unpretentious, and hospitable while women looked shy and reserved in the first place but were actually confident and responsible. In the outside world, especially among the surrounding conservative Muslim communities, Kalashi women are conveniently considered promiscuous, maybe because of the apparent freedom they enjoy, which we found a gross misconception.

The society appeared liberal at large; however, it does have its own characteristic taboos, mainly the unique family structure. The whole community is divided into discrete, well defined, and large families. Marriage within the family is not allowed, even among second cousins and beyond, creating a unique value system which is still respected religiously. The village we were staying in – Balanguru – was consisted of four such families. Members of one extended family live in different houses; however, they can go into each other’s houses without any formality as they are considered as brothers and sisters.

Women are not given share in the inheritance despite the fact that they play an active economic role however dowry is prevalent which usually consists of fruit trees and animals. Made on black base, their colorful dress is the identity of Kalashi tribes in the outside world.

Although villagers had their own hydroelectric system, consumer appliances and electronic gadgets were still too modern to pollute the beautiful valley. The urban fragrance of diesel could only be smelled occasionally while the airwaves were still unadulterated. However, pressure waves from the modern world are getting stronger every passing day making it tougher for the ‘history’ to survive.
No Load Shedding There!
The Community Center
Walnut Tree
Haircut in Kalash
Delightful and Colorful
Vibrant Innocence
Will you marry me!?

Special Joshi Cheese Varieties and the Large Size Bread
The Thick Bread with Walnut Paste
And This is Where It All is Made

Apart from the debate among scholarly circles whether Kalash has any links with the ancient Greek tribes, as per local legends, I have no apprehension to say that this marvelous survival of a distnict civilization, defying all worldly and heavenly odds, is a miracle!

May 15, 2012
Joshi - a Tsunami of Colors
Today was the last day of the colourful Joshi in the Rumbur valley and based on our yesterday’s peeks we could sense that it would be an experience of our lifetime.

Joshi is one of the annual Kalash commemorations celebrated to welcome the refreshing spring. The whole valley obviously gets filled with merriment and joy, different types of special food and cheese are made in homes, fresh wine is brewed from preserved grapes, and young couples tie their knots to fulfill the romantic promises. Highlight of the festivity is the dancing gala which is participated by the whole community irrespective of the age group.

The vivid show continued until the whole day and reached to its climax as the sun set down. The ceremony ended with the goat sacrifice while men and women had been segregated for further rituals, during which all Muslim visitors were also instructed to go upstairs as part of the ritual.

It turned to be a colorful show, more colorful than one may see elsewhere. Words cannot simply describe the spectrum so you have to rely on my below average camera skills until you decide to experience that first hand.

Joshi Starts
Ringa Ringa Roses
Ringa Ringa Colorless Roses
Zeeshan had to go back today so he packed his bags after the event and in the meantime found the same drive, which brought us to Kalash from Chitral, to trackback the way home.

In those two days we built some rapport with Mahmood, a young 10th grade Kalasha guy, who belonged to Yasir’s family and was serving as one of the temporary guesthouse attendants. The discussion with intelligent Mahmood was quite insightful as he had good knowledge about his surroundings. Interestingly, his sister also got married during the festival which gave us an opportunity to see the life from further close.

Mahmood’s eldest brother was serving in the Police and had reverted to Islam a few years back. The family still had good relations with him which was a common practice there as lots of homes have both Muslims and Kalash people living under the same roof. Even most of the Kalashi people possess Muslim names which was surprising for me as other minorities in Pakistan usually keep their nomenclature.

Although Kalash are considered a pagan religion, Mahmood, and others also, insisted that they also believe in one God, which was actually a news for me. The discussion continued till late night following which Mahmood took us to his sister’s in-laws house outside of which he and his cousins had a late night session on the street singing and dancing with the help of local instruments, such as a diesel drum, etc! That evening was quite enriching for my cerebral appetite as I got a lot of cursors to ponder about in the days, or actually years, to come.
Intelligent Mahmood with his Niece
The Night Show
Wedding Dinner
May 16
From Kafiristan to Nooristan
The Kalash valleys are often dubbed as Kafiristan – where kafir literally means one who is not grateful (to Allah) and generally used to refer to all the non-believers in the Islamic terminology. Back in the British Raj, as a consequent of the Durand Line (link), the kafirss of Afghanistan reverted to Islam and hence their precinct got popular with the name of Nooristan, the converse of Kafiristan literally meaning the land of light. Nooristan is now a proper province in Afghanistan.

Fortunately, one of the Nooristani village – Sheikhenende – also lies in this side of the border and a trip to Kalash is incomplete without exploring that.

So in the late morning, we started trekking towards the border – to Pakistan’s last village towards Afghanistan Sheikhenende. It was a 2 and a half hour straightforward but scenic trek passing alongside the riverbed, jungles on the other side of the stream, and a few enroute villages. Although the trail would be considered as beginner level for regular trekkers however for our Karachi fed bellies it was a much due reality check!

We reached Sheikhenende past noon and stopped at the local mosque where a bunch of villagers were coming out after finishing Zuhr (link) prayers. Highlight of the mosque was its wooden minarets, one of which was standing really high. It proved to be a good opportunity for us as we found a couple of gentlemen in the mosque to have an informative chat over the cup of Qahwa, which one of them especially made for us from his home.

What I observed from the conversation is that they people are still proud of their past especially because of the notion that their customs were more stringent than those of the existing Kalash. This notion was later confirmed by our Kalashi host Yasir. In fact we found the conversation with Nooristani people more insightful as most of the Kalashi people we talked to were not that aware. In fact some Kalashi men complained about the bad manners among Nooristani people and narrated a few stories about their ambushes mainly to steal the precious livestock. Some of them even warned us about going to the ‘dangerous’ place. However, we did not find anything to confirm that as it looked pretty peaceful overthere while people also looked living a normal and a hard life.

On A Height
Mast Mast
Posing with Kalash Kids
Some Thorny Leaves
A Unique Formation
Reached Sheikhenende
The Nooristani Wooden Minaret
Upon our return to Balanguru, we met a bunch of foreign tourists – including Brits, Aussies, and Pakistani expats – along with their guide Hassan and the London based tour organizer Sohail who stood strong against the tide and finally brought his customers to see something extraordinary. We joined them for the dinner, sharing the spicy pickle we took from Karachi, and had good long conversations – enough inspiring for them to change their plan and instead opting for Sheikhenende!

The tourist troupe visited Bumburet – the largest of the Kalash valleys – today to attend the last day of celebrations there but was a bit disappointed because of the large crowds and annoying security giving us a reason to be satisfied with the decision to miss that.

May 17
We woke up early in the morning today – as per Yasir’s instruction – to catch the shared jeep to Chitral which did not arrive eventually. Yasir told us an interesting account to explain that. According to him, most of the labors – including drivers – were busy in searching a precious seasonal herb found in the surrounding forest, which earns them more money than the cheap labor!

After a bit of search a cab driver agreed to take us to the nearby town Ayun – the first Muslim settlement in the direction of Chitral from Kalash – with the condition that we would pay PKR 500 and he would be free to take more passengers enroute, if he would find any. It turned out to be a complete win-lose situation on his part as he easily got 3 more passengers whom he charged the regular fare! From Ayun, we took another shared cab to Chitral town where we had a wholesome brunch at Abdul Qahhar’s restaurant before continuing another breathtaking journey crossing through the three great mountain ranges of the world – Hindukudh, Karakoram, and Himalaya! For details of this epic road journey please stay tuned for the next post.

34 Nadeem, myself, Yasir, and Sohail.jpg
The Beautiful Ayun Valley
In Ayun - For Rumbur to Ayun We Hired This Antique Beauty
Timber - the Bone of Contention Between Kalash and Ayun People


  1. Experience was great.... and beautifully written as well

  2. very beautifully described. Kalash is in my upcoming tours. so whenever i will plan for chitral kalash your travelogue will help me alot. Bravo

  3. Very descriptive, vivid, detailed travelogue. It was a good blend of personal experience and historical facts.

    Would hardly wait to read the next chapter.

  4. Thanks for a wonderful account of your travels.Am glad to hear that some ancient cultures still survive; so have decided to go see for myself. I spent a month in northern Pakistan hiking about 22 years ago and it is time that I visit that beautiful part of the world once again.
    thanks for your write up

  5. interesting.... :).... this will help me alot in preparing presentation on kalash valley...