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Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

The Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa or Kalasha Valleys are valleys in Chitral District in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province Pakistan. The valleys share a 380 km border with Afghanistan in the north & west, and the Central Asian states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kirghizstan are easily accessible from the area. To the east lies Gilgit, from where one can reach China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region along the legendary Karakoram Highway.

The valleys are surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountain range. The inhabitants of the valley are the Kalash people, who have a unique culture, language and follow a form of ancient Hinduism. As such, the Kalasha Valleys are a source of attraction for Pakistani as well as International tourists. There are three main valleys. The largest and most populous valley is Bumburet (Mumuret), reached by a road from Ayun in the Kunar Valley. Rumbur and Acholgah are side valleys north of Bumburet. The third valley, Biriu (Birir), is a side valley south of Bumburet. ). These valleys are opening towards the Kunar River, some 20 km south (downstream) of Chitral.

Climate of Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

The climate is typical of high elevation regions without large bodies of water to regulate the temperature. The summers are mild and agreeable with average maximum temperatures between 23° and 27 °C (73° – 81 °F). Winters, on the other hand, can be very cold, with average minimum temperatures between 2° and 1 °C (36° – 34 °F). The average yearly precipitation is 700 to 800 mm (28 – 32 inches).

A pass connects the Birir and Bumburet valleys at about 3000 m. The Kalash villages in all three valleys are located at a height of approximately 1900 to 2200 m.

The region is extremely fertile, covering the mountainside in rich oak forests and allowing for intensive agriculture, despite the fact that most of the work is done not by machinery, but by hand. The powerful and dangerous rivers that flow through the valleys have been harnessed to power grinding mills and to water the farm fields through the use of ingenious irrigation channels. Wheat, maize, grapes (generally used for wine), apples, apricots and walnuts are among the many foodstuffs grown in the area, along with surplus fodder used for feeding the livestock

Kalasha People

Kalash people are the smallest religious as well as the ethnic minority of Pakistan. Their customs and traditions are contradictory to the Islamic and Pakistani culture.

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, and according to the third school of thought; the Kalash ancestors migrated to Afghanistan from a distant place in South Asia, which they call “Tsiyam” in their folk songs and epics. However, it is established that the Kalash migrated to Chitral from Afghanistan in the 2nd century B.C.

The Kalash religion is polytheist faith and the people offer sacrifices for their gods. Their culture is interlinked with their religion and based upon several festivals and celebrations. The people generally do not mix up with the local Muslims but neither are they hostile towards them.

The culture of the Kalash people is unique and differs completely from the various contemporary Islamic ethnic groups surrounding them in modern northwestern Subcontinent. They are polytheists and nature plays a highly significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to give thanks for the abundant resources of their three valleys. Kalasha Desh (the three Kalash valleys) is made up of two distinct cultural areas, the valleys of Rumbur and Brumbret forming one, and Birir valley the other; Birir valley being the more traditional of the two. Kalash mythology and folklore has been compared to that of ancient Greece, but they are much closer to Indo-Iranian (pre-Zoroastrian-Vedic) traditions. The Kalash have fascinated anthropologists due to their unique culture compared to the rest in that region.

Language fo Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

The language of the Kalash is a sub-branch of the Indo-Aryan group, itself part of the larger Indo-European family. It is classified as a member of the Chitral sub-group, the only other member of that group being Khowar. Norwegian Linguist Georg Morgenstierne believes that in spite of similarities, Kalasha is an independent language in its own right.

Customs of Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Kalash girl

Kalasha women usually wear long black robes, often embroidered with cowrie shells. For this reason, they are known in Chitral as “The Black Kafirs”. Men have adopted the Pakistani shalwar kameez, while children wear small versions of adult clothing after the age of four.

In contrast to the surrounding Pakistani culture, the Kalasha do not in general separate males and females or frown on contact between the sexes. However, menstruating girls and women are sent to live in the “bashaleni”, the village menstrual building, during their periods, until they regain their “purity”. They are also required to give birth in the bashaleni. There is also a ritual restoring “purity” to a woman after childbirth which must be performed before a woman can return to her husband. The husband is an active participant in this ritual.

Girls are usually married at an early age. If a woman wants to change husbands, she will write a letter to her prospective husband offering herself in marriage and informing the would-be groom how much her current husband paid for her. This is because the new husband must pay double if he wants her. For example, if the current husband paid one cow for her, then the new husband must pay two cows to the original husband if he wants her.

Marriage by elopement is rather frequent, also involving women who are already married to another man. Indeed, wife-elopement is counted as one of the “great customs” (ghōna dastūr) together with the main festivals. Wife-elopement may lead in some rare cases to a quasi-feud between clans until peace is negotiated by mediators, in the form of the double bride-price paid by the new husband to the ex-husband.

Kalash lineages separate as marriageable descendants have separated by over seven generations. A rite of “breaking agnation” (tatbře čhin) marks that previous agnates (tatbře) are now permissible affines (därak “clan partners). Each kam has a separate shrine in the clan’s Jēṣṭak-hān, the temple to lineal or familial goddess Jēṣṭak.

Festivals of Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

The three main festivals of the Kalash Valleys Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa are the Joshi festival in late May, the Uchau in autumn, and the Caumus in midwinter. The pastoral god Sorizan protects the herds in Fall and Winter and is thanked at the winter festival, while Goshidai does so until the Pul festival full moon in Sept.) and is thanked at the Joshi (joṣi, žōši) festival in spring. Joshi is celebrated at the mind of May each year. The first day of Joshi is “Milk Day”, on which the Kalash offer libations of milk that have been saved for ten days prior to the festival.

The most important Kalash festival is the Chawmos, which is celebrated for two weeks at winter solstice at the beginning of the month chawmos mastruk. It marks the end of the year’s fieldwork and harvest. It involves much music, dancing, and the sacrifice of many goats. It is dedicated to the god Balimain who is believed to visit from the mythical homeland of the Kalash, for the duration of the feast. Food sacrifices are offered at the clans’ Jeshtak shrines, dedicated to the ancestors.

At Chaumos, impure and uninitiated persons are not admitted; they must be purified by a waving a fire brand over women and children and by a special fire ritual for men, involving a shaman waving juniper brands over the men. The men must be divided into two parties: the pure ones have to sing the well-honored songs of the past, but the impure sing wild, passionate, and obscene songs, with an altogether different rhythm. This is accompanied by a ‘sex change’: men dress as women, women as men.

This includes the Festival of the Budulak. In this festival, a strong prepubescent boy is sent up into the mountains to live with the goats for the summer. He is supposed to get fat and strong from the goat milk. When the festival comes he is allowed for a 24-hour period only to have sexual intercourse with any woman he wants, including even the wife of another man, or a young virgin. Any child born of this 24-hour period is considered to be blessed. The Kalash claim to have abolished this practice in recent years due to negative worldwide publicity.

At this crucial moment the pure get weaker, and the impure try to take hold of the (very pure) boys, pretend to mount them “like a hornless ram”, and proceed in snake procession. At this point, the impure men resist and fight. When the “nagayrō” song with the response “han sarías” (from *samrīyate ‘flows together’, is voiced, Balumain showers all his blessings and disappears. He gives his blessings to seven boys, and these pass the blessings on to all pure men.

During the winter the Kalash play an inter-village tournament of Chikik Gal (ball game) in which villages compete against each other to hit a ball up and down the valley in deep snow.

Religion of Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Kalash people are divided equally between the adherents of Islam and those that practice a form of ancient Hinduism. This form of ancient Hinduism practiced by the Kalash includes customs that were practiced by Rigvedic Aryans. Kalash have retained most of the Proto-Indo-Iranian religion (Indo-European religion). The Hindukush area shares many of the traits of Indo-Iranian myths, rituals, society, and echoes many aspects of Ṛigvedic, but hardly of post-Ṛigvedic religion. Kalash culture and belief system differs from the various ethnic groups surrounding them but is similar to that of the neighboring Nuristanis in northeast Afghanistan as they also once practiced Hinduism before their conversion to Islam.

The isolated Kalash have received strong religious influences from pre-Islamic Nuristan. The prominent and noted linguist Richard Strand, who is the sole modern authority on Hindukush languages spent three decades in the Hindukush. He noted the following about the pre-Islamic Nuristani religion:

Ritual of Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

These deities have shrines and altars throughout the valleys, where they frequently receive goat sacrifices. In 1929, as Georg Morgenstierne testifies, such rituals were still carried out by Kalash priests, “ištikavan” ‘priest’ (from ištikhék ‘to praise a god’). This institution has since disappeared but there still is the prominent one of shamans (dehar) The deities are temporary visitors. Mahandeo shrines are a wooden board with 4 carved horse heads (the horse being sacred to Kalash) extending out, in 1929 still with the effigy of a human head inside holes at the base of these shrines while the altars of Sajigor are of stone and are under old juniper, oak and cedar trees.

Horses, cows, goats and sheep were sacrificed. Wine is a sacred drink of Indr, who owns a vineyard- (Indruakun in the Kafiristani wama valley contained both sacred vineyard and shrine (Idol and altar below a great juniper tree) along with 4 large vates carved out of rocks) – that he defends against invaders. Kalash ritual is of potlatch type; by organizing rituals and festivals (up to 12; the highest called biramōr) one gains fame and status. As in the Veda, the former local artisan class was excluded from public religious functions.

However, there is a special role for prepubescent boys, who are treated with special awe, combining pre-sexual behavior and the purity of the high mountains, where they tend goats for the summer month. Purity is very much stressed and centered around altars, goat stables, the space between the hearth and the back wall of houses and in festival periods; the higher up in the valley, the more pure the location.

By contrast, women (especially during menstruation and giving birth), as well as death and decomposition and the outside (Muslim) world are impure, and, just as in the Veda and Avesta, many cleansing ceremonies are required if impurity occurs.

Crows represent the ancestors, and are frequently fed with the left hand (also at tombs), just as in the Veda. The dead are buried above ground in ornamented wooden coffins. Wooden effigies are erected at the graves of wealthy or honoured people.

Appearances in popular culture – Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

  • The Kalash people’s reputed connection to Alexander the Great is the basis of the famous Rudyard Kipling story “The Man Who Would Be King”; however, it takes place among the Kalasha of Nuristan, then known as Kafiristan, in nearby Afghanistan. The story was made into the film The Man Who Would Be King in 1975, starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine.
  • The Kalash are briefly visited in the first episode of the 2004 BBC television series Himalaya with Michael Palin. The program featured some cultural background and current customs, highlighting the claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great as well as some of the stunning scenery of the Kalash homeland.
  • A pivotal chapter in the World War II novel The Tenth Unknown by Jvalant Nalin Sampat revolves around the Kalash people and their unique customs.

Places of Interests of Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Brun

a village in Bumburet valley, is famous for Jastakan and Charsu, dancing halls for festivities. There is also an interesting three-hour walk along the irrigation channel.

BATRIK

A historic place in Bumburet, is known as the capital of the Kalash ruler Rajawai (10th century A.D.) and also a sacred place of the grand Kalash god, Mahandeo.

KARKAL

A Kalash hamlet in Bumburet, is famous for its dancing hall and Madojaw (cemetery) and also for a sacred cedar (Deodar) tree. Traditional Kalash charity is distributed under the shade of this tree.

TEMPLES AND PLACES FOR SPECIAL RESPECT

The Kalash holy places are widely respected by all. Tourists are requested to move around quietly while visiting these places.

Malosh

They are the Holy places where sacrifices are offered. These places are situated on the outskirts of a village. Some famous Malosh sites are in Batrik, Krakal, Birir, Rumbur and Gromun.

Jeshtak-Han

This is a large hall. Decorated with female paintings and animal figures. Jeshtak-Han are holy places where rituals are performed

at the times of birth, death and festivals.

Bashali

The Kalash houses for secluded women are situated near watercourses in each village and are strictly off-limits for men.

Madaw-Jaw

This is a Kalash graveyard. In the past, dead bodies were put in wooden boxes and placed in open air, while in recent years; the Kalash have started burying coffins.

Charsu

A dancing place where young couples gather to perform a dance in commemoration of their love.

Kalash Handicrafts Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

Due to their proximity to nature, the Kalash are fond of natural colours in handicrafts. Skills in spinning and weaving are exhibited in Palesk (rugs), Qalin (carpets), Chehari (belts) and Copesi (headgear).

Kalash Architecture

Kalash architecture is a unique mixture of ancient wooden craft and medieval traditions of figure art. Multi-storied Kalash buildings present a spectacular view of beautifully carved wooden pillars and beams decorated with unmatchable human and animal figures and effigies. Each one depicts certain myths and superstitions.

Kalash Culture Centre

The Kalash Culture Centre is in Brun, Bumburet valley, where folk history, culture and civilisation of the Kalash is preserved under one roof. It is an ethnological museum of the Kalash community, initiated and facilitated by the citizens of Greece. Nearby is a government-run archaeological museum.

FAMOUS LAKES IN KALASH VALLEYS CHITRAL KHYBER – PAKHTUNKHWA

Bahuk the Sacred Lake

Bahuk, the sacred lake of the Kalash ancestors, lies between the two picturesque valleys of Bumburet and Rumbur. The turquoise-hued glacier lake is situated at 4000m amongst an amphitheatre of jagged peaks with a good view of Tirich Mir 7708m to the west. The Kalash believe that after the death, their souls go to this Lake. The area is famous amongst both the Kalash and the Muslim Kho community as the resting place of fairies. Reported sightings of a mythical Barmanu (yeti) have also been made here. Its surroundings are the summer pastures of the Kalash community and villagers from Ayun. It has some magnificent cedars, some 1,200 years old. There are lovely treks from both Bumburet and Rumbur linking different valleys in the region where you can see shepherd settlements and a variety of fauna and flora. A special trail has been developed to Bahuk Lake for trekkers. From Bumburet the journey to the lake and back takes five days.

Lake Awazak

This lake flows in the southwest of Bumburet valley, on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its water streams into the Bashgai valley in the Nuristan. Locals say it takes a quick trekker twelve (12) hours to reach the lake, but for the average tourist it will take much longer. Considerable superstitions are associated with the lake. It is believed that when an ill-fortuned person looks into the lake, the lake looks blood-red, likely a bad omen foreboding his or her death. The flora around the lake attracts shepherds, who bring their herds up to the lake for grazing.

Lake Shawal

This lake is south of Bumburet valley. High mountains surround the lake fed by a glacier nearby. From the lake, a route leads into the Nuristan area of Afghanistan. Shepherds bring their herds to the pasture around the lake.

WALKING TRAILS OF KALASH VALLEYS CHITRAL KHYBER- PAKHTUNKHWA

Bumburet Walking Trails

There are a number of walking trails oh both sides of the stream in Bumburet. To walk the length of the valley Anish to Krakal would take you three hours. Several villages lie along this trail.

The route gives you a chance to witness the Kalash day-to-day activities, such as watering and weeding crops and chatting in the orchards. The trail also passes caves that were believed to be Kalash hideouts in case of an enemy attack. On the route is a spring important to Kalash, who say its water cures many ailments.

Rumbur Walking Trail

The three-hour trail starts from the village of Grom on the left side of the jeep road and follows the face of a steep slope through a dense oak forest, In Grom is a Kalash graveyard with wooden effigies on the graves symbolising the importance and leadership of the deceased. Close by is the dancing place and higher up the sacrifice place, along with the sacred stone and effigies of goats and humans around the altar. The trail passes through the Kalash villages of Balanguru, Kalashgrom and Palo.

Birir Walking Trail

This trail starts from the Government Guesthouse at village Guru. A traditional centre of the Kalash community, the Jeshtak-Han, is located in the village. The trail passes through a ‘dense wood of oaks to reach the villages of Aspar and Beshal – two villages where the Kalash and the now-Muslim Kalash live side-by-side in harmony.

The trail ends at Biyal, where there is another old Jeshtak-Han. From Biyal, one can view the spectacular snow-clad peak of Acharkandur to the west. A majestic glacier view adds beauty to the valley.

Registration of Foreigners in Kalash Valleys Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

On arrival in Chitral, foreign visitors have to register their names and particulars with the local authorities. TCKP’s Tourist Information Centre or CAMATs reception desk at airport or office in town can provide guidance regarding the process of registration and other requirements of foreigners.

There are a number of limited accommodation facilities ranging from basic to three star.

Very few restaurants offering locally sourced food.

Sights

Tours to Kalash Valleys Chitral Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

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