Among the different regions of the Muslim country, the Kalash Valley, Pakistan, is home to the unique culture of the Kalasha people. As part of our journey through Pakistan, we visited the northern area close to the Afghan border and were mesmerized by the experience. Exploring the Kalash Valley is one of the highlights of our Pakistan trip.
There is much to say about the few days we spent with the Kalash, but as we are traveling still, we wanted to share some photos and information about our trip. We will add more travel tips, how-to, and put a complete travel guide as soon as we can.
Kalash Valley Pakistan
The Kalash live southwest of Chitral, in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, in what is usually referred as the Kalash Valley. There are in fact three separate Kalash valleys, together called Kalasha Desh. The larger valley of Bamburet (Bumburet), the medium sized village of Rumboor (Rumbur), and the smaller and more traditional valley of Birir. Bamburet Valley, in turn, is composed of five different communities, each with different interesting cultural aspects.
We spent four days in Rumboor, and one day in Brun (Broon), one of the Bamburet villages. Rumboor was more manageable as the village is quite compact and not as touristy as Bamburet. The few days let us met the Kalash personally, as we were the only tourists around. Bamburet is more developed regarding tourist infrastructure and spread out, which means one has to move through the different villages to experience the Kalash traditions.
A Dardic indigenous people, the Kalash religion is still somewhat of a mystery. They are polytheists, which by itself is an essential separation from other Pakistan people. According to some scholars, the Kalash tribe practice a form of animism whereas other see ancient Hinduism.
We were lucky to attend the homecoming of the baby girl from our police escort & guide Jamshir. The ceremony happened in the Jestakhan, a typical Kalasha temple. A small portion of her hair was cut and place on a ceremonial chapati, both left in the temple for protection.
Another event was the homecoming of the shepherds as part of the Uchal Festival.
Some of the Kalash people claim to be Alexander the Great children, the descendants of its soldiers. However, a DNA study done in 2006 has rejected the claim. What is certain, however, are the unique traits of the Kalash people. Many have fair skin, blond hair, blue eyes. The women do not cover their heads with the traditional veil, shake hands with men, and are business owners. And during the festivals, women and men dance together all night long, singing along the beating drums.
Wine is also an important part of the Kalash culture. Two different drinks are made during the year: a strong alcohol called Tara made of apricots, and an actual wine made of grapes.
The colorful design of the traditional Kalash dress, as well as the heavy and intricate patterns of the headgear, are also what makes the Kalash culture so different than neighboring areas.
The Kalash celebrates three main festivals: Chilam Joshi Festival (Kalash spring festival) in May, Festival of Uchal (Kalash summer festival) in August, and the Festival of Choimus (Kalash winter festival) in December.
We attended the Uchal Festival, where Kalasha performed different dances. Each Kalash must wear new clothes on that day, from new shoes, belt, to new dresses for the women. In the months and days ahead of the festival, women are busy sewing their traditional Kalash dress, high in colors and sophisticated patterns.
Early that morning, Bruno joined the group of men to watch the shepherds returning from the summer pasture. The Uchal festival marks the change of shepherds mid-summer when the first shift brings back goat cheese from the high pasture. The ceremony ends by the sharing of the cheese among the men, and later on, brought into the houses.
Hiking in the Kalash Valley
Safety had been an issue in the past around the Kalash Valley, given its proximity to Afghanistan, and Taliban incursions into the valley a few years ago. These challenges led to restricting the access to the summer pasture to foreigners. As the situation improved thanks to increasing police and army presence at the border, we were able to day hike to the summer pasture, the first foreigners in five years to do so. The scenery was incredible, and we got to meet Jamshir’s mother and share with her photos and videos from her granddaughter’s homecoming. The hugs she gave me at our departure did not need any translation and almost brought me to tears.
Safety in Chitral and the Kalash Valley
We had to register at the police station and were given a police escort even in Chitral, up to the Kalash Valley, and while we were in the villages. While Chitral felt somewhat more conservative than other Pakistani towns, the Kalash villages like Rumboor felt safe. The Kalash people welcomed us, and we felt safe walking the narrow streets even at night. In Rumboor, we had the chance to be assigned to Jamshir, a local Kalash who was guide before and currently served as local police. He was a tremendous source of information and being a local village; we got to experience the Kalash life thanks to him.
Read our other posts on Pakistan: Places to Visit in Islamabad, Guide to Travel in Islamabad, and Machollo, a Traditional Pakistani Village in the Hushe Valley.