Kalash Valley | Chitral | Pakistan

The Kalash Valley or Wadi e Kalash is located at the altitude of 1650m above sea level in the District Chitral of KPK in Pakistan. It comprises of spectacular small valleys viz. Birir, Bumborate and Rumboor. These valleys reside in the middle of the mighty Hindu Kush Mountains among the sweetly scented Oak trees and splendid florae.

The beautiful Kalasha Valley is home to a fascinating pagan minority famously known as the Kalash Tribe. These people are different from other Pakistani tribes as they follow the teachings of ancient Hinduism and have an inimitable language, ethnicity, traditions, festivals, customs and culture. In 2018, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) enumerated the culture of Kalasha as the “Intangible Cultural Heritage” during the 13th session of Intergovernmental Committee meeting conducted in Mauritius.

Climate

The climate of Kalash Valley is similar to that of the non-tropical region with mild summers and extremely cold winters. During summers, the average temperature ranges between 23°C to 27°C. While the average temperature during winter is 2°C to 1°C. The precipitation ranges between 700mm and 800 mm annually.

Flora

Kalash Valley encompasses of exquisite flora including trees of Juniper, Deodar, Pine, Chirr and Oak forests. The land of the region is tremendously fertile leading to intensive agriculture in the region. Fruits of the non-tropical highlands such as; apples, apricots, berries, figs, grapes, mulberries, pears, pine nuts, pomegranates, strawberries, and walnuts are widely grown in the region. The crops of the Kalash Valley like barley, cereals, red beans, maize and wheat are particularly famous among the tourists for their unique flavor and texture.

Fauna

Large populations of mountain animals like Deer, Eagles, Hawks, Ibex, Leopards, Markhor, Monel and Partridge etcetera are present in the Kalash Valley.

History Of Kalash Valley

There is no literature record available regarding the history, origin or ancestors of the Kalash people.  Moreover, there is no existing scientific or scholarly basis of all the famous claims regarding their origin.

The Kalash tribe is believed to be the descendants of the Kalasha kings namely Rajawai and Bulasing who ruled the District Chitral for almost 1100 years. Rajawai was the ruler of areas from Ayun to Asman in Afghanistan, while, Bulasing was the king of region from Broze to Kashmir.

Commonly, the Kalash people consider themselves to be ancient Greek-Macedonian people and as the descendants of Alexander the Great. Even though the majority of historians consider them as an indigenous tribe of Nuristan or Kafiristan who fled from the region when the king of Afghanistan, Amir Abdul Rahman, conquered it and forced the people to convert to Islam in 1895.

Some historians also believe that the ancestors of Kalash people migrated from a distant area in South Asia called Tsiyam. The folklores and songs of Kalash people also give a clue of their roots in Tsiyam.

Although, the history of the Kalash tribe is not precisely stated by any prominent historian still many anthropologists claim that these people are of European origin.

The Kalasha people have endured times of great turmoil since the 17th century. They have been targeted by some of the proselytizing Muslim rulers of the region who have endorsed the persecution as well as the forced conversion of the Kalash tribe to Islam.

However, in recent times the Armed Forces of Pakistan have fortified the security around the Kalash Valley. Moreover, the Supreme Court of the country has taken judicial intervention to protect Kalash people by introducing a separate clause in the constitution.

Kalash People

The Kalash or Kalasha are indigenous people living in the Kalash Valley. They are considered as people of Dardic Indo-Aryan origin. Kalash tribe constitute the smallest ethnic and religious group of Pakistan with a population of only 4000 people. They speak the Kalasha language. Moreover, they practice religion like animism or ancient Hinduism. The facial features of Kalash people resemble that of Pashtuns or the Eurasian people. They have light-colored skin, golden brown or black hair and colored eyes (mostly brown, blue or green).

The Kalash culture is unique. They love music and dancing. Local women wear traditional Kalash dresses with embroidered caps while the men wear Shalwar Kameez. During festivals, the Kalash men wear Eagle or Hawk feather in their caps.

Kalash Valley Girls

The Kalash people are quite liberal as the men and women hang out together even if they are not members of the same family. Moreover, the women have the right to have a boyfriend and marry whoever they want.

Kalash Valley girls are fascinatingly beautiful. They have sharp facial features, white skin, colored eyes, and brown or black hair. The girls are always dressed up in splendidly colorful dresses that are specifically hand-woven along with an equally gorgeous head-piece which is quite heavy. They usually wear long black cotton robes or cheos decorated with exquisite embroidery and cowrie shells.

Language

The people of Kalash Valley speak Ashkun, Kalasha-ala, Khowar, Tregami or Kalasha. However, the majority of Kalash people speak the Kalasha language. Kalasha is a Dardic Indo-Aryan language that has no formal script. According to the recent reports Kalash people are trying to develop a proper script for Kalasha.

Customs of Kalash Valley

  • Concept of marriage among the Kalash people is different than the rest of Pakistan. Majority of marriages take place as a result of elopement. Generally, the wife elopement is a common custom of the region. The Kalash girls are married at an early age.
  • During marriage, the groom has to pay the demanded amount of money to the bride’s family to marry her. In case, a woman is already married to another man but wants to leave him and marry someone else. Then, she informs her love interest how much her current husband had paid for her so that the new husband must pay the double price to marry her.
  • The Kalash people are ethnically strong. If any individual of the region converts to Islam or any other religion they boycott him/her to keep their identity preserved.

Religion of Kalash Valley

The Kalash people are not Muslims, instead, they are polytheists and believe in twelve Gods and Goddesses. Some people follow animism or ancient Hinduism. The Kalash religion does not have a Holy Book. Majority of the people believe in the existence of a creator deity named Dezau, Khodai or Yama Raja. They worship him and sacrifice their animals in their temples for spirits.

The Kalash people also show faith in other Gods called Balumain, Destak, Dezalik, Dewalók, Indr and Munjem. Balumain is the cultural hero of the Kalash Valley who had taught the indigenous people about celebrating the winter festival known as Chaumas. They also believe in semi-gods, deities, mountain fairies and spirits. The Kalash offer prayers only during festivals. Their culture and beliefs are similar to that of Nuristanis that reside in Afghanistan.

Rituals

The polytheistic Kalash have built various shrines for their Gods and Goddesses where they make animal sacrifices regularly. They consider crows to be the representative of their ancestors so they feed them with their left hands.

Generally, the Kalash do not bury their dead, instead, they are left at open places in the wooden coffins. They believe that the soul of the dead is excited to leave the body and unite with the already departed souls. Henceforth, they celebrate the death of a person during funeral by singing and dancing.

There is a huge emphasis on Purity in the region and it must be maintained around altars, the back wall of a house, space around the hearth, goat stables and during festivals. The preadolescent boys are treated with care and admiration as they play a special role by tending goats during summers. However, the women during menstruation, pregnancy death and decomposition are considered as impure. Hence, any cleansing ceremonies are performed to make them pure. The women of regions other than the Kalash Valley are also considered as unclean.

Best Foods of Kalash Valley

Kalash people have indigenous recipes for making local bread and dishes. Generally, crops, fruits or meats are the highlights of dishes. People of the Kalash Valley domestically make liquors and wine.

Bread

People of Kalash Valley make a variety of bread including wheat bread that is consumed on daily basis, walnut bread which is cooked on special occasions, Tiki that is baked over coal and used in breakfast. Capoti, Khesta, Kurao, Rishika and Phulki etcetera are some other types of bread.

Soups

Soups are an integral part of Kalash cuisine. These include Chitrali noodle soup, Kawirogh, Kalli, Khhamalogh, Lajhaik and Leganu.

Meat Dishes

Rondijhzu is a famous dish of Kalash Valley that comprises of roasted mutton that is seasoned with just salt. Roasted chicken or Taaw Kahak is another delicious dish of the region. Taaw Machi is a mouthwatering recipe of rainbow and brown trout.

Other Dishes

Many traditional dishes such as; Ghalmandi, Pushur Tikki, Qalaibat and Shroshrp are frequently cooked by the Kalash people. Cheese is also a basic constituent of the Kalash cuisine, hence, a variety of cheese is prepared locally like amishtyonu, doa, gulak, pandir and tsikir.

Festivals Of Kalash Valley

1. Joshi Festival

Joshi is a spring festival celebrated from May 13 to May 16 in the Kalash Valley. At this occasion, the Kalash people wear new clothes, women decorate the houses and the Kalash girls gather at the hillside for singing and dancing. The pastoral God called Goshidai is thanked at Joshi for protecting herds. The first day of this festival is “Milk Day” during which the people offer libations of milk obtained from cattle. The Kalash people aim to find their spouse during Joshi.

2. Uchal Festival ( August 20-21)

The Uchal festival is celebrated during annual harvesting season of barley and wheat in mid-August, in the Kalash Valley at Mahandeo altar in Rambur. Girls and boys gather together, sing songs, dance and pay homage to God for bestowing blessings upon them. The Kalash people make cheese, buttermilk and cornbread to celebrate the Uchal festival. During this occasion, the women decorate houses and wear traditional Kalash dresses. The prayers are performed at a high plateau outside Balangkuru village where people dance the whole night.

3. Chaumas Festival (December 07-22)

Chaumas is the most important Kalash festival that is celebrated in December. But impure people are not allowed to participate and they must be cleansed prior. The rules of Devalog are no longer applicable. Main ritual of Chaumas is organized at the Tok tree or Indr’s place. It is believed that this place belongs to the God of cattle named Indr. Young boys impersonate the ancestors whom the Kalash people worship and offer bread. The Kalash men are divided into two groups; the pure ones sing nice songs while the impure ones sing obscene songs. This ritual is accompanied by the change of dresses as men wear women dresses and vice versa.

Best Time To Visit Kalash Valley

The best time to visit the Kalash Valley is during spring or autumn as the temperature of the region is mild at this time of the year. While travelling to this beautiful destinations you can also visit nearby places as well like, Chitral, Swat Valley, Hunza Valley, Fairy Meadows, Skardu.

Routes To Reach Kalash Valley

Journey through Air

Flights are available from Islamabad Pakistan to Chitral on daily basis. It takes only 50 minutes to reach the district after which a jeep can be rented to reach Kalash Valley.

Journey through Road

It takes approximately 14 to 17 hours to travel the distance of 500km by road from Islamabad to Kalash Valley.

Route Breakdown

From Islamabad to Rashkai Interchange – Mardan – Dargai- Malakand Pass- Batkhela- Chakdara- Timergara- Dir – Lowari Top- Darosh – Chitral – Kalash Valleys.

The distance and time required to travel between different Kalash Valleys are as follows;

Sr. No.ValleysDistanceTime Required
1Bumburet to Birir30km2 hours
2Bumburet to Rambur10km45 minutes
3Chitral to Bumburet40km2.5 hours

 

Total Expenses For Foreigners / Paksitani From Islamabad

The tour agency charge $700 to $790 for a seven days trip to Kalash Valley including hotel room/ tent and three course meal. For local people the cost is only 10% of this amount. If you plan to visit South Asia or Southeast Asia, then Kalash Valley is worth to give  a visit along with many beautiful destinations in Pakistan.

However, if you want to travel solo by using public transport then the journey is much cheaper. You should first either travel by air or road to Chitral from where mini vans charge Rs.20 or taxi cost Rs.100 to Aini village. From there on, local pickups cost Rs.100 to travel to Kalash Valley. The private taxi usually cost $10 to $15 from Chitral to Kalash Valley. The entry fee to the Kalash Valley is Rs.200 that is used for maintenance of local community.