Compiled by Rashid Zia Cheema
Brief History: The Kalasha or Kalash are indigenous people who live in the Chitral District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. They speak the Kalasha language and practice polytheistic religion (Belief in many gods). They are related to the Nuristani people of the adjacent Nuristan (Previously known as Kafiristan) province of Afghanistan. However, most of Nuristani people had embraced Islam by the end of 19th century.
Kalash people live in three remote mountain valleys: Bumburet, Rumbur, and Birir. These valleys are opening towards the Kunar River, some 20 km south of Chitral city. A mountain pass, located at a height of approximately 3000 m, connects the Birir and Bumburet valleys. The Kalash villages in all three valleys are located at an altitude of about 1900 to 2200 m. The maximum temperature in summers varies between 23° and 27 °C (73° to 81 °F) and the minimum temperature during winters varies between 2° and 1 °C (36° to 34 °F).
The Kalash people have a distinctive culture which is completely in contrast with the other tribes living close by. In their religion, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to thank their gods for the bountiful resources in their area. Kalash valleys are made up of two peculiar cultural regions, the valleys of Rumbur and Bumburet forming one and Birir valley the other, Birir valley being the most traditional of the two. Kalash are much closer to Indo-Iranian traditions, but some of them claim to be descendants of Alexander the Great’s soldiers, however, extensive genetic testing has shown no connection. Kalash people have blond hair, fair skin, and green eyes.
Map Showing Three Kalash Valleys (Bumburet Valley, Rumbur Valley, and Birir Valley)
PTDC Motel in Bumburet, Kalash. The PTDC (Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation) Motel is located at Bumburet in Kalash Valley. It has 14 cozy rooms and a restaurant. Foreign tourists need a permit to enter Kalash Valley which is issued at the entrance of Kalash Valley. Tourists entering the valleys have to pay a toll to the Pakistani government, which is used to preserve the Kalash culture.
How to go to Kalash Valleys? The best time to go to Kalash is summer (May to September). You can take a PIA flight from Islamabad or Peshawar. This 50 minutes flight operates 4 days in a week, subject to weather ((Flight status and schedule can be checked at the official website of PIA: http://www.piac.com.pk/ ). You can also go to Kalash by road both from Islamabad and Peshawar. It takes around 10 hours from Islamabad to reach Chitral by road and about 7 hours from Peshawar. You can rent a vehicle with a driver to go to Kalash from Chitral and it takes about two hours to reach Bumburet valley. Foreigners need special permit to go to the area.
The best deal to visit Kalash is to book a trip through Hindkush Trails, one of the best tour operators in the area. The website is www.hindukushtrails.com
Hindukush Heights is the best hotel in Chitral. Tatler, UK, in its travel guide 2010 ranks it among “the best 101 hotels in the world”. The hotel is run by its owner Siraj Ulmulk, an ex PIA pilot, and his wife Ghazalla Ulmulk. For more details and reservation, please see the website www.hindukush.com.pk
A Smiling Kalash Girl. Kalash girls are married at an early age. Marriage by elopement is very common among Kalash people.
Two Kalash Girls Wrapped in an Embroidery Shawl
A Handsome Kalash Boy Poses in Front of a Camera. Photo by Tahir Khan Kayani.
Kalash Girls in Their Traditional Dress Making Victory Sign
A Beautiful Kalash Girl, Wearing Colourful Headdress. Photo by manalahmadkhan.
FC (Frontier Corps) Mess at Bamuret, Kalash. Photo by Tahir Khan Kayani.
Traditional Black Dress of Kalash Women. Kalash women usually wear long black robes, often embroidered with cowrie shells. For this reason, they are known in Chitral as “The Black Kafirs”. In this photo, a Kalash woman is helping her daughter cross a stream on a bamboo pole, both dressed in black traditional dress.
A Kalash Girl Carrying Her Younger Brother in Her Lap, Rumbur Valley. Photo by Carol, bag_lady’s.
Two Kalasha Girls Taking a Walk in Their Village
A Cute Little Smiling Kalash Girl. Photo by Carol, bag_lady’s.
A Kalash Girl with Green Eyes, Wearing Beads
A Kalash Girl with Cowrie Shells Headdress
A Kalash Girl in Traditional Dress with Flowers in Her Headdress
Two Kalash Women standing Outside a Shop at Rumbur. Photo by Tahir Khan Kayani.
Three Dancing Girls of Kalash. Photo by Imran Schah.
Kalash Students Entering School Building. Kalash students walk to class through the entrance of the Kalasha Dur School and Community Center in Brun village, located in Bumburet Valley. Photo by Imran Schah.
Kalash Students Learning Kalasha Alphabet in School. Teacher Noorzia Khan, 16, writes letters from the Kalasha alphabet on a blackboard during a lesson at the Kalasha Dur school and community center in Brun village, located in the Bumburet Kalash Valley.
Four Kalash Girls during Spring Festival, 2012. The three main festivals of the Kalash are the Joshi festival in late May, the Uchau in autumn, and the Chawmos in midwinter.
Kalash Women Dancing at Joshi (Spring) Festival. The Kalash people celebrate the end of winter in May each year with the Joshi (Spring) Festival. The first day of Joshi is Milk Day. People go from house to house, dancing and singing. Each household offers milk that has been saved for 10 days before the festival. As hours of dancing reach a climax on the final day, men and women separate in dancing areas and each take branches of walnut to wave as they dance. At the shout of a Shaman, they throw their branches in the air. Photo by Hector Salazar.
Joshi Festival. Two Kalash girls at Joshi Festival. Photo by imranthetrekker.
A Young Kalash Girl Sitting on a Stool, Rumbur Valley. Photo by Carol, bag_lady’s.
A Kalash Girl in the Doorway of Her House in the Village of Balanguru, Rumbur Valley. Photo by Carol, bag_lady’s.
A Kalash Family at Rumbur Valley Cleaning the Rice. Photo by Carol, bag_lady’s.
A Kalash Woman, Shazia Bibi, Cooking the Bread for the Evening Meal, Rumbur Valley. Photo by Carol, bag_lady’s.
An Old Kalasha Woman with Colorful Headdress and Bead Necklaces. The women folk of Kalash make their clothes and headdresses in the winter season when they are unable to work in the fields because of severe cold. Photo by Carol, bag_lady’s.
A Very Old Kalash Woman With Fancy Headdress
‘Bashalani’, a Segregated Building for Kalash Women. According to Kalash religious custom, the menstruating girls and women are sent to live in a separate building, called the “Bashalani”, during their periods, until they regain their “purity”. They are also required to give birth in the Bashalani where they are shifted during the last month of pregnancy.
In this photo Kalash women are standing outside the Bashalani to take the clothes for washing from their relative women inside the Bashalani. Photo by Gul Hamaad Farooqi.
A Kalash Girl Standing Outside the Bashali of Krakal Village . Photo by Tahir Khan Kayani.
Funeral Rituals by Kalsah People. Kalash people leave their dead on a wooden coffin exposed to the weather and let it rot. After one year a wooden statue is placed near the coffin in a ceremony to project the bravery of the dead man and his other good qualities. This ceremony is done in pomp and show followed by a feast.
Women are kept in the same clothes, which they wore at the time of death. For women and children there is no singing and dancing. If a women died during the course of delivery or during menstruation period in the Bashalani, her dead body would be directly shifted to the cemetery. For the old women enjoying respect in the society, the relatives consider it a privilege to give her all possible honour by dressing her nicely and beauty touch is given to make her more attractive. Sometime artificial ornaments are also placed in her coffin. In the past, shoes with which she danced in her life time were also kept in her coffin.
Kalash Museum at Bumburet
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