Kalash Festivals

Festivals Location :  The Kalasha Valleys are valleys in Chitral District in northern Pakistan. The valleys are surrounded by the Hindu Kush mountain range.

The Kalash or the Kalasha are the only pagan minority residing in the Chitral district of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhua. They form the smallest minority community in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Though the people of Kalash were once in a large number, around 200,000, the number has dwindled so much so that only a handful of Kalashas remain— about 3000 to 4000. The striking decrease in the population of Kalashas pertains to the forceful conversion of these pagans to Islam. Even in the current day scenario, smallest pagan minority is hardly given any rights and is not recognized as a separate entity. Only a handful of foreign NGOs are working towards the development and progress of this area and tribe.

The Kalashas live in three valleys of Chitral namely, Rumbur, Brumbret and Birir. The Rumbur and Brumbret form a single culture due to their very similar cultural practices, while Birir being the most traditional one forms a separate culture.

The people of Kalash or white skinned with golden brown hair and blue eyes.

History : The origins of Kalashas still remain unresolved as their history is shrouded behind a number of theories, mysteries and controversies. Of these many theories, three carry with them great significance and are considered closest to reality.

The grandest of all is that the Kalashas carry a romantic view of being the descendents of Alexander the Great. On the other hand, many historians believe that they are indigenous tribe of the neighboring area of Nuristan also called Kafiristan (the land of Kafirs). It is believed that in 1895 Amir Abdul Rahman, the king of Afghanistan, conquered the area of Nursitan and forced the inhabitants of the area to convert to Islam. It was during that time that many people fled to Chitral to avoid conversion. The third theory claims that the ancestors of Kalashas migrated from a distant place in South Asia called Tsiam. The Tsiam is considered to be the traditional home of these people. The Kalasha folk songs and fables hint the existence of Tsiam and that their roots belong in that region.

Language : The language of the Kalash is the Kalasha and is a Dardic language (sub group of Indo-Aryan languages spoken in Northern Pakistan, eastern Afghanistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir). The language is spoken by a handful of people approximately 5000 and is considered to be critically endangered by UNESCO. The Kalasha language has no proper script; however, there have been recent developments in introducing a formal script for the language.

Customs : The people of Kalash are extremely particular about their religion and break ties with anyone of them who converts to Islam. The converts are not allowed after the conversion to be a part of their community. They keep their identity strong.

The people of Kalash differ from the people of the surrounding areas in a number of ways. There is no separation between males and females in Kalash and are allowed to keep contact and communicate without any fingers being raised at them. Moreover, the females of Kalash are sent to live in a bashaleni when they are considered to be impure for e.g. during the child birth period and other occasions. These women are only able to live this place after they regain their purity and have undergone the ritual of restoring purity.

The women of Kalash wear long black loose robes with colorful embroideries and cowrie shells. These women are also found wearing colorful beads and necklaces that further distinguish them from the other women of the Chitral region. They accessorize their black robes by making use of colorful long braided head wears. The males of the Kalash on the contrary have adopted the Pakistani national dress i.e. the shalwar kameez and are often found wearing waistcoats over them. They also wear hats common to the northern area of Pakistan.

The people of Kalash march to a different drummer. Their customs and traditions are as different as day and night, especially vis–à–vis the concept of marriage. Marriage by elopement is more frequent in the Kalash valley and is also common amongst women who are already married to another man. In fact, wife elopement is considered to be one of the great customs of the people of Kalash.

When a man and woman get married the man pays the woman’s family a certain amount in order to have her. When a woman wants to leave her current husband and marry some other man, she offers herself to that man and informs him of how much her current husband had paid for her. In order for the man to marry an already married woman he has to pay double the amount to have her.

Religion : The Kalashas are polytheistic believing in 12 Gods and Goddesses. A renowned linguist Richard strand, is of the view that the people of Kalash practice an ancient form of Hinduism which gradually developed locally and got influenced by the neighboring areas of pre Islamic Nuristan.

They believe in a number of Gods e.g. Yama Raja also called Dezau and Khodai who is the creator deity. Another god is the Balumain who is the cultural hero and taught the people of Kalash how to celebrate the winter festival. Other gods include Destak, Munjem, Dezalik.

Rituals :  Like all the other religions, the Kalasha also have different religious rituals and practices. In Kalash the rituals are the means of generating economic activity and are gift giving festivals.

The numerous Gods and Goddesses have shrines and altars all over the valley where goat sacrifices are offered regularly.  Crows that are considered to be their ancestors are frequently fed with their left hand at a number of places including tombs. Moreover, the people of Kalash do not bury their dead under the ground rather their coffins are left out in the open. They believe that the soul was excited to leave the human body and reunite with the already departed souls. It is for this reason that they celebrate the funeral of a dead person by singing and dancing rather than mourning over their bodies.

The inhabitants of the Kalash valley celebrate a number of festivals all year round. The three predominant festivals are as follows:

Joshi : It is celebrated in May and marks the arrival of spring. People wear new clothes and women accessorize heavily, girls are sent to the hill side for dancing and singing. Women decorate their houses and collect milk from the cattle, One year old babies and their mothers are also purified in this festival.

Uchau : This festival takes place in mid August at the altar of Mahandeo where newly made cheese is brought from the pastures. Dancing and singing again forms an integral part of the festival.

Caumus : It is the most important festival held in mid December.The people of Kalash have a rich culture and are very strong footed about their identity. These people stand out from the remaining tribes, cultures and communities of Pakistan due to their distinct culture, religious practices and festivals. The area known as Kalash Valley boosts serene beauty, lush green valleys and fruit farms making it an ideal tourist spot not only in terms of scenic beauty but also cultural diversity and religious spots. Despite all the pros the fact of the matter remains that nothing is being done to develop the area and to invest in its tourism industry. The Kalash valley faces discrimination on a number of fronts be it economic development or recognition as a separate religious entity. The area lacks proper infrastructure which cuts it off with the rest of the world and has resulted in the backwardness of the region.

To tap the full potential of the Kalasha Valley we need to put in a combined effort to develop it and make it accessible so as to attract tourism and enhance the economy of this region.

Shandur Polo Festival

Festival Location : Shandur Top located in Chitral District, Chitral-Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Shandur is often called the 'Roof of the World'. The top is flat, a plateau and can be crossed between late April and early November.

Shandur Top (el. 12,200 feet (3,700 meters)) located in Chitral District, Chitral-Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. Shandur is often called the 'Roof of the World'. The top is flat, a plateau and can be crossed between late April and early November. The grade is very gradual, and the area is crossed by plentiful small streams during summer. The boundary line between Ghizer District and Chitral District is also situated in Shandur Top in Punji-Lasht as per the international boundary law division by watershed initially demarcated by Lt. Col AG Durand( also known as Durand boundary line).

Every year there is a polo match played on Shandur Top between the teams of Chitral District and Ghizer District.

Shandur Pass is one of the major mountain passes of Chitral-Gilgit-Baltistan.

Polo the Game of Kings, and the king of all games are traditionally played in the Northern areas of Pakistan and Chitral for over the centuries, it has been played between the small kingdoms, villages and rival groups for the deciding of the disputes among them, and the losing team has to be lost of the land, territory, or pay the heavy fine and some times death punishment. the free style polo game have been practicing for the centuries between the traditional rival teams of Gilgit and Chitral each summer month of July on the Shandur pass (3734 meters) the highest polo field in the world. a three days polo tournament organized by the Gilgit and Chitral polo clubs and local administration. during the Shandur polo tournament you sleep on the comfortable two person tents with facilities of a mess and toilet tents. your cook will prepare the hearty and delicious meals for you every day.

We start this trip from Islamabad the modern capital of Pakistan, drive through the scenic swat and Dir valleys, enjoying the thrilling experience of four wheel drive through the winding zigzags of the scenic Lawari pass 3118 meters to the lush green valley of Chitral.

Drive to Kalash valleys to explore the centuries old traditions and unique life style. the Kalash tribes living in the three isolated valleys of Bomboret, Rambur and Birir in the heart of Hindukush are famed to be the descendents of army of the Alexander the Great, who passed this remote region in 326 BC. visiting the traditional Kalash houses to observe the tradition and their unique life style, evening enjoy the Kalash woman dance with the traditional music. Drive by jeeps to Shandur pass by four wheel jeeps through the scenic villages and valleys under the shadow of Trich mir peak and other high snow covered peak in the Hindukush.

Shimshal Festival

Festival Location : Shimshal. It is a village located in Gojal Tehsil of Hunza District, in the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan formerly known as Northern Areas of Pakistan. It lies at an altitude of 3,100 m above sea level and is the highest settlement in Hunza Valley of Pakistan.

Shimshal is the remotest area of the Hunza Valley in the Upper Hunza Gogal, bordering with China.Shimshal covers the largest territory within Upper Hunza, from its western reaches bordered by the Hunza River, area extends as far as Baltistan to the east and its northern Khunjerab River demarcates the frontier with China. The access to this valley is from Karakoraum Highway at Passu Village in Gojal through a jeep-able link road 53 km, following a narrow gorge. It takes 3hrs drive on this amazing road from Passu and this road has been opened in 2003, before this road there was 3 days trek to Shimshal from Passu. After the completion of this link road which took around 20 years, the people of Shimshal connected with Karakorum Highway, central Hunza and other southern cities of Pakistan through this link road. This link road has brought a socio-economic revolution in the Shimshal Valley.

The people of Shimshal are Wakhi and speak Wakhi language, their culture and tradition is unique. Due to being remotest and difficult accessibility, much of their tradition and culture have been remained intact. In ancient time these people were passing very simple life dictated by the seasons and nature around them. Their life was circles around the festivals which gave them some entertainment and passing harsh time, waiting for these traditional festivals to celebrate that gives them some joy.
Following the old tradition every year in the month of May, Shimshali people use to take their livestock to high pastures of the Pamir for grazing for the period of five months (May to October). During these five months they take care of their yaks, sheep and goats and collect the butter, cheese, Yeast for their families for the harsh winter season. The most of their income comes from the sale of yaks, which is very expensive also sell the goats now in the market of central Hunza. They sell butter, dry cheese, wool and from the hair of yak make the local carpet. They have very vast pastures and providing grazing for thousands of sheep and goats and these pastures lie in the high altitudes where life is very simple in the nature and hard. Normally Wakhi communities’ livestock is cared by the women, the women and children are going to these pastures with yaks, sheep and goats this makes the high pastures a lively and colorful to visit. They are going to the pastures all to-gather and their families take them to the pastures and live them for five months with animals. And in October they come down to-gather, on these occasions while going up to the pastures in the month of May and coming down in October make festivals called “KUCH” that means travel.

Coming down from the pastures is around 12th to 18th October of each year and day fixed by the religious person of the village in a week, then all the relatives of them from Village go up to the pastures and collect all the yaks from different valleys and select strong yaks to put the load over them. They start to come down all to-gather from various pastures with yaks, sheep, goats they put all their staff and livestock over the yaks and small children also on the back of yaks. Before entering the village of Shimshal on the bank of the Shimshal River before the bridge spend one night with all these animals like a big caravan and women change their dresses which could bring for them from village. Next day they enter the village all to-gather with new dresses and thousand of cattle at the same time, their families welcome them at the village, meet with them after five months. At this bridge the tradition of goat sacrifice is still going on as before. All to-gather they go to the mosque and do condolence of the families who lost their relatives during five months. Then they go to their homes with their families after program of eating.