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Visiting Kalash and their unique culture

Kalash people live in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in the northern part of Pakistan, tucked away in three valleys. Anam Gill visited them.

 

Lowari Pass, known as the Hell’s Road in Pakistan

Lowari Pass (el. 10,230 ft.) is a high mountain pass that connects Chitral with Dir in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. After crossing the deadly pass one enters Kalash Valley. Every year almost 11 people die on this road. If you ask any local truck driver in Pakistan, most of them have to say that this is the most challenging road.

The colorful festival of the “Pagans”

The Chillum Joshi Festival happens every year in May in Pakistan. The festival welcomes spring and honors the deities of Kalash people for protecting them. It attracts foreigners and locals alike.

Descendants of Alexander the Great in Pakistan

Kalash people are said to be descendants of Alexander the Great. So they have Greek ancestry, which can be seen in their fair skin tones and colored eyes.

The steadily decreasing tribe

A total of 3,500 Kalash people are now living in three valleys – Bambooret, Ramboor and Birir – due to conversions and development in the area. The three valleys, which are close to each other, are known as Kalash valleys.

A smile speaks a thousand words

Some of them speak ancient Greek too. I remember being welcomed with the word “Ishpata!” (‘hello’ in their language).

The distinct sound of the drums

Young and old celebrate alike welcoming spring wholeheartedly after a spell of difficult winter.

The vibrant colors and dresses

Dancing to the rhythmic chants peculiar to Kalash people, one is absorbed in the mysterious culture dating back to… I don’t know how many years.

The beautiful and unique headgears

The beautiful headgear of Kalash women – decked in cowrie shells and beads and crowned with a large feather – did make me recall some parts of Greece where women wear similar head coverings during their traditional festivals.

Dance, an expression of one’s soul

It appears like some Eastern European traditional dance, floating across with elaborate foot movements while holding the waists and shoulders of their dancing partners.

Pakol, a woolen round hat for men and boys.

The boys and men at the festival wear the traditional Shalwar Kameez, a national dress worn in Pakistan by both men and women. Pakol or Chitrali Topi is what adds festivity to the men’s attire. Pakol is usually adorned by feathers and gems.

The green valleys of Kalash


Kalash valleys are beautiful. During the festival I was welcomed by strangers who offered me lovely yoghurt drink and the local white wine they make with grapes and some bread. I felt that was also very European in some ways.

The flowing river


The cleanest river water gushing with a lot of speed and making noise was the background sound at night when the valleys were otherwise quiet.


The schoolboys are fascinated by the visitors


The locals are fascinated by the visitors that come in huge numbers to witness the Chillum Joshi Festival. It was interesting to see that the locals welcomed everyone with warm beautiful smiles that can make you feel at home.

Pakistan’s truck art


On my way back I spotted a green colored truck. Truck art is now quite a well-known ‘genre’ around the world. A homegrown art-form especially in Pakistan where decorating lorries, trucks and rickshaws with floral patterns and fluorescent colors evolved in a distinct manner.

Leaving the charismatic valleys


On my way back I knew that I will carry the hospitality and culture of this place in my heart forever, never forgetting the vibrancy and love with which I was welcomed here. Returning back one day to this place and not finding these traditions alive anymore will surely break my heart and I wish that efforts will be made by the local government to preserve the dying tribe to the best of their abilities.

 

Text and picture: Anam Gill

 

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Date

30.01.2018 | 11:11

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