By Danial Shah/Dawn
A bulletin board caught my attention while I was roaming in the narrow streets of Peshawar: “Celebrate Kalash Festival with the KPK Tourism”. The message was so appealing that it went through my mind all day.
I grew up watching documentaries on TV regarding these ancient nomadic people who call themselves “Kalash” and follow a distinct culture, living deep in the mountains of North West Pakistan. I always dreamt of visiting the place that I had read about in books and seen in postcards. “Now is the time to actually experience it,” I said that to myself and without any further delay; I booked my flight to Chitral to experience the culture that had endlessly fascinated me.
There lies a mystical valley in Hindukush known as Kafiristan, the land of infidels. Until I actually visited the place, I believed it to be a myth. I took a local van from Chitral Bazar and went through a rough three and a half hour journey via Ayun Valley that ended up in the magical valley called Kalash, an unknown land surrounded by giant mountains and rivers.
Kalash consists of 3 valleys: Rumbur, Bumboret and Birir. Rumbor is the oldest and largest, while Bumboret is the most visited, populated and developed of the three. Situated between two giant mountains, it runs along a small road with a water stream from glaciers flowing downwards. While searching for my hotel, I came across beautiful women in black gowns decorated with colorful embroidery. When they saw me, hearty greetings of “Ishpaata” were shouted my way; the Kalasha way of saying hello.
The Kalash people are distinct in their language, way of living, culture, religion and norms and have been carrying around this culture since centuries with very little or no change over time. Unlike other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, this was the first valley where I saw unveiled women roaming around freely. It felt like I was not in northern Pakistan but some foreign nomadic village shown on the National Geographic channel. Still practicing their ancient customs, they have a proud and almost exclusive culture. They claim to be the descendants of the armies of Alexander who were left behind from his campaign in the area although there isn’t any evidence that would suggest that he passed from this area. The physical attributes of the people usually trace back to the Greek civilization as most of the Kalash are fair skinned and have blue eyes, rosy cheeks and blonde hair.