Journey to Kalash- The sole pagan valley of Pakistan

Journey to Kalash- The sole pagan valley of Pakistan

The story of Alexander the Great's lost tribe, the Kalash people.

Sitting with a cute local kid of Kalash.

Alexander

Alexander the Great is considered to be one of the most iconic commanders in world history. He became the king of Macedon, Greece at a young age of 20 years. He spent most of the time in combat, fighting in Persian, India, Asia Minor and Middle-East. As a result, he built a kingdom stretching from Greece to India. Some 2300 years ago, he came to India to fight like a man and not for ‘trade’. His initial opponent in India was King Porus. Porus was the ruler of Punjab, the land of five rivers. At the bank of Jhelum River, the two armies fought in the historic ‘Battle of Hydaspes’ and Alexander defeated Porus after the fiercest battle of his lifetime. History says that was the only time Alexander came close to defeat. Alexander wanted to proceed forward and conquer all of India but his army revolted mainly because of the monsoons, mud and humid weather of subcontinent. Maybe the Greeks were not as adoptable as the British, so Alexander decided to go back to Macedonia.

Fictional depiction of the battle. Greeks cavalry struggled a lot initially against the 200 elephants of Porus.

Origins of Kalash

Many of the Greeks Soldiers decided to stay in the subcontinent. Some historians say the Rajputs of subcontinent are descendants of those Greek Soldiers. Anyhow, a small number of soldiers settled in the lapse of Hindukush Mountains where streams flow, birds chirp and crazy winds blow! These are three small valleys Rumbur, Birir and Bamburat, situated in Chitral District of Pakistan, alongside Afghan Border. The valleys are beautiful and soulful just like their inhabitants. The inhabitants are called Kalash people. Kalash People are the smallest ethnicity of Pakistan. They are pagans and polytheist. They sacrifice animals to their Gods, brew wine, dance and have different festivals to celebrate seasons. The social system of Kalash is very different from any other part of Pakistan. Their beliefs might sound weird to outsiders. They dance at festivals and have feasts when someone dies as they believe it’s not good to say goodbye with grief! The women in their society have the upper hands over men. They chose the spouse of their liking and parents must agree. Saying that I would like to appeal my young fellow men/women to not start a mas- immigration to these lands.

Local Kalashi Kids. Photo by Sufyan Iqbal

The Invitation

Engineering University sucks! I was in my fourth semester, when my good friend Shan Elahi invited me to join his friends’ group going to Kalash Valleys on their summer festival “Chillam Josht”. Hanging on a narrow cliff between dropping out from university and having fun, I chose to go with flow and join the trip. That turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life though I ended up getting 1.9 gpa in that semester but let’s not discuss that 😛 it was a hot sunny day of May 2015, when we started the journey to Kalash. Having heard so much about the valleys, its people’s Caucasian features and their tremendous culture, I was very excited for the trip. Three of my university seniors, Omer, Irtaza and Uzair were also accompanying us from Islamabad. The tour was to depart from Swat. So we reached Swat in night. The dinner was the usual chicken karahi though hotel owner insisted for mutton but as Lahoris, we were too afraid that someone might serve us donkey meat in the name of mutton. We had a nice sleep in a hotel alongside river swat. Swat River in summer nights is the most melodious thing to hear. When the full moon rises, swat valley turns into a mythical place, an opera where the main performers are moon and river swat.

River Swat in morning.

Day 1: The midnight traffic jam at Lawari Pass

After breakfast, we started the journey to Chitral from Swat in a Toyota Hiace and a Jeep. There were around twenty people in the group. In group tours, people take some time to start interacting with other participants. But I believe every human emits his aura. The people with matching auras will ultimately attract each other. The journey started quite peacefully and after crossing Dir district, we reached the start of the notorious Lawari Pass connecting Chitral and Dir. Lawari Pass is very famous for its zigzags and 50 turns. Along with some other crazies, I jumped onto the roof of vehicle to have a panoramic view of surrounding areas. That was the time, we wrote down the lyrics of a new ‘Pashto’ song. The first lyric of song is “warawa ra warawa da disco kunnatey” which means to move your back like they do in disco. Let’s not discuss other lyrics of the song. Anyhow it was pretty dark when we reached the top of Lawari Pass. There was a huge traffic jam on the lawari Pass. Yes, you heard that right hundreds of people were coming from all parts of Pakistan and they were all stuck at Lawari Top. The full moon was shining on the snow-clad peaks of 3100 meters high Lawari Pass. Seeing those luminous peaks at that time of night was probably the moment of trip for me. Anyhow, we reached Chitral when it was midnight.  We had to move in 3 rooms in because the original plan was to go to Kalash Valley directly and there was no other hotel available. All night, there was a crazy kid making horrible noises and some people snorting like the jet of ‘Abhi Nanden’. Somehow the night passed but with no sleep and a headache.

Lawari Top

Day 2: The Rocky Hindukush and zigzag Roads

There is nothing worse than going to washroom and finding there is no water in the tap. That’s exactly what happened that morning. So everyone had to find a bathroom for itself. That day we felt the pain of our ‘neighbors’ and it almost had us in tears. After breakfast, we resumed the journey from Chitral to Bamburet, the main valley of Kalash People. After crossing the fertile pastures of Chitral Town, we reached Ayun Village which is last settlement before Kalash. After Ayun, the road becomes a little tricky. The driver ustad did some brilliant work in transporting us in one piece to Kalash Valleys. There was already a huge festival going on when we reached there. Hundreds of vehicles were in the valley. The young kalash men and women were dancing at the main altar of their village with hundreds of spectators from all over the world watching in awe-struck. The small kids were wearing new clothes and buying food items from stalls. The Kalash people literally take shifts to dance there. They dance from morning till night in festival days. That day I understood why world famous magazines say these people are the happiest people on Earth. In the evening time, a local graciously offered us some wine which obviously we rejected. We were staying at small hotel. Some of young fellows went on to drink that local wine and in result, that night too got spoiled. All night there was some guy crying loudly, “please someone save me I’ve a heart attack in kidney”. Obviously he had drunk a little too much and was having a terrible hangover.

Kalash Valley ! Photo by Maqssod MK


Day 3: The Main Event

After hearing all sorts of new diseases whole night, we had breakfast and everyone went on to explore the valley themselves. That was the last day of the festival and there were going to be the mega dances on that day by the locals. This festival is also the time when young people of valley chose their partners. So the excitement of youth could be easily visible from their faces. One of our friend who came to the previous year’s festival too had befriended two local women. One of the woman he called sister and the other with her ‘name’, pretty smart man. So I had to go with him to the girl’s village. I just fulfilled the guard’s duty while they both chatted for a while. The father of his other friend (the sister one) was an inspector in police so he invited us all on tea at his home. That night we went out to see some of the clearest skies and shooting some milky-way photos.

Local women dancing at the main altar.

Day 4:The last day

That was the return journey day. We packed all of our luggage and started return journey. We had a little stopover at the local police inspector’s house who invited us for tea. He had arranged a delicious tea with cookies for us and briefed us about the local culture. The people very proudly tell that they are descendants of Alexander’s Army. Kalash people are so peaceful and have one of the most unspoiled version of humanity in them. They will treat you like royals but people going there must respect their culture and values. Because of their women’s openness, some tourists try to go beyond the limits which is shame. Kalash People are one of the most beautiful ethnicities in the world. With their fair skin tones and colored eyes, one can easily say that their descendants were Europeans. Like all good things, the trip also finished but gave me some amazing friendship which are continuously growing to the present day. It was almost morning when we reached back to Islamabad where 4 assignment, 3 quizzes and a couple of presentations were waiting in the university.

That event was not arranged by us but Mountaineers Pakistan arranges group tours for the festival every year now.

Mudasser Yasin
Mudasser Yasin
Mudasser is an engineer turned social entrepreneur living in Lahore. He has a keen interest in creative writing. As a traveler and Managing Director of Mountaineers Pakistan, he writes on his travel experiences.