My Visit to KAlash

My first interaction with Kalash came from my father’s travelling photographs. He visited Kalash somewhere in 80’s. The women in black robes always gave me impression of witches of some dark side. Kalash was always been a mystery for me, the dancing of kalash girls on drum beats always brought me to unfathomable state.
Since my childhood, I have been listening sensational stories from my father about this region; lowari pass and 43 road turns, the fast winds of at lowari top, the glacier from which 40 trucks ice filled daily, the unforgettable view of Trichmir from hotel Pameer Chitral.
I always wished to visit Chitral and Kafirstan areas but could not find time due to shortage of leaves and long travelling distance. But as you might have heard, where there is Will there is a way. It has been my ambitious desire to travel around, luckily my company was bidding for a hydropower project at Shishi River near darosh so I got the opportunity to find some time to visit my dreamy place, Kalash.
We left from Ayun, the nearest town and doorway to all three valleys of Kalash. Further to that the valley was quite close and mountains were of medium height. The fast river flowing along the road which locals called “ayun ka pani”. I remembered the movie, “Lost World,” and found myself entering a land of the same age. After crossing a bridge which was at junction of two Nalas, one coming from Rumbur and other from Bumberet. We headed toward Bumberet, I was mesmerized rather spelled bound when I saw first Kalasha girl walking across the street. I entered in mysterious world. There was a group of Kalasha girls veiled in white dopta coming from school. It was interesting and surprising to see the culture is mixing.
We hired rooms in Benazir hotel. There is PTDC and few other good hotels as well. PTDC and other hotels lawns were decorated with colorful roses. After taking tea we decided to explore this mysterious land. We asked our driver to take us to the ending point of the valley. There was a small market consisting of few shops. Mainly the shops are of Handicrafts and Kalasha Craftsmanship’s. I saw two old kalasha sisters owner of small handicraft shop. Their names were, “Murghi” and Sheena. “Murghi” son was owner of Jinah hotel at beginning of valley. I sat with Murghi, she was above 70 and was very friendly. I offered her cold drinks and we start communicating. She told that recently one of her son and daughter were converted into Islam and mentioned her husband death with a sigh of grief. Her source of income was a small land and that shop. During our conversation an old men sit near to us. I asked from, “Murghi” who is he? She told, he is a Nooristani living in mountains near to afghan border. She asked one question repeatedly, ‘’waha kaisa mosam hota ha”. I replied her, “waha bhot udas mosam hota ha”. She smiled and it is unforgettable for me. During my all conversation I felt as I was sitting with my some old relatives
We met with a group of lahorites who reached there a day before , one of the group member was not enjoying the weather rather arguing with others and saying, “is sa acha tha ka Lahore ki nahar ma chalang laga du, na ya picture khanchana dati ha aur na baat”.

My two fellow colleagues were tired and they were more interested in finding some place to eat. Meanwhile I found a local guide to whom I gave nominal money and he took me to the other side of river. In front, open coffins with visible bones were spread around in the cemetery. The Kalash do not bury the dead and their funeral rituals are just as distinctive. The deceased are not mourned. Their bodies are instead propped up for display at the Jestak Temple which is named after the goddess who protects pregnant women, marriage and family. Family members visit and scribe images of the deceased with coal on the temple walls. Fresh milk is offered up on an alter to the goddess in order to protect the family during this period.
I took few pictures and started to move back suddenly another kalashi boy reached there and he started arguing with my guide that foreigners are not allowed here, why he brought me here. My guide got confused and I was feeling guilty. I crossed the bridge and reached near to my friends. They questioned me from where I was coming I smiled and answered watching river. There was small stall of “Daal Chawal” there and my colleagues were already eating from there. The cook was from Sialkot. I could not eat more than one spoon, it cannot be described more because I just remembered vomiting after itL.
Some people think the Kalasha origins were linked with nooristan, few thought they are Indian’s and some believe they were part of Alexander army left there. At least they got some benefit from Greek Government they constructed schools for Kalasha children and did some efforts to preserve their culture as well.
We again reached hotel and hired a new local guide; he took us to another graveyard but of small dimension as I saw before. It was almost evening, the surrounding of graveyard got enigmatic; I strongly sensed that there was something between us but not visible to our eyes. Might be a devil sent by Kalasha so that we run way without entering to their places. There was a new dead body present in graveyard and smell coming out of it was indescribable making our mind propel. We entered their surrounding area two wooden statues of same shape placed at entrance. The guide told us these protected the residents from strangers and spells. We entered the mysterious world, the streets were vacant and after seeing us the Kalasha turned away or move inside their houses I did not know why but they were afraid for mixing with us. It might be possible that they are considering us aliens who might ruin their culture and civilization.
In start of entrance there was a building made of rocks and wood, on its entrance there was a notice board highlighting not to touch the walls or door and please respect and protect kalasha culture. That building was for women’s who are pregnant are having menses cycle.
There was group of 4 to 8 years age of kalasha children come across. They asked, “paisa da.” I gave all small currency and coins which I had at that time. One more boy joined the group and asked for the same I told ‘’beta I don’t have ‘’ and starting to move forward that boy suddenly took my wallet out of trousers and wanted to escape but I grasp him. I did not say anything to him except moving forward.
Then our guide took us to a home of an old kalasha woman. It was a three story house. He served us with water in clean glasses. I was confused when she said, “rang wala pani be ha”. Our guide was smiling it was offer of some beer or alcohol. I refused with smile. I checked the inside of room it was dark inside, floor was carpeted on center there was cabinet decorated with glasses and dishes. There was a strange type of smell inside and it’s not easy for me to breathe. On entrance of room there was two small hand made drawings. It was for some protection. The most astonishing aspect of this tribe is the working relationship between Kalasha men and women. The tribe does not separate between male and female or shun contact between the sexes. The women do not hide their faces. Instead they dance in the open, drink wine and express themselves freely. They also have a lot of social freedom including marriage-by-elopement even if they are already married. This is one of their customs – the prospective husband has to pay double dowry to the ex-husband. Unlike most other villages in Pakistan, Kalasha women are active members of the governing body and play a role in decision making. They tend the fields in the morning, cook, make wine in the evenings and embroider intricate designs on clothes and accessories to be sold in their handicraft stores. It appeared to me that the women ran the community. Men on the other hand, were seen chatting with others, taking care of the children or with cattle in the hills.
My friends were extremely tired; in fact it was me who drag them there. They sat on a place and asked me to see the area. I just entered the next street alone and was stunned in fact spell bound; there was a fairy in front of me with blue eyes, the fairy of witch land. She was simple, delicate long haired out of this world. I could not move my eyes away from her. She was very serious having no smile and impression on face. She suddenly speaks and asked silently to come and see her shop. She had a small kalashi craftsmanship shop. I did not have any interest in it I was only looking at her eyes. I asked her can I took a photo she did not answer. I did not take the photo but saved it in my mind for ever. Her name was Gulbibi and I can bet that she was prettier then million roses. I will visit kalash again only to see her that was the promise I did with myself when I saw her eyes last time.
There was one thing spinning in my mind at that time. My father is 70 years of age. He was able to visit this place only once in his life time and he still remembered it as he visited it yesterday. It might be same for me too. So I wanted to take all the memories of all the secrets which I have to remember rest of my life.
The next place we visited was Rikhinyi. This place has a big room where men, women, and children altogether perform certain traditions. Every clan makes his own temple. The material to make a temple is gathered by the people who are making a temple for themselves. When the temple gets completed; the dedication ceremony takes place. This ceremony is called “Hand sarik” which mean, “to assemble in the temple”. Everybody is invited in the custom; people from all clans, valleys and ages. When the people from different clans and villages or valleys come to celebrate the ceremony a custom called “dur ghriik” which means to block the door in order to stop people entering the new temple. The guests struggle to get in because the door is blocked by the strongest people in the clan. There was a big fire made under the hole in the roof for exhaust. Sometimes people jump inside the temple from the top saving them from the fire. When someone from the guest clan enters the temple he just beat the musical instrument inside there and then the blockage is released. My friends got some energy and joined me at front of this building. No one was willing to enter inside except the guide and me. I entered and took few pictures.
We move out and it was almost dark, we also found two wooden statues placed outside the locality but they were of different type as we saw at start. My friends were extremely tired and on my mind there was only one thing spinning which I mentioned above that this might be my only day /night in kalash and I have to take all the memories with me. My friends slept at 7:30 pm in hotel rooms and I was in no mood to sleep too early. I took my camera and tripod and asked a local kitchen boy who is chokidar at night that I am going to hillside please don’t lock the gate. That guy spent thirteen years in Lahore working there. He smiled and asked, “ bhi jan lahorion ko chen nae ha”. I took few night shots of stars and hotel from there. It was mysterious but I still able to spent two hour sitting alone watching sky mountains and moreover absorbing the memories of this mysterious land for my rest of life………….

It’s a personal opinion a wish; that the culture of Kalasha be remain same. It should not be mixed with others and one last desire a Spanish Zoologist Jordi Federico Magraner was resting in local in chitral for 15 year before his death in search of, “snow man”. He was also buried there. I saw his grave in kalasha graveyard. I wished to spent my last years of life here but my search is solitude……………..

Posted by Ali Usman Baig Blogspot (Documenting Pakistan) on 2013-07-03 11:48:05

Tagged: , kalash , kafirstan , Chitral , culture , civilization , pakistan , love

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