Youth times Complete Tour Guide to the Magnificent Kalash Valley Pakistan is a place that has mountains and sea, all four seasons, city and countryside, multiple cultures and traditions to offer. It was awarded the title of the best holiday destination by a US-based luxury travel magazine, Conde Nast Traveller after evaluating the country on a number of factors – including tourism policies, ease of travel, and what a country has to offer in terms of traditions and scenic beauty. Kalash Valley in Pakistan is one of those beautiful places that offer a mixture of beauty, culture and traditions, festivals, and of course, the hospitality of locals.
LOCATION OF KALASH VALLEY
Located among the majestic green mountains, Kalash Valley, also known as ‘Kalasha Valley’, resides in the Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The residents of Kalash, known as Kalashi or Kalasha, are scattered in three different valleys namely Bumburet, Rumbur, and Birir, which are collectively known as Kalash Valley.
Enriched with culture and their own traditional values, the total population of Kalash Valley is somewhere between 4000 and 5000.
Surrounded by the mighty Hindukush mountain range, Kalash valley is traditionally apart from the country’s predominant religion Islam due to its remote location. Foreign as well as domestic tourists visit the scenic destination not just because of its vibrant culture but also because of the beautiful mountains that surround this place and the picturesque views one gets to see in the valley.
The three towns in the valley have their own attractions for the tourists.
Compared to the other two valleys, Bumburet is the biggest valley of Kalash. It is also considered the commercial hub of the area. There are several places to visit in this valley through the Kalashi culture and traditions are not as dominant. The population is a mixture of Muslims and Kalathas.
It is the mid-level valley comprising small villages that are less developed as compared to Bumburet, though the population majority is Kalashas. The town is more famous with foreign tourists but lacks modern facilities.
In Birir valley, a wide majority of the residents are purely Kalashas with the rituals and traditions closest to the original dwellers, unlike Bumburet. Since it is further away from the Ayun and Chitral, the facilities in the valley are very minimal. However, one can stay in the guest rooms made in the houses of residents.
HISTORY OF KALASH
The nearly 4000 to 5000 Kalashis living in the Hindukush mountain range near the border with Afghanistan are still a mystery to the world with respect to their origin. One of the very few theories that hold some significance is that they are the descendants of Alexander the Great and his army. While there are several other theories to discuss, this one is considered the most probable about these blue-eyed people.
Another set of theorists claim the residents of Kalash are immigrants who migrated from another land.
While these claims and theories remain unproven, the Kalash culture is safeguarded by UNESCO as it has been added to the Intangible Culture Heritage (ICH). The purpose of adding it to the list was that the younger population was not well aware of their customs and traditions. In order to keep it from becoming extinct, the safeguarding plan was also required by the state party which involved huge participation of the local community.
SEASONAL KALASH VALLEY FESTIVALS
As beautiful and colorful as Kalash is, one of the factors behinds it’s tourist attraction is its festivals. While the festivals in Kalash Valley are celebrated throughout the year at different times, the most famous out of them are:
CHILAM JOSHI FESTIVAL
Chilam Joshi, which is widely known around the world, is celebrated in the month of May (13th-16th) to mark the arrival of spring. This is the busiest and most crowded time in the valley where there is hardly a spare room to be rented. Women of the Kalash valley dress up in their traditional black clothes, embroidered heavily with colorful threads, and accessorize themselves. The celebrations include worshipping God and thanking the spring season, dancing, and socializing. One of the most fascinating traditions is men and women choosing their future spouses during the dances. The festival continues for a period of three days and it feels exactly like being in a movie.
Uchal festival is held in August of every year, where cheese from the pastures is brought and celebrated. Singing and dancing to folk songs once again makes it charming to the tourists.
Choimus is celebrated in winter just two weeks before the winter solstice.
Getting to know Kalashis first hand during these festivals is an experience one never forgets and is a true highlight of the trip.
PLACES TO VISIT IN KALASH VALLEY
As soon as you enter the first valley in Kalash, Bumburet, decent hotels, and guest houses can be found for your stay. If the tourist wants to stay with the locals, they can find great hospitality in guest rooms of local houses.
In Bumburet, there are three villages that can be explored by foot or by car. However, if you walk through them you can see the actual beauty of the place. One of the important landmarks from a tourist’s point of view is their old graveyard. The specialty of the graveyard is that the people of Kalash used to leave the dead bodies of their loved ones in the open along with their personal belongings, including their beds, weapons, and even jewelry. Another important spot in Bumburet is the museum, where they have objects on display depicting the cultural heritage of the beautiful valley.
Another interesting place to visit there is “Bashali,” where women go to “get pure” usually after childbirth.
For the ones visiting the place for the first time, consider asking for a tour guide who is a native of Kalash and can help take you on a complete tour of the valley. They usually brief you about the important landmarks and significance of various places in the area. In the end, guides take you to the market where they order special walnut bread that they usually eat during festivals.
HOW TO REACH KALASH VALLEY?
The tourists usually visit Kalash Valley on their own conveyance by road. However, tourists coming from Islamabad to Kalash can also book a flight from the federal capital and reach Chitral from where they can rent a car or a jeep. The flight from Islamabad to Chitral is weather dependent, so most of the foreign or local travelers prefer going by road.
If you don’t have your conveyance, you can book a Daewoo that will drop you at Batkhela. From there, you can either book a car with an experienced driver or leave for Timargara where there is a bus stand and readily available private cars for rent.
Once you depart from Timargara, the journey full of views begins. Tourists cross the mountains using the Lowari Tunnel, which is about 8.5 kilometers long and connects Dir with Chitral.
The tourism policies have been made better to encourage travelers to visit the northern beauty of Pakistan. In recent years, many foreign tourists and vloggers have visited Kalash Valley to enjoy their enriched customs and traditions during the festivals. Foreign tourists need to get registered at the police check post, though they can easily wander in the valley and explore different places without any hassle.