Kafir Kalash – a people of the lost civilization

Obscured by high mountains and across the treacherous muddy tracks, there live a people up in the north of Pakistan, who do not even know who they are or from where they came to live a life of isolation – yet maintain and protect their beliefs, their ideology and way of living. Their ancestry is enveloped in mystery and has always remained a subject of controversy. A legend says that five soldiers of the legions of Alexander of Macedonia settled in Chitral and are the progenitors of the Kafir-Kalash.
Between the town of Drosh and Chitral city, a track turn to the left from village of Ayun on Kunar river to the Kalash Valley, where these strange yet attractive people live in three villages of Rukmu, Mumret and Biriu (called Rambur, Bumburet and Birir in local Kalashi language). The present population of the Kafir Kalash is approximately 3,000. However, after living in obscurity for long, their children are now studying in local schools, but do not move out to seek other avenues of livelihood and continue to cling to their age old traditions and customs.
The villages are situated on the southern face of the hillside about 50-100 meters above the river. This protects them from invaders and the floods in summer, and at the same time helps to get sunshine during the winter. The snow that lies on the bottom of the ravine and in the shade do not melt until spring. In summer to avoid the sun, some people live in a second house built on the opposite side of the river. The Kalash Valleys have extensive forests of Holly-Oak and Himalayan cedar. Walnut, Apricot, Apple, Pear and Mulberry trees abound near the villages.

While Kalash men wear ordinary shalwar kameez (the loose long shirt and trousers) as do most of the Pakistanis, the Kalash women wear five large braids of and the ‘Cheo’, a black woolen homespun dress, red-beaded necklaces by the dozen, and an exceptional head piece (shaped differently in each valley) covered in cowry shells, beads and trinkets that flow down their back. For their black robes, the Kalash are sometimes referred to as the “Wearers of the Black Robes”. Kalash means black in their language.

Herein under is a pictorial representation of Kalash people, their fetivals and music.
Cheelim Jusht Festival 2010 - Kalash
Cheelim Jusht Festival 2010 – Kalash by Iqbal Khatri (Bumburet Valley of Kalash, Chitral, Pakistan)
Spring is welcomed to the valleys with girls singing and dancing on the roofs for the Kirik Pushik, the festival of the first flower blooming. In spring women are allowed to enter the restricted upper valleys, with the Siu Wajik rite, in which a girl crushes three walnuts as an offering on the boundary bridge. Joshi, the main spring festival, is held in May. All the houses and the temple of the goddess Jeshtak are decorated with walnut branches and flowers, and milk is distributed to all the villagers.
Colours of Kalash Valley
Colours of Kalash Valley by Iqbal Khatri
Kalashi Girl
Kalashi Girl by Max Loxton
Kalash Girls in Rumbur, Chitral, Pakistan - June 2006
Kalash Girls in Rumbur, Chitral, Pakistan – June 2006 by SaffyH – Minsmere
A Kalash Cherub, Hindukush, Kalash valleys
A Kalash Cherub, Hindukush, Kalash valleys by imranthetrekker
Kalasha. (people with black robe).
Kalasha. (people with black robe). by Nadeem Khawar
How is my Baby now ?
How is my Baby now ? by Iqbal Khatri
Uncle of the deceased guy
Uncle of the deceased guy by imranthetrekker
Traditional Hip Hop
Traditional Hip Hop by ?§m?
Kalash sisters - Pakistan
Kalash sisters – Pakistan by hongkiu
Kalash Girls, Chitral (Pakistan)
Kalash Girls, Chitral (Pakistan) by Amir Mukhtar Mughal
azChitral3kalashatrio1AAA
Three Kalash girls by jitenshaman
Very Old Women in Kalash
Very Old Women in Kalash by Gulraiz Ghori
Kalash Spring festival in Hindukush by imranthetrekker
dark green eyes pakistan kalash girl
dark green eyes Pakistan kalash girl by Blue_agava
Kalash
Kalash by Jonny Cash Money
The music of Kalash, Hindukush, Chitral
This footage is shot while a Kalash woman was playing flute and it is so sweet, when one looks at the ambience around her and the music.
Read more about Kafir Kalash and their customs and traditions at: Kalash Valley where fairies dance and sing (Pakistanpaedia)

Scaling Everest without oxygen

When I wrote a post about two Pakistanis’ desire to scale the Mt Everest or the Mt Chomolungma as the Chinese call it, I was rather skeptical. And then when as days went by and there was no news, I thought my fears to be right. But that was not to be so. On 11th May, the dream of one of the two Pakistanis came true when he finally stood at the top of the world.

Hassan Sidhpara had his dream of reaching at the top of the world. What makes his climb special and unique is that he did it without oxygen – something that requires extreme guts and very high standard of physical fitness as oxygen is so thin at Mt Everest that is is extremely difficult to breathe. He became the second Pakistani to have achieved this honour, Nazir Sabir being the first who scaled Everest on 17th May 2000.

The expedition was sponsored by the Alpine Club of Pakistan and had the patronage of the president of Pakistan. The team comprising of three climbers left for Nepal in the last week of March earlier this year and established their base camp III at 7,200 metres overlooked by the gigantic Everest.

The other two members of the team, Mohammad Sadiq and Ghulam Muhammad Faisal could not materialize their dream of scaling Everest. But a determined Hassan from Baltistan province of Pakistan continued despite all odds against him and finally scaled the highest peak of the world at stood at 8,848 metre. Standing by the Pakistani national flag he hoisted atop the peak, Hassan Sidhpara had created a world record for not using oxygen for his climb to the top of the world.

Related:
Hassan conquers Mount Everest with no oxygen kit
Conquering Everest – dream of two Pakistani brothers

Originally posted at JahoJalal

Lahore – the showcase of Mogul Architecture

I love Lahore not because I was born in Lahore, but for many other reasons as well. I love Lahore for the warmth of hospitality of its people, its richness in diverse architecture, culture and traditions. A city which has been seat of governments of the Moguls, Siks and the British. Located on the famous Grand Trunk Road, a city once skirted by the River Ravi and bordering India on the other end, stands and thrives majestically every second, minute, hour and day of the one’s life.

Talking of architecture, the city is rightly called the showcase of Mogul architecture as one finds remains of Mogul architecture wherever one tours in Lahore. The Badshahi Mosque, the Shahi Qilla (Lahore Fort), the Shalimar Gardens, the Mosque of Wazir Khan and Chouburji (building with four towers) are some of the major marvels of Mogul architecture. But beside these are countless number of small buildings that add to the galore and grandeur of the city of Lahore.

One has to be there in Lahore to enjoy and feel the richness of heritage that Lahore possesses since countless centuries.

View some glimpses of the Mogul architecture at JahoJalal. The details of these can be read in the Landmarks section of my website Pakistanpaedia.

Peace return to Malam Jabba – the Ski Resort

Malam Jabba – the biggest ski resort in Pakistan has seen its good days and bad days. Good days when it was a thriving ski resort for the skiing enthusiasts of Pakistan and even attracted enthusiast from abroad. Located in the Karakoram mountain range and some 40 km from the town of Saidu Sharif in the Swat Valley, the resort was established due to joint efforts of the governments of Pakistan and Austria. Besides ski slope of about 800m with the highest point of the slope 2804m (9200 ft) above sea level, the Malam Jabba Ski Resort was equipped with modern facilities including roller/ice-skating rinks, chair lifts, skiing platforms, telephones and snow clearing equipment. The Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation had a beautiful hotel constructed at the foot of the ski slopes.

The bad news came when the ski resort was badly damaged during 2008 when militants took control of the area. After Pakistan Army’s successful operation, and control over the area, the resort is under repair and renovation and is thus closed for the tourists for now.

And the good news again is that the resort has been restored and a 5-days peaceful skiing gala is being organized by the PaRRSA (the Provincial Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority) of the Khyber Pakhtunkwa province from 26-30 January 2011. It may be mentioned here that after cleansing the area from militancy by the Pakistan army, an “Aman Mela (Peace Fair)” was held in Swat in July last year, which attracted over 40,00 thousand tourists beside a huge participation by the locals.

Besides being a tourist and skiing resort, Malam Jabba also assumes significance from the fact that there are to Buddhists stupas and six monasteries that are located close by the resort. These monasteries dating back to some 2,000 years are also an added tourist attraction for the skiers and spectators.

Related Reading: Skiing in Pakistan (Hobby Shobby)
Originally posted at The Fire Within

Chitramas – the Kalash Winter Festival

Although Christmas has some resemblance with the word Chitramas, but the latter is celebrated in a very remote area of the world in the Chitral Valley of Pakistan. Chitramas or Chaumos is the winter festival of the Kafir Kalash people living in three valleys of Bumburate, Birir and Rumbur in the Chitral. The festival is presently being celebrated by these indigenous people of unknown origin, which will terminate on 22 December. Chitramas festival is considered the most important festivals of Kalash people from their spiritual point of view.

The Chitramas festivities are held to mark the end of the previous year’s harvest and fieldwork. Thereafter, the month of Chawmos Mastruk of the New Year dawns. The festival thus is a sort of saying goodbye to the previous year and welcoming the new year. The festivities include dancing, lively music and sacrificing goats. The Kalash slaughter their goats, mostly one goat per adult man or woman, on the concluding day of the festival. The festival also gains importance for the reason that the Kalash believe that god Balimain visits its subjects during the festival. Besides the many festivities, food sacrifices are offered at the clans’ Jeshtak shrines, dedicated to the ancestors.

However, some men and women volunteer to seclude themselves from the others and remain confined in a cattle house for the duration of the weeklong festival. This tradition of seclusion is called Autik, which simply means “to get secluded.” These people eat the meat of the slaughtered goats, drink and pass time in merrymaking. While these people are celebrating in seclusion, care is taken that no outsiders sees them, lest they get polluted.

The Kalash children go up to the mountain, where they divide into boys and girls, and respectively make a big bonfire. After singing songs for some time the fire will be extinguished and then the two groups will compete with each other for the size of the smoke that rises up in the air. Then they all go down the mountain and return to the village singing ” songs of Sarazari” carrying branches cut down from the mountain top. The elders will be waiting chanting songs in the village.

The festivities don’t get mar by the heavy snowfall at this time of the year in the Chitral valley. However, in case the sun shines, it adds colours and joy to the Kalash people. If you happen to be visiting Pakistan next year, do plan to visit Chitral and join the Kalash people in their festival of Chitramas – which at least by its name won’t let you feel missing the Christmas celebrations.

Related Reading: The Kalash Valley – where fairies dance and sing (Pakistanpaedia)

The Migratory Guests Arrive

I have added another two months to the famous movie Come September’s title and made it Come November – a month that brings us our guests from the frozen and freezing frontiers of Siberia, Central Asian Republics and Mongolia. Yes I am talking of the thousands and thousands of the migratory birds that evade the sever winter conditions of their natural habitat and come to rather lesser cold climate of Pakistan. We will be host to these beautiful birds till March-April, when they again fly back to their homes when it is relatively warm out there.

One of these birds is the Houbara Bustard – a majestic bird on the verge of extinction which along with others flies from faraway lands, as far as 5000-6000 kilometres from Central Asian Republics and even China, and land in a numerous wetlands stretched from D I Khan in the north, Ucchali in the Salt Range to down south in the Cholistan Desert. These Bustards fly at an amazing speed and make to Pakistan in just about 5-7 days.

With the arrival of Houbara Bustard, the rich and famous from the Gulf States also start to arrive into Pakistan with their teams of falcons, specially trained to hunt the bustards while in flight. I was once deputed to accompany a high profile royal dignitary who had come for the Bustard hunting. They had camped in general area Jhampir near Thatha in the Sind province. Each day they would go out with their falcons and come back with a few hunted Houbara Bustards.

Besides Houbara Bustards, Flamingos, Swans and many other species of birds like the Marbled Teal, White-headed Duck, Eurasian Spoonbill, Dalmatian Pelican throng the wetlands in Pakistan. The migratory birds’ arrival in Pakistan provides an opportunity for the bird watchers to flock the wetlands and enjoy their presence amongst themselves. Once on a reconnaissance in the areas south of Rahim Yar Khan, I also got a chance of bird watching of a large flock of migratory birds perched on an artificial lake in Sandh and Gabbar villages inside the desert. Once they took off, it was a breathtaking lifetime scene to watch them flying, rather floating against the blue sky majestically. It was here that I saw black swans flying overhead me with their grace, charm and majesty.

For bird watchers, the time is now to watch these beautiful guests of our perched in almost all wetlands of Pakistan.

Related Reading: Bird Watching in Pakistan (Pakistanpaedia)

Originally post at JahoJalal

Breakfast Morning in Islamabad

….. but people were there were busy eating it, mostly with hot doodh patti. There was a group of tourists also sitting and enjoying their parathas heavy breakfast with tea (my cellular phone camera came handy to preserve the moment). I was later told by a friend (Shaun D Metcalfe) when I shared the same photo at Flickr that these were French cyclists touring Pakistan, whom he met in Gilgit a month ago. And I am sure they must have been enjoying this heavenly bread to their entirety. I envied them as I did not have room for the paratha shot… Read Full Post at: Breakfast morning in Islamabad.

13000 Kilometres dash to China in a Driverless Car

When Karl Benz, Henry Ford and John W Lambert were making headlines in the previous century in the field of newly born auto industry, they would have never even in their wildest dreams would have imagined that one day the vehicles will be running without fuel and their drivers. Today, the driverless cars are making the same headlines as was done more than a hundred years ago. 

The 13000 kilometers long accident free journey of four solar powered driverless vehicles from Italy to China is a landmark in the auto industry. This reminds of the flying cars in the film “Back to the Future” and also makes it possible someday when we would be flying and “piloting” cars instead of driving.

Read Full Article at: Driverless Cars – An innovative direction for Auto Industry

27th September each year is celebrated since 1980 as the World Tourism Day under the auspices of United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The purpose of this day is to raise awareness on the role of tourism within the international community and to demonstrate how it affects social, cultural, political and economic values worldwide. This year the theme for the day is “Tourism –Celebrating Biodiversity.” Official celebrations will be hosted by China on 27 September, with many other events taking place around the world, including the 30th anniversary celebration of the establishment of the UNWTO.

The theme selected for this year would help focus on the world’s cultural wealth and role of the tourism industry in revitalizing local traditions and making them flourish as these cross other cultures. The local customs and traditions are generally reflective in the languages, food, architecture, religion, attire and even the natural environment.

Like all other countries, the culture and traditions of Pakistan are unique, attractive and awe inspiring. These are a fine blend of our millennium old cultural heritage stemming from the Mehrgarh Civilization, which as old as 9000-7000 BC, and the following Moenjodaro, Kot diji, Taxila and Gandhara civilizations. With the arrival of Islam in the 7th century and the incursions from the North by the Mongols, Turks, Afghans and the Moguls, Pakistan has become a showcase window of the cumulative effect of all these civilizations, religion and empires.

The city of Lahore is rich in its cultural heritage while remains of Mehrgarh (Balochistan), Moenjodaro and Kot Diji (Sind), Taxila and Harrapa (Punjab) and Rehman Dheri and Buddhist remains (Khyber Pakhtunkwa) provide an insight into our rich cultural heritage. The customs and traditions of Pakistan are diverse in nature and each province has its own peculiar traditions that are found in their way of life, food, languages, music, festivals and literature.

Pakistan is also a haven of natural wonders and landscapes. From the snow covered pinnacles of the north, that include the K2 (the second highest mountain after Mt Everest) and many other peaks that top in the world listing, lakes with picturesque view. The lush green Deosai Plains are the highest plains in the world. Punjab offers vast green pastures, while Sind and Balochistan have wide tracts of desert and semi desert terrain. Near Ziarat (Balochistan) one finds the second largest Juniper Forest of the world with trees as old as 5000-7000 years. The Arabian Sea that skirts the 1200 kilometres coastline of Pakistan along Balochistan dn Sind provinces is home to still virgin beaches. The mangrove forests in Sind are unique in the world.

Pakistan is also home to some of the endangered species like the Snow Leopard, the Marco polo Sheep, Markhor, Hooubara Bustard, the Himalayan Brown Bears and the Blind Indus Dolphins. Besides Pakistan attracts millions of migratory birds from around the world each year in search of warm waters to its countless wetlands and lakes and is an ideal place for the bird watchers.

The people of Pakistan are extremely simple, hearty and hospitable. Those who venture out to Pakistan carry back pleasant memories of love and care by their Pakistani hosts. It’s fun to be in Pakistan, despite many misconceptions.

Related Reading: Pakistanpaedia (the mini pedia of Pakistan)

Gilgit – the China Town of Pakistan

It was awhile ago that I along with my family decided to see Khunjrab Pass – it was a rather hasty decision and hence we did not cater for the hurdles en route and the total length of journey and the leave that I have. And we just left by road. Although, Gilgit is connected by air with Islamabad but due to uncertain weather, road travel is much preferred. Though some tourists choose to travel Gilgit by air since the road travel between Islamabad and Gilgit by Karakoram Highway takes nearly 18 hours, whereas the air travel takes a mere 45-50 minutes. 

We took the N-5 and stayed a night at Abottabad. Early next morning we reached Mansehra and from there we headed towards Pattan – where a Road Maintenance Battalion of the Frontier Works Organization is stationed (the unit is responsible for the repair/maintenance of the Karakoram Highway – the KKH).  Next morning our journey resumed and soon we were on the right bank of the roaring Indus river with its gushy muddy water ( far different from its rather bluish water at Attock). At Thakot, we crossed Indus and now we started moving on the left of the river. The small town en route were Chilas, Dasu, Besham.

Near Gilgit, the KKH branches off and continues to head towards Khunjrab Pass through Hunza (Karimabad) and Sost. We finally reached Gilgit in the evening – which is the hub of various valleys to the North Hunza and China. To the South, Diamar, Kohistan and Swat, to the East Skardu and Kashmir, and to the West Ghezir and Chitral.  Here we were told that the air service had been suspended for the last five days and while thanking our stars for choosing to travel by road, we had a pity on tourists stranded for days altogether in hotels and messes.

The Gilgit bazaars are infested with Chinese good, decoration pieces, cloth and what not – it looked like a mini China Town. While my wife got busy in looking for Chinese cloth, we window-shopped for Chinese decoration pieces and carpets. By the time we came back, we had loads of small decoration pieces and naturally ladies garments.

There is much to be seen other than Chinese stuff in and around Gilgit. There is a monument to commemorate the fact that the boy scouts of Gilgit were the spark that set the flame in the battle between Pakistan and India for supremacy over Kashmir.  Two miles out of town there are a pair of Buddha’s carved in to a high rock. They go back to the 5-th century. From where we parked our car, the path up to the rocks was a nice hike – and the carving looked really awesome. I admired those who did this.

One bright sunny day morning, we kicked off towards Khunjrab Top – but luck was not in our favour. Near Hunza, we were told that the road ahead was blocked and wont be open for days. So the trip ended in a mere flop and we could only visit Karimabad and the Baltit Fort – something one mustn’t miss when in Gilgit. This wooden fort is a class of its own. The fort is said to date back around 700 years. The architectural style is a clear indication of Tibetan influence in Baltistan at the time. The Fort is also listed as one of the UNO sponsored world heritage architecture. On our way back, we stopped to eat some of the most delicious apricots in the world – fresh from the apricot gardens. When we asked the garden owner to pack us a few kilos as souvenir for relatives back home, he told us that those apricots were so delicate that they would not withstand the heat even out of Gilgit – still we insisted and true to his words, those melt hardly a few hours out of Gilgit.

The best lunch that I ever had was at a  place from where the mighty Raka Poshi is seen rising from the ground and reaching its pinnacle. The Raka Poshi View Hotel was a small hutment but served us sizzling hot “parathas” with scrambled eggs and hot tea. A feast I would always cherish.

The beautiful valley of Naltar – some 35 kilometers to the south east of Gilgit has lush green pastures and green carpeted ground make it a jewel of the Gilgit. It is a forested (pine) village known for its wildlife and magnificent mountain scenery. It also houses the Skiing School operated by Pakistan Air Force. We were offered a helicopter ride to Naltar but having reached the helipad, we were told that due to extra load, we could not be accommodated – so a golden opportunity was missed out.

Well then we finally returned. En route we also encountered a road block due to falling rocks and had to wait for 4-5 hours till the road was cleared. Even when cleared, the road still had lot of stones and rubble. So I asked a pick up to carry may family across the bottle neck and slowly moved my car over the rubble and finally made it with lots of unhealthy noises coming from the down under. Luckily, there was no damage to the car.