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)


11 years old boy predicts his own death

Coincidences are very rare and one would not know of their innocence turning true and tragic one day. Here in this case, it was only two days before that a young promising boy of 11 years wrote about a car accident that he actually met two days after. Perhaps his essay on car accident would have gone unnoticed had what he written not come true.

Here is how it happened. An 11 year old boy Asfandyar of Rawalpindi Pakistan wrote an essay on car accident in his school and “fabricated” a scene in which he was hit by car and taken to the hospital in an ambulance wailing sirens. This was just another essay school children write to dramatize and make it sound different. Perhaps this essay was different as it was to become reality two days later.

On Sunday the 5th of December, young Asfandyar along with his father went to Bahria Town Rawalpindi to witness a drag car race organized by the housing scheme owners. Two cars were participating driven by youngsters. Since this kind of event had not taken place earlier of cars speeding in excess of 200 kmph, no worthwhile security and safety arrangements were put in place by the organizers. The spectators merely stood on both sides of the roads to witness the exciting event.

The race started and as one of the drivers was changing over to the hyper speed, he lost control of the car and his car skidded off the road and ripped through many spectators standing there. It killed five people, including the young Asfandyar and his father. The boy died in the car accident as he had predicted two days earlier.
The scars left by his death would take a long time to heal, but his coincidental death leaves others speechless and baffled. But strange are the ways of Nature. Sometimes it gives forewarnings of an impending trauma or disaster, which only innocents like children can read and understand.

Watch video of the accident and excerpt from Asfandyar’s essay
The post first published

at The Fire Within (1o December 2010)

Pakistan is Asian Hockey Champion

Pakistan beat Malaysia 2-0 in the Asian Games Hockey finals to bag yet another gold medal for Pakistan. In fact this gold has been awaited for the last 20 years when Pakistan won the gold in 1994 Asiad in Beijing. This time too China brings good luck to Pakistan.
Today Pakistan also won gold in squash team event by beating Malaysia. So in a day Pakistan beat Malaysia twice and both times filled their bags with gold. Pakistani girls also won gold in the women cricket earlier in the ongoing Asian Games. Pakistan got lucky as McKenna did in the final scene of the epic movie McKenna’s Gold.
Read full post at jahojalal

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

Where have the forests gone?

Since our childhood we have been told that of the total area of Pakistan, 4.5% is under forests, while for any country to have meaningful green cover, it should be around 25%. Well to start with we have been racing against an odd of some 21.5% for which every year millions and millions of saplings are planted by the forest department, but the area still remained 4.5% even after decades of forestation. This is worrisome as one wonders where these billions of planted saplings have gone. Didn’t even a smaller percentage took roots and turned into tree to add to the already scarce percentage of 4.5?

I got a clue to the mystery when I was assigned to carry out forestation on a given 200 acres in an area close to Lahore on the northern side of River Ravi. Before going to the area, I went to the Chief Conservative Punjab for a briefing and was told that the Forest Department had already planted a forest in the area some five years ago and I was only to plug the empty spaces, “if any.” Happy that my task was made simpler courtesy the Forest Department; I went to the area adjacent to a village called Bansi Nagar.

When I reached the area, to my utter horror I saw not even a semblance of forest. Instead the entire area was covered with thick thorny jungle muskets, which were so dense that it was difficult to drive my jeep through (rather I got two of tyres punctured). When I enquired from the local landlord, he showed his total ignorance about any such move by the Forest Department. So that is how got started.

My entire outfit was put on the task of clearing the jungle muskets with the help of dozers obtained from the Forest Department. It took us quite a while to remove the thick jungle of muskets and would daily encounter 5-10 feet long deadly snakes that my men used to kill. Finally we cleared the area, leveled it, make water channels, and dug holes for the saplings of eucalyptus. We also installed a dozen of water pumps for watering the saplings. It took us some three months to finally plant a forest, which still stands with trees reaching some 50-60 feet by now. And is that was not. While by and by we got to know the area, we were told that a sizeable area of the forest land was illegally occupied by an influential landlord and was using it for cultivation. It was with lot of effort that we got the said land vacated and brought inside our jurisdiction.

Having put in so much of effort myself, I find it heartbreaking when I see no change in the overall forest cover of Pakistan. Rather than increasing the area, just today I read a report which claims that the area under forestation has in fact reduced to 2.5% (1,902,000 hectares) in 2010. The report continues to divulge that between 1990 and 2000, Pakistan lost an average of 41,100 hectares of forest per year. This amounts to an average annual deforestation rate of 1.63%. Between 2000 and 2005, the rate of forest change increased by 24.4% to 2.02% per annum. In total, between 1990 and 2005, Pakistan lost 24.7% of its forest cover, or around 625,000 hectares. Measuring the total rate of habitat conversion (defined as change in forest area plus change in woodland area minus net plantation expansion) for the 1990-2005 interval, Pakistan lost 14.7% of its forest and woodland habitat.

This horrific revelation means that our future generations would start from a 2.5% area under forestation as against 4.5% of our times. This is despite the fact that billions of rupees must have been squandered away in the process. Each year the president and the prime minister are seen planting saplings to mark the beginning of the tree plantation drive (held twice a year) and the Forest Department dishes out the same quantity of saplings to God knows who by making a vow to increase the area under active forestation in Pakistan. But the ground realities are far from true than the tall claims of the Forest Department and the green cover is shrinking at a very fast pace.

 Tree plantation requires sincere and dedicated efforts and each sapling is to be cared to rear these into tall trees. But this has not been done and we are witnessing the worst disaster of our times. The recent flash flood are but one factor attributed to rapid pace of deforestation in our northern areas, specially Chitral and Swat, where people are mercilessly cutting trees for warming their houses and kitchens besides using it for furniture.

Unless we tackle the issue on war footings and strict monitoring of the affairs of the Forest Department is undertaken, I am afraid we may soon lose the remaining 2.5% forest cover as well, which will not shatter the already fragile economy of the country, but would also rob us the natural habitat of millions of bird species, some of which are already on the verge of extinction. The deforestation would also erode soil resulting into floods and burning of wood would add to more pollution and harm to environment.

Related Link/Resource Information:

Forestry in Pakistan: Deforestation (Museum of Learning)

PS: The post originally published in The Fire Within

Happy Eid ul Azha

The Muslims all over the world celebrate the Eid ul Azha (or Adha) on the 10th of last Islamic month of Zil Hajjah. Eidain or the two Eids that is the Eid ul Fitr and Eid ul Azha are the two festivities of the Muslim world which are celebrated with religious fervor and zeal. The Eid ul Fitr is celebrated just after the month of Ramadan (during the month of Ramadan, all Muslims fast for 29-30 days and abstain themselves from eating from dawn to dusk beside some other conditions) on the 1st day of the Shawal.

The word “Eid” is an Arabic word that means “festival” and Eid-ul-Azha means the Greater Festival as it is celebrated to remember the sacrifice of the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), who in obedience to the command of the Almighty took his beloved son to sacrifice in the name of his Creator. While he blindfolded himself so that his son’s blood doesn’t distract him from the supreme sacrifice, the Allah Almighty acknowledging his sacrifice and willingness to obey His command replaced Ismail with a ram. And since that day, Muslims all over the world sacrifice an animal (goat, ram, cow or even camel) to commemorate the greatest sacrifice ever.

Like many who could afford to sacrifice, I (by the grace of Almighty) also went to the animal market with my son and a friend. There were lot of buyers and animals. Every buyer was trying to purchase a good animal for a lesser cost while the sellers were trying to pocket huge profits. After lot of survey and negotiations, we finally purchased one at a cost that my pocket allowed. We took the goats home in a taxi and my sons straightaway started to feed the goat as it was our guest for one night only.

Today after the Eid prayers, we took the goat to a central place with requisite facilities and had our goat sacrificed by the butcher, which my friend had arranged. On Eid days, everyone who has the slightest knowhow of using a knife becomes a butcher and charge a very high labour to do the goat. This “butcher” happened to be a grill maker, who was doing a part time this morning. I don’t have to tell you what he did to our goat, but at least he did what he could.

The aim of sacrifice, like all other fundamentals of Islam, is to lead one to self righteousness. To explicate its purpose, Allah says in the Quran, “It is not their meat, nor their blood, that reaches Allah; it is their piety that reaches Him.”

Besides following the footsteps of the Prophet Ibrahim, the aim of sacrifice has greater meanings. Each sacrificial animal’s meat is to be divided into three portions; one is to be kept for own family, while of the other two, one part is to be distributed among the poor who cannot afford to sacrifice and thus including them in our own festivities and making them feel part of the whole. The third portion is to be distributed among the relatives, but starting from the lower level of financial well being thereby also providing them a chance to celebrate the festivities.

So back home, we divided the meat into three portions and distributed as per the teachings. While we were distributing, we were also receiving meat from friends and neighbours. So while I am writing the post after having distributed the two shares, now my doorbell is constantly ringing as others are sending in. This is the spirit of the day as everyone remembers the poor and the friends and neighbours.

Originally posted at JahoJalal

World Diabetes Day

On 14th of November today, the entire world under the auspices of the UN joins hands together to create awareness about the killing disease of diabetes. The disease has far reaching ramification not only the life of the patient, but the entire family and the society as well. As of today, more than 250 million people are suffering at the hands of this disease. There may be many more who may not be knowing that they have silently contracted the disease. The figure is likely to soar to almost 400 million (380 million to be exact) by 2025 as each year some 7 million are added to the list of the sufferers.

As I said before, it is a killer disease, which eats up some 3.8 million patients suffering from diabetes and its related side effects. A study shows that the death rate equals that of AIDS and HIV, which we otherwise think to be the number one killer disease.

While most of the patients carry Type-2 symptoms mainly caused by obesity, stress and overwork and sedentary lifestyle, Type-1 which targets the youth is rising at an alarming rate of 3% per annum. While the AIDS has yet to find a suitable drug to harness the disease, diabetes can at best be controlled but not completely cured.

I have seen my mother in law and my brother falling prey to this disease and know how it pains to one’s near and dear ones withering away by diabetes. A stage comes when no medicine seems to be working, the kidneys slowly dying and finally leading to the painful departures.

Owing to the seriousness of the disease and it impact on people and the society, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution on 20 December 2006on World Diabetes Day. The Unite for Diabetes campaign, led by the International Diabetes Federation in collaboration with the global diabetes community, has thus been able to get a UN resolution according to which 14 November has been designated as the World Diabetes Day. The day is being observed since 2007 by all members of the UN.

I also join hands with the world community to raise my voice and create awareness through this post and would appeal to everyone reading this to join the blue circle and spread the word and help people who are suffering from diabetes in any way that is possible.

PS: Originally published at Fire Within