Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mary Loosemore's Photo Travelogue: The Fairyland of Kafir Kalash

In my previous post based on the photo travelogue of Mary Loosemore, I covered the journey of the 11-member Hindu Kush adventure group, that also included Mary Loosemore, from Peshawar, Pakistan to Dir and Ayun through the Lowari Pass. Today I will cover the group's adventure, as photographed by Mary, into the fascinating world of the Kalash Fairyland - the Kalash Valley.

A Kalash woman dressed in traditional black robe ornamented with multicoloured beads and headdress

Kalash Valley consists of three sub valleys as shown in the map below. The Mary Loosemore's group selected the Rumbur Valley to explore the hidden world of the Kalash people. On 4 October 2006, they reached Balanguru for a night stay with the Kalasha.

From south of Chitral, a track turns to the left from village of Ayun on Kunar river to the Kalash Valley, where these strange yet attractive people live in three main villages and surrounding areas of Rukmu, Mumret and Biriu (called Rambur, Bumburet and Birir in local Kalasha language).

Map showing the route to three Kalash Valleys from Ayun

Bumburet is the largest and the most picturesque valley of the Kafirs, is 40 kilometres from Chitral and is connected by a jeepable road. Birir and Rambur are located at a distance of 34 and 32 kilometres respectively from Chitral. The present population of the Kafir Kalash is approximately 6,000. 

Road to Rumbur Valley - Photo: verdanega / Panoramio

The villages are situated on the southern face of the hillside about 50-100 meters above the river. This protects them from 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. 

A typical Kalasha village on the mountain terraces in the Rumbur Valley

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.

Pakistan flag flutters near a house in the Balanguru village - Rumbur Kalash Valley

An almost three days stay in the Rumbur Valley, moving from one village to another, provided Mar's group a deep insight to the life, culture, traditions and lifestyle of the Kalash people. Following are the photos taken in the Balanguru village of the Rumbur valley.

A Kakasha child with shinning green eyes - typical of Kalash

 A Kalash women laughs as 'strange men' crack jokes
 Benedict, one of the group member, shows photographs taken of the Kalash children on his camera
 Lunch at Saifiullah Jan's new house, the local host at Balanguru village
 Kalash children en route to their school
 A walk through Balanguru village
  Kalash girls en route to their school 
 Mary had her hair plaited the Kalasha style by small Kalash girl
 A Kalasha family
 Kalash girl hand weaving for tying the hair
 Style girl at Balanguru
 Kalasha girls group photo

Those who visit the Kalash Valley in early summers, they can attend Kalash festivals held in the early summers. The two main important festivals are Joshi and Utchal. In the late summers and winters, two more festivals Phool (20th-25th September) and Chowas (18th to 21st December) can be attended, though the latter is very difficult to attend owing to losure of the Lowari Pass. However, if one can make it to Chitral by air, then from Chitral to Kalash Valley by local jeeps is possible.

Joshi or Chilimjusht: This festival is held from 14th to 15th May to mark spring when girls pick the first flowers of the season. Traditional dancing, visiting each other, exchanging flowers, milk and milk products are its features. 

Utchal: This colorful event is celebrated in mid-July to mark the harvest of wheat and barley. The two- day celebrations feature dances, singing and hosting feasts.

 Pre-dinner cricket match: Hindu Kush XI vs Kalash XI!! [above/below]

Dinner being prepared at Balanguru village rest house
A hearty dinner and smiles
Balanguru village as seen from Safiullah Jan's guest house

After Balanguru, the group visited the village of Shakanande. The following photographs were taken during their visit to Shakanande:

Mary Loosemore at the top of the tree line, passing over the coll between Shakanande valley and the Rumbur valley
 Shakanande Village, Rumbur Valley
 Mary crossing a stream in the Shakanande village
A boy entering the house through a carved door - specialty of the area

The last village the group visited was that of Palaga. Here in under are some of the photos taken at Palaga Kalash village:

 Daughter of the host
 Annie and Amanda during a hike near Palaga village - eating locally grown grapes
 Dinner being prepared at Palaga
  Mary, Annie and Amanda - Dinner is over
 The group en mass at camp fire night [ Saifullah, Mary, Annie, Amanda, Rob, Annie, Benedict, Thelma ]
 Hikers resting for a quick snap
 View from the Palaga rest house
Relaxing at charpoys - native beds with four legs at Palaga
 Kalash family 

Grandmother with her niece

After a three days long stay in the Kalash Valley, the Hindu Kush adventure group moved to Chitral for a day's stop, before resuming their journey onward in the Hindu Kush range to Gilgit, through the Shandur Pass. My next posts will cover the stop over to Chitral and travel to Gilgit.

Read more about Kalash and their festivals:
Kalash Spring Festivals (Pakistanpaedia)

All photos above, except where specifically mentioned, are owned by Mary Loosemore, as shared on Flickr.