Shahi Mosque, built in 1928 by the royal family, presides over downtown Chitral. Yep, northern Pakistan can be quite romantic–not only is it the ceiling of the world (a handful of the world’s highest mountains are in Pakistan’s Himalayas and Hindu Kush), but it’s the of stuff shahs and kingdoms, forts and legend, poetry, music and potent hash.
More of my Kalash photos here.
photo by Zeeshan Haider
text by yours truly
My journey officially begins at the Chitral police station, where Pakistani friends sip sweet green tea while Shane and I try to argue our way out of 24-hour armed escorts.
“I was here just last July, and I didn’t have a guard then,” says the adamant Irishman, a five-year resident of Islamabad and a seasoned traveller in the northern areas.
Apparently, since October 2010 — a point in time that seems completely arbitrary to us — all foreigners are assigned guards. Will the guards fit in our Landcruiser? Okay then, not a problem. They’ll send a separate truck. So the next afternoon, we begin the treacherous uphill chug into what was, until recently, the North West Frontier, following a pick-up packed with cops — at least seven at last count.
The midsized Kalash valley of Rumbur is the land that time — and electricity, mobile service and hot showers — forgot. It’s less commercialised than Bhumboret, the larger valley, and its population is almost purely Kalash — a tribe of Indo-Aryans who consider themselves the progeny of Alexander the Great. Rumbur has five villages of between 10 to 50 families each.
Chitral is a great little town at the foot of Tirich Mir, which is the highest peak of the Hindu Kush, in Khyber-Pakhtunkwa province. Okay, actually, Chitral is the only “city” in the district, but at 20,000 people to Karachi’s nearly 16 million, it still felt like a little town to me!
People have a distinct language (Khowar aka Chitrali), costume and culture. They are conservative but friendly, and there’s a shopping street (they call it the bazaar) open till dusk everyday, where you can buy chadors and heavy wool handwoven socks, Chitrali hats (which are traditionally for men, but are super-cute on ladies!!), instruments, and all sorts of necessities and extras. There are also polo grounds in town–we saw part of a polo game–an ancient fort (Noghore, 400 years old, written about in Sir George S. Robertson’s Chitral: The Story of a Minor Siege), and gorgeous mosque built in 1915. We weren’t there long enough, but there’s also supposed to be fabulous trekking in the area, and while it’s incredibly dusty (the river resembles chocolate milk), there are also parts that are shockingly (again, after Karachi’s crux of desert-meets-beach) green and fertile.