The Kalash with their unique culture, traditions, rituals, values, festivals and attire are not be found anywhere else in the world. Kalash are considered ‘infidels’ and their habitations are known as ‘Kafirastan’ the land of infidels among-st the local Pakistani community. The Kalash people, the tribe that inspired Kipling live their daily lives deep in the valleys of the Hindu Kush, the unforgiving mountain range at the border of Pakistan with Afghanistan. The Kalash valleys are located in Chitral in the northern district of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province bordering Afghanistan.
The Kalash are a people who have links with Greece in almost everything but proximity. They dance around night-time fires they make wine and indulge in ancient Olympic sports such as wrestling and shot-put. With their piercing blue-green eyes, strong features and olive skins, even Alexander the Great was convinced of the Hellenic connection. the Kalash are one of the most remarkable cultures on the planet. With a population of just over 3,000, the largest minority group in Pakistan.
They lead a centuries-old primitive way of life with a religion which has no name, no written book or prophets and are now concentrated in three valleys which are called ‘Kalash gooni’ among the Kalash and the ‘Kafir Kalash’ (land of infidels) among-st others. But it is not just the place which fascinates, also the women of Kalash who legend says are part-fairy and part-human because of their ethereal beauty. Local people say the Kalash woman can make a man lose his religion. As the story goes, when a Kalash woman drinks water, you can see it streaming down her throat. Yet they are considered impure in their own community; they are also called whiter than the white.
There are two ways to enter the valleys: by foot or, landslides permitting, by road. Understandably, most people prefer the 90-minute jeep ride from the trading center of Chitral, just 32 kilometers north-east. The valleys are idyllic and a haven from the hustle and bustle of Pakistan’s major cities and tourist attractions. Walnut and jujube trees cling to the lower slopes, while carefully cultivated sugarcane fields thrive along rivers at the bottom of each. Villages are little more than a scattering of wooden homes, and although there has been a recent blot on the Brumboret landscape in the form of a three-star hotel, most travelers prefer the simple charm of a 250-rupees-a-night guesthouse with twin rooms, meals on request and gardens at the rear.
The word “Kalash” means “black” and refers to the clothing worn by the women and girls. It’s quite a misleading label, and while the men have definitely drawn the short straw in the clothing stakes, the elaborate garb of the women is anything but. Women tend to dress in very colorful and elaborate clothes in stark contrast with the rest of Pakistan. For the travelers who make the effort, this vibrant display is well worth it.
The Kalash have always been proud of their way of life and recently so is the rest of Pakistan. Traditionally the Kalash were ostracized by their majority neighbors and forced deep into the mountains for their religious beliefs, they have been tolerated through gritted teeth. It is only recently, once communications improved and the tourist interest soared, that the Pakistani authorities have tried to understand this wonderful culture.