Cricket and Beaded Head-dresses

Trip Start Jan 08, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Saturday, October 22, 2005

Chitral and the Kalasha Valleys

We decided to head north. In theory it all seemed so easy. Get a bus to Dir then a mini bus or 4 wheel drive up to Chitral.

At the bus station in Peshawar we asked around and were lead over to a mini bus supposedly going to Dir. We arrived somewhere that wasn't Dir. We hadn't been on the road long enough for it to be Dir and no one was saying Dir. We were shoved into another mini bus that was supposed to be going to Chitral. We put our trust in these strangers again. We arrived in Dir about 2 hours later looking at all the 4 wheel drives that we should have taken to Chitral, but we'd already paid for our through trip on this shitter of a mini bus. This thing was supposed to handle a mountain pass! Oh well. Fingers crossed.

I kept telling David I could feel something under my feet and could hear noises from the back wheel. He assured me we would be fine. We hadn't even gotten to the pass yet. The noise got worse as we climbed higher and higher. The mountains were beautiful. There was snow on some of the peaks too. Our first glimpse of Pakistani snow!!! The engine started to die. They had to do a reverse clutch start. I jumped out as it was a single lane dirt track with no barriers! The wheel noise was getting really bad so they stopped and did something to the back wheel underneath me! All the men were outside gathered round the wheel. David got back in and mentioned something about wheel bearings and oil. We got going higher and just made it over the pass, where David and I had to register at the Chitral Scout Check Point (we were the only tourists). Then it died again. They got going but it didn't last long. They decided to freewheel, no brakes, down this mountain pass!!!!!!! Like I said, single lane dirt track, now in the dark. I wasn't liking the hairpins at all! It was freezing since the sun had gone down and I was still in my summer attire. Ramadan was broken for the day so all the food came out. We had nothing to share but were given pears, dates and apples by everyone else! There was one guy who could speak english (more like rabbit on) which helped pass the time. He let me borrow his warm winter shawl and bought David and I dinner. Turns out he was working with the Chitral District Scouts (police kind of people). Nice guy even if he did waffle a bit. He said he wanted to marry two women. An educated one and an uneducated one (at the same time). He said that uneducated women love their husbands too much and he wanted a bit of both! The wheel seemed to have calmed down so we continued on with everyone jolly from their evening feed. But then it started making even more noise so we pulled into a service station. BANG!!! The back wheel blew up! Lucky we'd made it to some light! It was pitch black along the road. They waited until it had cooled then changed it for a really bald one. Great. We got going but slower than a pregnant snail and pulled over again about 30 mins later. That was it. The driver would go no further. We asked Abdul (dinner buying guy) what the story was and he said there was another mini bus coming and that we would 50 rupees each back. Cool. We would have to pay the other driver 30 each and be 20 in front. So about an hour later this other mini bus turns up and everyone loads the bags and jumps in. The driver starts asking for 50 rupees from everyone, but we'd not received anything back from the previous driver. So when he got to us we said the other driver would pay. The old driver spat the dummy but we stuck firm so he handed over 50 rupees but the new driver wanted 50 for each person. We argued some more saying that we'd already paid full price to get to Chitral, which we weren't at, and wouldn't pay anymore. Eventually they understood they weren't getting anymore money out of us and the old driver paid up in full and we were on our way. We had started our travel at 06.30 that morning and by the time we reached our hotel it was 23.30. I was buggered, it was cold and there was no heating in the room so we dug our sleeping bags out and hit the hay.

We woke to gorgeous sunshine bathing the surrounding mountains and clear blue skies. So lovely and warm! I couldn't believe how cold I had been last night! Foreigners are required to register with the local authorities so we went off in search of the police station. We passed a dirt cricket pitch on the way with a game underway. After registering we went back to watch. Didn't take long before David was surrounded by Aussie/cricket loving young boys and men. They explained that it was a regional tournament we were watching and then proceeded to pick the opposing bowlers apart! Even I could understand why. They didn't have a very good technique. More like chuckers than bowlers! Near by was the old fort and royal residence. Most of it is in ruins but the locals told us the royals still stay there when they're in town and when we tried to go into the smarter looking section we were stopped. Didn't see a flag flying but they must have been home. It's a shame they haven't restored it all. Next door was the Shahi Mosque. The inside courtyard is quite simple but it's location is beautiful. Mountains all around. David thought the cricket ground in front was kind special too. It's not a huge town so didn't take long to wander round. It's a really relaxing place. Even though the main street has a constant flow of traffic during daylight! We went down to one of the posh hotels and had tea in the gardens and chatted with the reception guy there. The people were really friendly but there weren't many women around. Infact, hardly any! It was really really cold when the sun went down so I had to pull out my fleece, thermals (two tops!) and my big purple thinsulate gloves that David bought me years ago. After dinner we decided we'd head over to the Kalasha Valleys the next morning.

Up early, we left our big bags at our hotel and caught a mini bus to the closest village. Access after this was only either walking or by 4 wheel drive. We had an 8 km walk to get to the halfway point! It was another sunny day so we didn't mind walking. Well, until we discovered we were going in the wrong direction! We went back, got given a lift half way from a ute carrying huge bolders. We climbed on and perched on the top with the other guys. We reached the turnoff and waved goodbye then started the hike up the hill. About 20 minutes later a 4 wheel drive pulled up and offered us a lift so of course we accepted! They drove us in to the Rumbur Vally which is said to be the quietest and friendliest with the least Muslim influence. There's only one Muslim village right at the top end of the valley. We asked the guys that gave us a lift if they were Muslims and they said yes, so we asked them about Ramadan, whilst they were drinking tea with us. They replied, 'Ramadan doesn't come to the Kalasha Valley.' They said they try to come every weekend!!

The Kalasha people are referred to in Pakistan as kafirs (non believers) as they are not Muslim. Although they have lived in Pakistan for thousands and thousands of years, their culture is slowly disappearing through immigration into the valleys by Muslims, discrimination and conversion to Islam (sometimes through marriage).

We chose our guest house, had a chat with the owners son (who spoke english really well) and went for a walk round. The women wear lovely heavily beaded headdresses and black flowing dresses with elaborate embroiderly round the skirt, sleeves and neck. They also wear colourful hand woven belts and masses and masses of orange and yellow bead necklaces. The women appear to do most of the labour closer to the home like in the fields and look after the livestock whilst the men look after the sheep and goats in the higher pastures. We saw lots of women who all said hello and shook our hands. We heard someone shouting and looked round to see little boy racing over towards us. He was motioning in the direction we were walking and kept saying that I couldn't go. Then I remembered that I had read about the sacred goat sacrificing place (Sajigor) where only men are allowed. He took David there whilst I went to stand with this sisters. His older sister looked young, only about 16 or 17. She had a little baby and wasn't fussed at all about popping her boob out and feeding him, even with David standing there. They shave all the babies heads until they are about 5 I think then the girls don't cut their hair again and it's worn in different braids with wool or ribbons woven into the ends. When they reach woman-hood they are allowed to have 5 braids. One is worn right at the front and looped across the forehead and over one ear. The women also tatoo their faces but they're not keen on photographs so it was too hard to get a close up. They look different to the Pakistani women. I thought, more beautiful. Lovely almond shaped brown eyes, black hair with a diffferent shaped face. The men just wear the same clothes as the Pakistani men. The young boy, Jahir, was really sweet and was only too eager to show us his slingshot skills by shooting walnuts from the trees for us to crack open with stones and share round. He also sang me some songs. One japanese!! A japanese lady has been living in the valleys since about 1987 and is married to a Kalasha man in the Rumbur village of Balanguru. He lead us back through the fields back to the main track towards the village and waved goodbye. Through Balanguru and Grom we walked past the Bashali House which is where all the women have to go during their period and when they give birth. Women are considered impure and there are all sorts of rituals and restrictions specifically for them. They must stay in the Bashali House for the duration of their period which they actually enjoy as it gives them a break from their work! They are not allowed to be touched by anyone so food is brought to them by the other women, put into a bowl and pushed forwards. Also during labour and for 20 days after labour the baby and mother are considered impure and must stay in the Balashi. Women also have specific places designated for washing themselves and their clothes. As they are impure they must wash in the river below the village. It was really interesting to learn about. The Japanese woman has written a short book about her life and theirs with loads of photos. Dinner was served under a lonely lightbulb outside on the verandah. Jan's son had laid the little wooden table beautifully. There was a white table cloth, hand embroidered with pink flowers and green vines (nope, no romance. Romance and David don't go together in the same sentence). Dinner was lovely and after the dishes had been cleared and all the lights were out it seemed like we were the only ones left on the planet. It was so quiet and the sky so dark, black in fact. But the light from the moon and stars was amazing. I've never seen so many stars in my life!!!! The little electricity they have isn't kept on long so every single lightbulb in the village was out and being so far away from any town or city there was absolutely no artifical light. Bloody freezing though! The sound of the rushing river was the only noise around.

Next morning the sun was out warming us up and after a traditional breakfast of freshly baked walnut bread and honey straight from the source and tea we packed up, thanked our host and started the three hour walk towards Bumboret Valley. The biggest of the three Kalasha Valleys. We picked up a friend about halfway through the valley and swapped photos with him. By the half way point we were 'brothers' and 'sister' and had been invited to tea at his house in Ayun. Unfortunately we weren't going there but the invitation was nice. Not too long after waving to our 'brother' we got a lift from a 4 wheel drive into Bumboret Valley. We walked about another 15 mins and then came to the hotel that Jan's son had recommended in the village of Batrik. It was a right shithole but it would do for one night. It was cheap and they would cook us dinner. Right up our alley.

We headed off in search of whatever. It's about 50% Muslim here so there were mosques about and Islamic schools. Kids were everywhere. The colourful beaded head-dresses of the little Kalasha girls mixing with the covered heads of the Muslims. It is said to be the most beautiful of the three valleys and it is lovely. It's much wider than Rumbur with loads more trees. Autumn colours everywhere and freshly harvested fields. Everyone was getting ready for winter. Also after the simple quietness of the Rumbur Valley this place seemed so modern! They had loads more hotels/schools etc and also tv!! After walking for a couple of hours we went back to catch the last of the sun and have chai. I got my binoc's and tried to spot snow leopards in the surrounding mountains, some of which were topped with snow! Apparently the leopards and wolves come down closer to the villages in winter in search of food! They even get bears there!! I couldn't find any though. As the sun went down it got freezing again. David had found a friend to talk to and then went off to get some Kalasha wine. What he brought back was more like fermented grapefruit juice in look and taste. It wasn't that great and I was happy to let David drink most of it. I had wanted to try the red but they didn't have any. I got too cold and went to bed whilst David sat up all night talking to his new friend and polishing off the home brew.

Unfortunately even though I thought it was freezing, it wasn't cold enough to snow, it just rained. So when we left in the morning it was drizzling a bit but we hopped into a 4WD straight away so that was cool and by the time we got back to Chitral it had stopped. Even though it was still relatively early we decided to stay another day. Considering the problems we had had getting there I didn't want to be stuck on the road/mud in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold. We spoke to quite a few people around town, including the local police, about going to Gilgit, the Shandur Pass and the Hunza Valley. But it seemed that the 24 hour curfew was still in place in Gilgit with lots of shooting between the Shi'ites and Sunnis. Other travellers had reported being stuck in their hotels for 6 days and then having to get a three hour break in the curfew and an armed escort to get out of there. We decided to leave it this time and made do with going down to the posh hotel, drinking tea with the guys there and watching cricket on their tv. The weather wasn't so great either and there was noticably more snow on the mountain tops than had been a couple of days before and we didn't want to get snowed in for the winter! That night during dinner, we were chatting to the restaurant owner and I asked him if he smoked. He said no. Only hash. Then took us out the back to a little room where an old man was making men's shalwar kameez outfits and rolling numbers. I declined. Those of you who know me know that when I say I don't smoke, I mean just that. I don't smoke anything. David had a sample though. He had to after the guy kept claiming it was the best in the world.

Next day we were up at the crack of dawn and heading down to the place where all the mini buses and 4WD's went from. We jumped in one heading for Timargarah where we would then have to get another vehicle to Dir then another on to Islamabad where we needed to pick up our passports.
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