20th May 2014

Embrace of the Kalasha

“The Kalasha are not all being lost to conversions, that’s a story,” Maureen Lines says.

A well-known conservationist, author, a ‘barefoot doctor’ and photographer, Lines has seen it all, from up-close. She is an adopted member of the Kalasha – Pakistan’s, and perhaps one of the world’s, most intriguing tribes.

A north Londoner, Lines, who was granted Pakistani citizenship in 2004, candidly says it’s not the Taliban that are going to “kill off” the Kalasha, rather development in the “name of progress”.

In other words, ‘tourism not terrorism’ is the biggest threat to the Kalasha.

The fascination around the tribe has often centered around their rumoured ancestral links to Alexander the Great, their pagan lifestyle and the fact that they produce their own wine in the deeply conservative frontier regions. Their vibrant dress, Indo-Aryan features and hypnotic ritual dances have also added to the pull of tourists to Chitral and the Kalash valley.

Thus, when militants threatened this somewhat mysterious tribe, there was much media hype. Yet, amongst the ‘save the Kalasha’ clamour that followed, a vital aspect was missing from discourse – the land rights of the Kalasha and the issue of their displacement due to increased deforestation which is robbing them of their sustenance.

“All this worry of the Taliban, the real threat is the land problem,” says Lines. She goes on to add that hotels are taking up scenic land and illegal logging is leaving the area susceptible to flooding.

What is left for us? Our land is taken by strangers, our trees are used as pledges for a cap, we live like animals in a zoo, where the spectators stare at us. We are forced to dance for strangers and our women are troubled. All we want is to be left alone. (Ansaari, Bugi)

Along with land issues the sudden influx of outsiders has led to the building of “walls, hedges and boundaries”, slowly the entire social order of the tribe is going to change says Lines, who was taken in by a Kalasha family in 1981 and is popularly known as Bibi Dow in the valley.

Increasingly, such activity has started in the Bumburet (also spelt Mumret) valley of the Kalash region, which also consists of Rumbur (Ramboor) and Birir valleys. According to the Hindukush Conservation Association, the entire population of this region is around 10,000 people of which less than a third are the Kalasha.

With such a tiny population, and invasive development of the region by businessmen from outside of the province, many are afraid the Kalasha way of life may be a thing of the past very soon.

Education is the only way out

“We are survivours and we have survived for over 3000 years. The Kalasha people are not relics to be put up in museums,” an outspoken and defiant Sayed Gul Kalash says.

The 27-year-old Gul, who is the first Kalasha archaeologist and also the first scientist from her community, says a profound lack of education has kept her tribe ‘backward’ and unaware of their rights. Their centuries old traditions and history is yet to be accorded an official identity in the national database.

“I wouldn’t be anywhere if I hadn’t been educated. I value my traditions and realise the significance of our culture much more after being educated,” Gul, who as a strong representative of her community works to keep language, art forms and other elements of Kalasha heritage alive, adds.

“We have to get out and seek education and jobs but at the same time stay true to our values and cultures. There are many like me who are getting educated but not abandoning our way of life. In fact, we are better equipped to preserve our way of life.”

There have been calls to put the Kalash Valley and the Kalasha under the protection of UNESCO's World Heritage but before that they must be recognised and valued at home.

(Text by Taimur Sikander)

-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood
-Photo by Abid Mehmood

Flashback: A slight diversion

By Maureen Lines

“Pakistan! You’re joking! Why on earth go to Pakistan?” And this was 1980… In those days, Pakistan was off the tourist map; for the staid elderly tourist, it was somewhere in never never land, and the backpackers had not yet discovered its great potential; they only knew the hippie trail in Afghanistan.

“I thought you were going to travel across North Africa and then down to South Africa,” my friend continued in that same incredulous voice.

It was true, that had been my intention, but only the night before I had seen on the BBC, a documentary on the Kalash people of North-Western Pakistan. Flexible, history loving and lured always by something different, my imagination had been caught by the romance of the Frontier and by the exotic nuances of this remote mountain people. I had decided on a slight diversion. Read more about Maureen's journey to Pakistan here.

Flashback: A slight diversion
Flashback: A slight diversion


Researched and Produced by

Taimur Sikander


Taimur Sikander


Muhammad Umar


Mahjabeen Mankani


Kurt Menezes


Murtaza Mankani

Abid Mehmood

Manal Ahmed Khan

Saarish Zuberi

Comments (31) Closed

US Rathore May 20, 2014 12:52pm
Wonderful coverage of Kalash people. Extraordinary photos and narration. You transported me there, literally.
bhrigu May 20, 2014 12:53pm
I just hope that we will able to preserve them as they are much older than present days religion/beliefs... and sometime we can survive direct attack from outside but not from the greed lurking within... Please don
SAJID JAVED May 20, 2014 01:03pm
It is a very informative article. Thank you.
Mira May 20, 2014 01:18pm
I Love the diversity of your country. You should celebrate this rich diversity instead of attacking and killing minorities.
Mir May 20, 2014 01:33pm
Long live chitral and kalash.
HS May 20, 2014 01:58pm
excellent work, I have been to Kalash and I know how difficult it is to get these pictures taken. KUDOS!
Waqas Akbar Gondal May 20, 2014 02:50pm
Infact very informative article as very few people know about kalash valley civilization. We, the people of Pakistan, with the help of government make every endeavour to protect this heritage and must ensure the protection of life and culture of kalasha people. Moreover, as past, these people should never ever become victim of so-called Islamization. Indeed, these people are a precious gem in the beauty of Pakistan. Long live Kalasha...Long live Pakistan!
Mahendra Singh May 20, 2014 04:40pm
Waseem May 20, 2014 04:49pm
we must not interrupt their culture in the name of development or religion. its great to see them preserving their centuries old, yet different life style.
junaid May 20, 2014 04:55pm
Preserve and save the jungles, forests, trees of Pakistan. Check this unchecked and unplanned growth and land grabs happening in these precious areas. Don't let these become another big city, let these areas become smart cities and smart towns who are ecologically and environmentally sound. Stop this internal population migration and don't allow just anyone to come in and buy land in such area. Their citizens should be given rights and privileges to be able to preserve their culture and to be able to thrive.
sarah shah May 20, 2014 04:57pm
its really awesum...
Maikal May 20, 2014 05:02pm
It really informative articte. I liked the suggession to put the kalash people under protection of UNESCO's
Maikal May 20, 2014 05:03pm
It really informative articte. I liked the suggession to put the kalash people under protection of UNESCO's
Tamilslevan May 20, 2014 06:07pm
Good to read this article. I think the author must see the link between Hinduism, Sanskrit and Persian. Some of their names are Sanskrit names such as Joshi, Kalash etc and also in several orthodox Hindus it was not uncommon to keep menstruating women and after childbirth away (mainly for cleanliness and infections after child birth etc). There are now some tribal pockets in the sub continents (Todas of Nilgiris is another example). One hopes that missionaries and mullahs don't go and introduce their views on them. As Nehru's said "Let them be examples how societies existed before we entered their civalization"
K Janjua May 20, 2014 07:45pm
Prying into some elses biz is one characteristic of mankind, only if its not your's.
abid mehmood May 20, 2014 08:16pm
great job
Pakistani May 20, 2014 10:00pm
@Mira If you stop sponsoring them then it will help us in that cause, btw thank you for your appreciation
Shaha May 21, 2014 10:48am
Beautiful and lovely people of Chitral and Kalash...
Fahim Zuberi May 21, 2014 11:40am
Kalash valley is an amazing place, i too have visited it twice. It is interesting however that Kalashi's too have changed. A Kalahi lady might ask for money if you want your pictures taken with them. Tourists are a major source of revenue for them. They sell everything from beads to headdress and all kinds of hotels specially in Bhubret cater to the tourists. Kalash is a region, a language and a religion! Some of the Kalashi by choice have converted to Islam. They too are living side by side with their Kalashi family. Obviously I would hate to see a culture as rich as this disappear but if they choose to convert to Islam, then that is their choice.
Pune-MH May 21, 2014 11:41am
I feel so much strange that why these people are still non-Muslims in Pakistan.
s khan May 21, 2014 11:55am
these people have as said in this article survived for 3000 years and will continue to do so untill outside funding and interference comes in.please dont disturb these peaceful people ,thanks
balwanjee May 22, 2014 03:09am
Kalash need lots of help from the open minded Pakistanis morally, politically and financially to preserve their culture. Their homeland be given the status of a province, though it is very small and the province be allowed to function as an autonomous region. Diversity within a country is a beauty it should be allowed to flourish and not dragged to the stage of extinction.
Mushman May 22, 2014 09:09am
" Our land is taken by strangers"! Isn't that what happened to most of us? We lost to others. Then we took from others! and the cycle continues!
Unwar May 22, 2014 09:52am
I hope this phenomenon of multicultural diversity in Pakistan flourishes , unlike now,it seems like its diminishing mainly due to religious intorence
vinay May 22, 2014 01:59pm
Kalash religion is similar to the religion that was practiced by Rigvedic aryans. The Kalash people are unique in their customs and religion.The Hindukush area shares many of the traits of IIr. myths, ritual, society, and echoes many aspects of ?igvedic, Before their conversion to Isl
Mohammad Rafi May 23, 2014 05:33pm
wonderful coverage
Rashid May 24, 2014 12:19am
Thank you for this! didnt know about these wonderful ppl! But as the sikh incident highlighted today we need to do so much more as a nation!
GCP May 26, 2014 02:01pm
Surely this is a group of Hindu culture, this kind of vibrancy not possible in Islam!
Nayyar Hashmey May 26, 2014 06:40pm
The beauty of art and culture in Pakistan is under a severe threat - of religious, sectarian or ethnic extremism. Pakistan is a country rich in such treasures. I fully agree that we need to celebrate our rich diversity including our minorities, be they the ethnic or religious. Everybody who lives and loves this land, has every right to honorably live and prosper in this land of the pure and everybody who is a Pakistani, is pure, no matter which religion or belief he belongs to or practices. Killing of Pakistanis by the Pakistanis, in the name of religion, sect or in the name of language or the race must stop otherwise we will neither have the identity nor the country nor our existence as a people.
Zubair May 27, 2014 12:05pm
I like Kalash people and their simplicity no doubt they are civilized people and fighting for their survival and they should be provided with identity so they can live freely everywhere not only in specific area. yeah its really embarrassing when people stare at kalash people like they are people of forests i have best wishes for the people of kalash. If anyone here is from kalash valley must contact with me my email: zubaireagle@yahoo.com i want to have chat with the people of kalash and i have been in search of kalash people from many years but i never succeeded
A Khan May 27, 2014 08:29pm
Excellent piece Taimur. Very informative and enlightening.