An article that was published in the New York Times last year sparked my interest in travelling to the picturesque and historical valley of Chitral, inhabited by a minority tribe known as the Kalash.
According to the NY Times’ piece, the Kalash of Chitral - district of the Khyber‐Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan - were found to share DNA fragments with an ancient European population.
Statistical analysis suggests that this has resulted from interracial mixing between the local populace and Alexander the Great’s army well before 210 BC.
The Kalash live in three valleys of Chitral namely, Rumbur, Brumbret and Birir, and speak the Kalasha language, derived from the Dardic family of the Indo‐Iranian branch.
We started our journey to Chitral in the winter of last year. It was December and thus an off-season for tourists. I was very interested in exploring the valleys and capturing their breathtaking beauty with my lens.
We started from Lahore and were later joined by a group of young, enthusiastic explorers from Sialkot. After roughly 24 hours of travel, we entered the city of Ayuon from where we rented jeeps for the bumpy ride ahead. Soon, we were on our way to the mountainous areas of the magnificent Chitral.
The scenery, which welcomed us at the break of dawn as we reached the valley, was a sight to behold! Everything was covered with a thick blanket of pure white snow.
I loved the idea of bringing Kalash back home with me, and so I captured everything I found interesting. The people of the valley, in contrast to its weather were warm and welcoming.
Despite being very close to the Afghan border, at no point did we feel unsafe. In fact, we could even see the neighbouring country’s snow-covered peaks from where we stood.
We stayed at the Foreigner Tourism Inn Hotel and Resort. After leaving our baggage at the rest house, we immediately started on our journey.
As we went on, we were heartily greeted by the locals of the village; all of them so happy to see us, and eager to engage us in conversation.
Here, it seemed as if every tree too, had a story to tell. The morning sunlight gloriously bathed the valley in gold.
The people of the neighbouring Nuristan, a province of Afghanistan, once practised the same religion as the Kalash minority. But by the late 19th century, much of Nuristan had converted to Islam, although evidence shows that some people continue to practice their customs.
The next day, we were thrilled to hear local women singing a song closeby. Their pleasing notes broke the silence of the valley.
Kalasha women usually wear long, black dresses, often embroidered with cowries. This creates a vivid and unique pattern that serves as the most obvious symbol of identity for the Kalash community.
We trekked into a valley from where we could see the Afghan Mountains covered with thick sheets of snow. The view was magical. We could not imagine how much more beautiful the valley would look in summer or spring, when everything turned lush green.
On our way back to Chitral, we passed through a village known as Ayuon. The small local market was teeming with life.
This was a memorable trip for all of us. I would highly recommend this destination to those who want to experience the true beauty of Pakistan’s landscape.
—All photos by author.
For more information on Pakistan's intriguing Kalash tribe: Embrace of the Kalasha.
Umair Siddiqui is a Lahore based digital designer with a passion for travel and photography.