A trainer explains skiing skills to youngsters in Madak Lusht valley, Chitral. — File photo
A trainer explains skiing skills to youngsters in Madak Lusht valley, Chitral. — File photo

The topography of Madak Lusht village in Chitral is said to be ideal for snow sports as the area usually receives heavy amount of snow in winters. The Britishers used to come to the valley in the pre-independence days for skating and had introduced the snow sports here then, but the local people did not show interest and as such winter games could not gain popularity in the area.

Gobor in Garam Chashma and Bumburate valley with inclined plains in lower Chitral and Rech, Terich and Yarkhoon in upper Chitral with similar topography are the other places where snow sports can be developed.

In the Kalash valley of Bumburate, the traditional game of snow golf has been popular, which is called Kreg Ghall in local language, but the residents are not familiar with any snow sport other than that.

The credit for introducing snow sports in Madak Lusht goes to the Pakistan Air Force which during last couple of years imparted training to as many as 20 local youths in snow skating and skiing in its academy. These youngsters were also given exposure by taking them to the snow sports events held in Swat and Gilgit-Baltistan.

“Skating on snow has now become our daily routine during the four months of extended winter season when our village receives about four feet of snow. The snow virtually confines the residents to their homes and skating becomes the major mode of moving from one place to another for which a specially designed wooden tool is used,” says Wali Khan of Madak Lusht village in the south of Chitral bordering the Swat valley.

Maintaining one’s balance is no problem for any of the residents of this village while the wooden tool, locally called as Darjek, has become a part and parcel of everyone’s life here, he says. Wali Khan says that the residents know no game played on the snow surface except racing though they can excel in all sorts of snow sports where maintaining body balance is of basic importance.

With the Lowari tunnel now facilitating travel between the district and rest of the country round the year, the snow sports-related activities in Chitral has been accelerated as amateur players from the down country are able to freely come here unlike past.

The local players, meanwhile, organised themselves under the banner of Hindu Kush Snow Sports Club (HKSSC). Soon after its inception in late 2018, the club organised the first snow sports gala in Madak Lusht on local level. The club president, Shahzada Hishamul Mulk, says that the successful event acted as a catalyst which brought the hitherto obscure and marginalised alpine village to the limelight and it boosted up the local players.

He said that he himself was not sure about the outcome of the event which culminated in Madak Lusht valley being declared as the new tourism zone by the government.

This year, the three-day snow sports was financed by Tourism Corporation Khyber Pakhtunkhwa while the Federal Ministry of Climate Change, GLOF-II project and UNDP also made financial assistance as HKSSC acted as the event manager.

Hundreds of tourists from different parts of the country having a penchant for winter sports thronged the area. A considerable number of foreigners also arrived here and many of them took part in the games. This proved to be the starting point of winter tourism in Chitral, which was unheard of in the past.

The residents of Madak Lusht showed great enthusiasm for holding the event as they vacated and offered their houses for the tourists and non-local participants as there is no hotel in the valley.

Mr Hisham said that with the holding of recent events the snow sports gained popularity among the youth of the valley and rest of Chitral. He said that snowboarding, ice hockey and snow trekking – introduced this year – will be included in the itinerary of competitions next year.

The provincial government has recently decided to construct a 45km road to Madak Lusht valley from Drosh town at a cost of Rs4.5 billion. This road will act as a catalyst to promote winter tourism in the valley.

Deputy commissioner, Chitral, Naveed Ahmed said that the district administration was taking steps to exploit the tremendous potential of snow sports in the district with the help of TCKP. He said that snow sports would attract tourists to the area during winter and the people associated with the tourism sector would get jobs.

Mr Ahmed said that Madak Lusht snow sports festival would be promoted on the pattern of Malam Jabba festival held in the neighbouring Swat district, which had gained international fame during the recent years.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2020