Jun 11, 2012

Kalash and Nuristanis

The Kalash tribes, numbering approximately 3,000, are the smallest group amongst the religious minorities of Pakistan. Unlike the other minorities, they live exclusively in a particular geographical area; the three valleys of Birir, Bumburet and Rumbur known locally as Kafirastan. Kafirastan is situated in the Hindu Kush between the Afghan border and Chitral valley. Until 1896 Kafiristan also included present day Nuristan in Afghanistan, inhabited by the ‘Red Kafirs’, whereas the Kalash were called the ‘Back Kafirs.
Kalash myths tell that they originally came from Tsiam, thought to be near Yarkand. The Kalash oral tradition also tells that the Kalash are descended from Alexander the Great’s brave general Shalak Shah of Tsiam, to whom Alexander gave the Chitral valley as a reward. Kalasha language is of great interest to linguists as it belongs to the ancient Dardic branch of the Indo-European languages, suggesting a Central Asian origin. Around 1500 AD the Kalash were dominant throughout southern Chitral; the Kalasha oral tradition mentions eight great Kalasha kings. Local people outside the valleys often find remnants of buildings revealing evidence of former Kalash settlements.
When the Kalash migrated from Nuristan in 1896 under threats from Afghan King Abdur Rehman , they found the Chitralis much more tolerant & peaceful .. The refugees were given land by the Chitrali ruler Aman ul Mulk in the upper parts of the Kalash valleys which they possess to this day and were allowed to practice their beliefs protected in Chitral.
The Nurastani
The Nuristani tribes are a proud race living in the Hindukush Mountain in northern Afghanistan along the Chitral border. This is a world of extreme isolation in the remotest corner of the Hindukush where caravan routes passed to the east and west of the area avoiding it, with only one road a dirt track leading halfway up the Bashgal valley.
This tribe enjoyed centuries of independence living as warriors and hunters, first with spear and bow and later with rifles. For eight or nine centuries they held out against the tide of Islam, raiding Muslim settlements and caravans until at the end of the last century they came under the suzerainty of Afghanistan. The original name of Kafirastan 'land of the infidels' was then changed for Nuristan.
Their way of life, architecture, traditional culture and language are remnants of the former Red Kafir traditions. They still live in villages of 100 to 200 wooden houses remarkable both inside and out for neatness and cleanness, are clustered together, clinging precariously to the steep- sided valleys , the women still till their fields by hand, while the men look after their livestock and irrigation channels.
They breed cattle sheep and all their agricultural products are of fine quality, their cattle which in appearance and size compare favorably with English breeds are much sought after by their neighbors.
Kalash Festival
The Kalash are cheerful people, generous, witty and fond of rejoicing and merry making. Their women folk have an outgoing manner that is disarming, delightful and unexpected. As you join them in their festivities and see them dance and sing, you are taken right back into history.
The Kalash have four colourful festivals.To the Kalash these festivals are the culmination’s of religious life and, like the big funerals, they unite the people.
“Joshi /Chilimjusht” the spring festival, in the middle of May lasts for four days. . The spring festival honors the fairies and also safeguards the goats and shepherds before they go to the pastures. Before the festival the women and girls gather from all over the valley and decorate their houses. Inside the houses local wine and milk products are shared. The women then sprinkle milk on Goddess “ Jestak “ the protector of their children and home. The festival begins at Rumbur where the Shaman (soothsayer) and tribal chiefs lead a procession to the “ Malosh altar” , high above Grum, to sacrifice goats to the Gods . Later the festival moves on to Bumboret and ends up at Birir , a few days later.

Every religious ceremony is accompanied by dancing and rhythmical chant to a beat of the drum. The women wearing their traditional black robes, ornate cowries shelled head dresses and adorned with colored necklaces, dance in a circle. Then the men join in: it may be a man and a women or a man in the middle with a women on each side, lovers being free to intermingle. One hand is held round the waist of the partner and the other round the shoulders. Tribal chiefs in colorful dresses narrate stories of bygone days and events.
Uchal festival, in Augusts marking the harvest of wheat and barley and bringing down of cheese from the high summer pastures. It is celebrated in Rumbur and Bumboret . Earlier in July it starts as the “ Ranat” with dances held on alternate days performed by the young girls and boys in order to safeguard the maize crop.
Phoo festival is only held in Birir around end of September to celeberate the grape and walnut harvest. Grape being a staple requirement in the Kalash society for making wine are grown on trees in protected sites. The holy tree is being the best for such climbers. They are picked throughout the valley on a particular day and is an occasion for joy and merry making.. It is also an occasion of the shepherds returning from the high pastures.
Chomos festival. As winter starts around mid-December the Chomos festival begins. The festival is observed for the divine, the living and dead relatives, for the crops and the goats to be safeguarded, while the community, the village and the valley are purified prior to the coming year. Sighting a fox is a good omen and great efforts are made in this regard. At dusk torch lit processions are led from all the nearby villages culminating at the “Charsue” which is the main customary dancing place. Most of the festivities are indoors where the local wine is handed around as the dance gathers momentum carries out till late in the night round the bonfire. While the tribal elders sit on hill tops at dawn to watch the rising sun and declare the New Year. Goat sacrifices are then made to the Godess “Jastak” , blood from the animal is sprinkled at the temple Jastak An. This is the time when “Balimine” another great God visits the Kalash valley once a year and sacrifices are made at his “ Malosh. Altar” too.
Hindukush Trails runs regular trips to these festivals with private "home stays", to get to know more of the people and their culture and a chance to taste traditional local cuisines which you miss out while staying in hotels.
We organize package tours to all festivals in different regions of Pakistan.
Afghan Hindukush Pamir & Wakhan Nuristan
 Since 1997 each year, Hindukush Trails did extensive exploration in the Afghan Pamirs and Hindukush, right into Wakhan and Badhkashan. Route maps ( when non exited ) were sketched out for own use with extensive details, these are now useful for the benefit of others who followed.
Mountains dominate most of the landscape of Afghanistan with more than 49 percent of the total land area lying above 2,000 meters.
In the north on the Wakhan corridor the Pamirs merge into the Hindukush , where they are still being born, still thrusting up at the rate of something like two-and-a-half inches a year. Yet in the very moment of their birth, they are dying, for the ranges to the southeast are rising even faster and each year are blocking off more and more of their already inadequate rainfall, converting their already barren slopes to desert. This is one of the bleakest and least-known corners of the world , remote, mysterious and at one time, dubbed ‘the third pole’. The Pamir mountains, which Afghans refer to as the 'Roof of the World," extend into Tajikistan, China and the Karakorums. In Wakhan these mountains are rounded domes, divided by high, wide valleys which are very nearly as desolate as the peaks that surround them.
Although geographers differ on the division of these mountains into systems, they agree that the Hindukush system, the most important, is the westernmost extension of the Pamir Mountains, the Karakorum Mountains and the Himalayas. The Hindukush mountain peaks in the eastern part of the country reach more than 7,000 meters. The highest of these is Noshaq at 7,485 meters.
The mountains of the Afghan Hindukush diminish in height as they stretch westward toward the middle, near Kabul, they extend from 4,500 to 6,000 meters, in the west they attain heights of 3,500 to 4,000 meters. The average altitude of the Afghan Hindukush is 4,500 meters. The Hindukush mountain system stretches for about a 1000km south but only about 600 kilometers of the system is called the Hindukush mountains, the rest consists of numerous smaller mountain ranges like the Koh-e-Baba, Salang, Koh-e Paghman, Spin Ghar or Safid Koh, Suleiman, Siah Koh, Koh-e Khwaja Mohammad, Selseleh-e-Band-e-Turkestan.
Numerous high passes connect the mountain valleys through which trade caravans travel. The most important passes are Salang (3,878 meters); it links Kabul and points south to northern Afghanistan. The Khyber Pass (1027 meters), into Pakistan, the Wakhjir (4,923 meters), in the Wakhan Corridor into Xinjiang, China, the Khawak pass 3550m into Panjsher valley, the Baroghil (3,798 meters) and Dorah into Chitral Pakistan. These mountainous areas are mostly barren, or at the most sparsely sprinkled with trees and stunted bushes. True forests, found mainly in the eastern provinces of Kunar , Nuristan and Paktiya cover barely 2.9% of the country's area. Even these small reserves have been disastrously depleted by the war and through illegal exploitation.
River Valleys
Afghanistan consists of 652,290 sq. miles territory which is completely landlocked. It is bordered by Iran to the west , by the Central Asian States of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan to the north and northeast , by China on the Wakhan Corridor and Pakistan to the east and south .
Afghanistan possesses both mountains, lakes, river valleys and desert areas. The four major river systems are the Amu Darya, the Oxus 1,100km in Afghanistan the Hilmand (1,300 kilometers); the Harirud (650 kilometers in Afghanistan and the Kabul (460 kilometers). Many rivers and streams simply empty into arid portions of the country, spending themselves through evaporation flowing seasonally and only the Kabul flows into the Indus in Pakistan and thence into the Arabian Sea.

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