Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kalash Valley

We got a minibus from near Ataliq Bridge in Chitral to Ayun where we got a taxi (it was getting late and there was no shared Jeeps around) to Rumboor Valley. The taxi driver lived in Peshawar but was from Rumboor and was back visiting. We passed him a card which had the address for a guest house in Grom village that a friend had recommended to us whilst in Lahore, he had told us tales of a promised land of abundant fruits, vegetables, walnuts, cheese and Wine!. "Ingeneer Khan, Kalash Home Guest House, Very good Man, Very Educated Man, he was my teacher", the driver said whilst navigating the very bumpy narrow potholed road that ran besides Rumboor Gol (river), "Very dangerous road this, too much danger". His tiny car, not built for these roads, bounced along as our heads hit the roof and doors.

Ingeneer Khan was indeed a very nice man, with a great family and beautiful guesthouse. We stayed here nearly two weeks enjoying the stunning scenery, great food - the vegetables straight from their land and of course the wine! It was the perfect place to chill, especially after the heat and bustle of Lahore and Peshawar.

The first night we were there Shazia, Ingeneers eldest daughter (18), excitedly told us that her cousin was bringing a girl into the village in the night. ???

Kalash tradition is that if a couple want to get married, the boy takes the girl from her village (she is from Bumbaret) in the night and brings her to his village where there is usually a party. He arrived later that night and everybody went to their house to meet and greet the couple. There wasn't much of a party that night but I played Carob with a German lad, Paul, who was also staying at KHGH and some local lads who were habitually making joints between games.

The next day they had a gathering in the afternoon, bread and cheese was served. On the night there was a wild party with dancing, music and lots of drinking.

They were a great family to stay with. Ingeneer Khan, his wife Zarmust Gul his daughters - Shazia Bibi and Saira Bibi and sons Bashir, Yannis and Nazir. Their cousin Basir Gul was also around a lot, helping with the food and guesthouse.

Kalash is a Sanskrit word meaning wearers of black robes. Even today all the Kalashi women wear black robe dresses, usually decorated and worn with lots of Jewelry and a 'Kupas' or at least its support, the 'Shushut' on their heads. These are decorated with cowries (shells), beads, bells, buttons...

The Kalash people are perhaps the last remaining peoples of 'Kafiristan', a culture engulfed by Islam. In 'Kalash Solstice', Jean-Yves Loude and Viviane Lievre explain that in the late 19th Century:

'The Pathan emir of Kabul, Abdur Rahman, on the pretext of a holy war, exterminated those unruly pagans to the east and at the same time resolved his frontier problems with British India. Any surviving Kafirs (non believers) had the choice between death and conversion. They foreswore their beliefs and Kafirstan succumbed, a victim of the famous Durrand Line. A number of fugitives found Asylum in the neighbouring province of Chitral, which remained under the aegis of the Empire. Three of the frontier valleys were inhabited by a group of people who were still pagan, the Kalash.

Kafiristan, a land now lit up by the 'light of Islam', had become Nuristan.

(The Durrand Line of 1893 remains a classical example of an artificial political frontier cutting through areas of homogeneous cultures, It was designed to provide the nascent Afghanistan with frontiers and to establish a no man's land between British India and Tsarist ambitions.)'

Some believe that the Kalash are descendents from the soldiers of Alexander the Great. Many of the Kalash do have European features such as electric blue eyes, pale skin, many have fair or red hair. Jean-Yves Loude and Viviane Lievre believe that they 'must have been among the conquering wave of Aryans who migrated from a region situated between the Caucasus and the Agros, slowly making their way towards India between 2,00 and 1,000 B.C. Thus some 4,000 years separate the contemporary Kalash from their sources.' The Kalash elders believe that they are from Tsyam which is in the west.

Kafir is a derogatory term, used by Muslims, meaning Non-believers. Kalash do believe in 'God', they call him Dezau which means the creator. They also believe in deities, such as Balumain, Mahandeo, Sajigor, Jestak... Balumain is the messenger between Dezau (God) and Deities. Balumain comes in winter, during their winter solstice festival "Chaumos" in December 16th-23rd. Chaumos means four meat, each family sacrifices four goats for the honour of Balumain. It's a big party, Kalash people will gather to sing and dance around the fire, Drinking wine or nowadays the ever popular Tara.

There are many sites around the valleys where ceremonies and offerings take place. Such as the Sanctuary of the god Mahandeo, which overlooks Grom village. Four horse heads, above a huge rock, symbolise the presence of the divinity. This is a special worship place in the village, offerings are made from here to the god Dezau for protection of the community. We were walking up there one day, when a friend, who looked a bit like Bez, called out to us. He told us that women shouldn’t visit this place. If a woman visits it, she or her husband, must pay for a goat to be sacrificed here to make it pure again. Luckily Kaz was walking slowly and we were a long way off.

When Kalashi women are menstruating, they leave their homes and stay in a women’s home for the duration. They are not supposed to cook for the men during this time.

The next day two Korean girls, Nam and Lim plus a Japanese lad Yoehei came to the guesthouse. Yoehei had been here before and there was an ongoing banter between him and the kids where they'd shout "Japan-ee!" and him "Pakistan- ee!".

We all went out walking with Ingeneer to a Muslim wedding in Trackdarah (Traghdhur), then onto Revalik where we met his sister and niece before going onto the village of Shekhanandeh. Shekhanandeh is a village of people who migrated from Afghanistan to here over 100 years ago, they converted to Islam.

The valley is very fertile with an abundance of Corn, Walnuts, grapes, apricots, apples, plums, mulberries.... If you went out walking you'd always be given a feast of fruits by almost every family you passed, especially grapes.

Ingeneer brewed his own wine and was also making Tara - moonshine/ schnapps/ rocket fuel, whatever you want to call it, In Kalash they called it Tara. It can be made from most fruits or some grains. Ingeneers was from the grapes he had used for making the wine. It was very strong!

We managed to catch some of the World Cup Twenty Twenty cricket in a crowded room which acted as the villages sports bar. It was packed and a good atmosphere especially when Pakistan nearly beat India. The game ended in a tie, then Pakistan lost on the ‘bowl out’, missing three ! open undefended wickets !?! Ingeneer’s son said they did this on purpose to help India reach the super 8. um ? Pakistan V Sri Lanka (Pakistan win) was also a good game.

Children walked around the village with catapults. They used these to gather the nuts and would sell them onto the local shops who will then sell onto traders. Kids would stream into Ingeneers house holding walnuts, one very young lad came in wearing only a shirt in which he carried his nuts, his other nuts dangling for all the world to see. His grubby face and puppy dog eyes pleaded for a good price. We paid him 10 Rupees. We had to leave Rumboor before word got out that two English traders were giving very good prices for the nuts.


Kalash Solstice, Jean-Yves Loude & Viviane Lievre (1987?), Lok Virsa Publishing House


We caught the 'Niazi Express, flying coach service', from Lahore to Peshawar, traveling overnight (300 PRS). The bus was well comfy with tons of legroom, a movie played for a while then we got some sleep. The motorway between Lahore to Peshawar was first class all the way, with none of the off road detours or insanely bumpy sections we remembered from other journeys in the sub continent.

We checked into the Rose hotel on Shoba Chowk, and had a couple of hours kip in our own ensuite room with TV.

We tried to get a rickshaw to a rooftop restaurant we had been recommended, near the fort. We didn't know the name and our description was vague. We ended up at some random hotel miles away from the fort. Too hungry to say otherwise we paid up and eat there. Afterwards we got another rickshaw to Chowk Yadgar in Peshawar's Old city. The Bazaar is timeless, we wandered around the tight pedestrian streets, through the Jewellery quarter. A guy showed us to a rooftop which gave great views over the Mahabat Mosque before inviting us to join him for Kawa, the green tea which is ever popular in North West Frontier Province (as well as Kashmir ...). Kawa is usually brewed with green cardamon and sometimes other spices. Served with sugar and without milk. This was in his fathers shop and of course we got the soft then harder sell. We left before the second pot of tea and fresh batch of jewellery and explored the streets once more.

We bumped into many more friendly people. We walked and talked with one guy for a while "Don't mind me, do you? I just want to talk", "No, of course not" we replied enjoying his company but our cynical self's wondering if there was a sales pitch to come. He guided us to a Hindu temple, the last place we expected in this conservatively Muslim city. A young Hindu lad proudly showed us around explaining there was a small Hindu community in Peshawar that remained after partition and lived happily alongside their Muslim brothers.

His other surprise was a 1900's 'Merry Weather (London)' fire engine that was locked up in a dusty garage near a park and a Museum in construction. The caretaker excitedly opened it up for us, a crowd quickly gathered and watched as we were encouraged to climb aboard and have our photos taken. We gave the friendly caretaker a tip for the pleasure.

I had some spots on my legs since India, but now I had other marks on my arms which didn't look good. I decided I should try and get them looked at and was told to see the doctors at 'Accident & Emergency' in the hospital. We had been here last year when Karen had Diarrhea. I got a ticket from reception then waited no more than five minutes to see a doctor. The doctor informed me I had 'Scabies', which sounded worse than it was, envoking ideas in me of Victorian era plagues. "No problem" he said, as he scribbled a note for me to take to the chemists. "Come back to me, once you've got the medicine".

The chemists was just round the corner and the medicine was very cheap. It was amazing really. I couldn't help thinking of Michael Moore's film "Sicko' about health care in USA, 'the world's only super power'. In Pakistan I could see a doctor for free, there was not even a prescription charge and the medicines were also cheap. I went back with the medicines to the doctor in the open consultation room. "Sit down, Chai?", "OK". The doctor called out for tea and we sat on some chairs at the back of the open room as the many patients passed through. Occasionally the doctor would turn around and tell us what had happened. "She was shot by her husband in a dispute".... in another case later, a guy had cut himself badly on his arms after a big argument with his mother. "There's a lot of feudalism here, things can get out of hand, OK show me your cream".

He was a very nice man, wanting to chat more he asked where we were staying, "OK if I pop round after work", "Of course not".

We celebrated Karen's birthday back at the Hotel with a big box of chocolate hearts and a fresh tube of Scabies cream. Romance is not dead. We chilled out at the hotel, enjoying room service and watched one of the DVD's we had picked up in Lahore, an hilarious Australian Comedy "Razzle Dazzle". Then there was a knock at the door, it was the doctor.

From Peshawar we got a bus north to Timargarha where we sat chatting to the security guys at the bus stop before getting on another bus to Dir. We stopped a night at Dir Hotel, which had a lovely garden with a red-eyed crane bird roaming around. We met three lads from Chitral who were here training for a cricket tournament in Peshawar. They wore England, New Zealand and Australia cricket tops. The next day we got on a mini-bus to Chitral crossing the Lowari Pass (3118m) and stopping the other side for lunch. The trucks in NWF Province are especially decorative with intricately carved wooden doors, colourful paintwork and hanging charms.

We stayed a night at Chinnar Inn, which also had a nice garden. We had a walk around and caught the end of a Polo game. Afterwards the pitch was full of people playing a hundred separate games of football as the sunset over the mountains of the Hindukush. The next morning I went to the barbers for a haircut and shave, my beard had grown quite bushy. The barber didn't seem too happy to chop it off at first, NWF province is a state of serious beards! I managed to convince him I wanted the entire beard shaved off, my moustache included! Once convinced he gave me a good cut and shave, all for 50 RS.

We registered ourselves at the office of the superintendent of police. Chitral is a sensitive region near the Afghan border and all tourists visiting Chitral district are expected to register. A chart on the wall showed that 148 British had visited last year (the highest figure from any nation) and less than 500 foreigners in total.

Nice Logo's Peshawar photosetNice Logo's Peshawar photoset



We were sad to leave Bhagsu, but excited to be on the road again. We got the bus from Mc Leod Ganj to Pathankot where we got the train to Amritsar. We stayed in the Golden Temple, eating in their dining halls that feeds *** thousands each day.
We met Bert (Holland) and his wife Maria (Boliva), who had just came from China, down the Karakoram Highway, through Pakistan and into India. We went for some beers and they gave us loads of tips.

The next morning we got a taxi to the border and crossed into Pakistan (after pausing for our last Kingfisher outside the border). We came through the opposite way, just over a year ago. The roads were still flooded from the monsoon rains.


The roads were chaos as we entered Lahore and it took forever in the sweltering heat. At one point on a three lane road the traffic had turned and started coming back the wrong way, there must have been an accident or something, but it was madness.

We checked into the
Regale Internet Inn and could only get a sweaty dorm room. We had a Siesta, it was boiling, then on the night we went to the Sufi night at The Shrine of Baba Shah Jamal.

Sufism (Islamic mysticism) adheres to main principles of mainstream Islam but emphasises a need to understand the real essence of Islam and not be restricted to formal manifestations of the religion. Sufis (mystics) are on a quest for spiritual emancipation. They use music, dance (and it seems a lot of Hashish) to connect with god.

The traditional dhol drummers banged out hypnotic beats non stop all night, whilst a few that could find space in the packed shrine, would dance, spin, whirl and shake their heads in a trance like state. People passed around fruit, drinks, food, joints and the impressive apple bong! People tend not to use rizzla papers here instead they empty the tobacco from their cigs then repack it with hash and tobacco. Men and a young lad walked around cooling the crowd with giant felt fans, whilst others sprayed rose water over the crowd.

There were fireworks over Lahore that night. The courts had decided that former Prime Minister
Nawaz Sharif would be allowed to re-enter Pakistan.

Pakistan is in a political quagmire at the moment. On March 9th 2007,
Chief Justice Minister Chaudhry, was suspended by Musharraf. There was a mass protest led by Lawyers in Lahore. The situation has been turbulent since. A few weeks back Musharaff was close to calling a State of Emergency.

A lady I got chatting to in an Antiques shop (they had some great old cameras on display), said that Pakistan needed rulers like Musharraf. 'Politicians are only out for themselves, they are corrupt, Musharraf and the army stand by us, we have had many tough times including the
Earthquake in 2005, he has been good'. This sentiment was echoed a week or so later by another Punjabi we met in Bumbaret.

Most other people I spoke to didn't share this view. Including the owner of the antique shop, they started having a full on debate. He said 'look at the price of cooking oil, it has gone up , everything gas gone up, the economy is ruined ..'

A guy we met in a rooftop restaurant overlooking Shahi Qila, Lahore Fort, said that for the first time in a long time, people are starting to believe in the courts, law, and democracy. That maybe they can challenge the 'dictatorship' rule.

Musharraf has ruled Pakistan as a Military leader (or dictator depending on your stance) after the Military coup in 1999. Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan's prime minister at the time, tried to sack his army chief, General Pervez Musharraf whilst he was midair returning from an official function in Sri Lanka. The tactic didn't work. Within a matter of hours, Sharif was under arrest and Musharraf had imposed military rule.
Read Story of how 1999 coup unfolded on BBC.

Lahore is great, super friendly place especially if you think of the size of the city. But it’s insanely hot and nothing works properly. The lecky keeps cutting out, which not only plunges you into darkness but also when the fans stop spinning you really start to cook! We eventually uploaded our site here, but it was a mission! Uploading in the middle of the night when the electricity was more stable.

To celebrate I went to the shady beer outlet under the Holiday Inn. Pakistan is a dry country, but you can get beer at some places if you have a foreign passport. If you’re a Christian you can get a letter from your doctor which you can then use to get booze!?!

We didn't do too much in the day as it was too hot to walk around. But we went to some Punjabi films on McLeod Road on the night. We saw '
Majajan', a classic starring Saima. We also saw a trashy film, whose name we don't even know. A guy from a nearby cinema warned us it was a 'sexy movie' and we should instead watch a good respectable 'family movie' at his cinema. This intrigued us even more. It looked like it was filmed ages ago on several types of film stock, but it must have been no more than a year or two old judging by the mobile phones. It was terrible! But fun and had some 'sexy' dance scenes.

The Regale Internet Inn became a good home for a week or so. Malik the owner is great as are his sons and staff. We went with him to a festival in Kasur which marked the anniversary of Baba Bulleh Shah a Sufi who challenged the doctrine of the times and called for a greater respect for all humanity and religions. At 'Fry-Chicks' a fast food place serving Fried Chicken, Byriani and Pizza we met Farrukh Mahmood, the owner, who really looked after us all. He had lived in Manchester for a while, "that's where I got my Pizza recipe", and was happy to chat about England and Pakistan. Outside the festival roared. We walked through the crazy streets to the Shrine where there was singing, music and dancing. A man, straight out of Ghostbusters, sprayed Rose water over the crowd.

Back in Lahore, there was another concert in the nearby Bagh-i-Jinnah (Lawrence gardens) and one night Malik even arranged a roof top Qawwali (Islamic devotional singing) concert at the Inn.

The food in Pakistan is not quite as good as India for Veggies but we had some good Dal, Veg and great Chappati on Food street, a lively outdoor traffic free road full of eateries. The Ice cream from Chaman on 'Ice Cream Street' was bostin! Mango and Pistachio was our favourites. This place was where all the action was, packed in the evening with families, couples and groups of men. The sweet shop near Regale Internet also done the best Kulfi, ice cream. On our last night we indulged in the western delights of Pizza Hut, which was a bit pricey by local standards but still packed with families and young Lahories eating to a EuroPop beat.

Nice Logo's Lahore and Kasur, Pakistan photosetNice Logo's Lahore and Kasur, Pakistan photoset

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