Chitral is one of the mountain regions of Pakistan, lying in the extreme north. Its total area is 14800 km and 90% area is under mountains. The highest and most dense section of Hindukush lies within the borders of Chitral.
The Chitral valley, located in the northern region of Pakistan, is one of the most remarkable places in the world when it comes to natural scenic beauty. Its picturesque mountains, sulphur springs, Juniper forests, friendly people and rivers teeming with the famous Trout fish are truly spellbinding.
Chitral is also the most peaceful Region of Pakistan. Its culture is unique. There are two racial groups in Chitral. One is Kalash who are reported to be the descendants of Alexander the Great. The Kalash are now only about three 3800 people and live in the southwest valleys of Chitral. They have their unique culture with three main festivals a year and a major source of tourist attraction. They live peacefully with their neighbors who outnumber them. Their ways of life are quite interesting. The other group living with their Kalash neighbors in a state of ideal friendship and harmony is called Kho who are reputed for their culture and peace loving nature and integrity. British and Chitrali writers have written many books in English on Kalash culture as well as on Chitral as a whole, and these books are available in major libraries, in the market as well as on the Net. Research on the history, origin and Culture of the Kalash community of Chitral is still in progress.
The Chitral valley is situated amidst the mighty mountains of the Hindukush range. This mountain range is 322 km long. The local language spoken in the Chitral valley is Khowar Language. Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, is also understood. The people of Kafir Kalash use their own language called the Kalashi language. The people of Chitral valley mostly wear "Shalwar Kameez" which is the national dress of Pakistan. Women wear "Duppatas" and Shawls along with "Shalwar Kameez". The most popular head dress of the Chitrali men is the woolen "Pakol". In winters, the men wear long baggy coats having long sleeves known as the "Shuqa". These coats are also made out of wool. The traditional sport of Chitral is Polo. World's highest Polo ground (Shandur Polo ground) is also present in this area, where the Shandur Polo festival takes place.
Tribes of Chitral
The Khow people of Chitral make majority of the population and hail not from one stock but belong to various ethnic groups who had reached Chitral in different waves of migration from more in hospitable valleys around the present district of Chitral. The original Khow people flourished in the Mulkhow and Torkhow valleys. In the former, a big flat rock, still called Khow boht, to be the seat of assembly where important issues of resource distribution and management were taken. The Khow then occupied the whole of upper Chitral and had their own principality one of whom was known as Bahmani Kohistani. The old Khow had later intermingled with the newcomers or we may rightly say the new comers adopted the ways of the old Khow and spread down wards till they reach the Chitral and ousted the kalash rulers and occupied the whole of Chitral. Khow are known as highly cultured, polite, honest, brave and martial people maintained the independent position of Chitral State for many centuries.
The Kalash believe they are originally from Tsiam, although no one yet knows where that is. It is more likely they are descendants from Indo-Aryans (about 2000BC). Many historians believe the Kalash are descendants of the soldiers of Alexander the Great.
The kalash valleys of Rumbur, Bumburet and Birir are within Chitral District of Pakistan. The kalash people are the only non-Muslims for hundreds of miles. They may be a little wary of strangers, but usually do welcome who wants to become acquainted with the kalash way of life.
The 3500 Kalash of the valleys live in unique houses made of local stone and wood which are stacked on top of one another at steep hillsides. The roof of one house is the verandah of another, on top of the lower house. They make their living with staple crops like lentils or wheat and by goat herding. Life is very traditional, like in many parts of the world, and the work division between men and their women is elaborate. Family life, cattle herding and harvesting form their main livelihood with the occasional distraction of a festival or two. Women move into a Bashaleni house when giving birth and also when they are menstruating. Many aspects of the society are both communal and segregated and typically, marriages are made by arrangement.
Important Villages of Chitral
Terich valley is populated with several small villages separated by groves of apricot and apple trees. The valley is very fertile and the resulting verdant floor is in breathtaking contrasts to orange and yellow apricots and apples, especially in late summer.
Terich valley- the main route to high Hindu Kush peaks and center of adventure tour activities- also has other good potential such as mineral deposits of yellow arsenic, serpentine, quartz, talc, calcite, antimony, gold dust etc. but mining is not yet in progress hence people have few jobs to earn their livelihood. Mostly people depend on subsistence farming and get food supply from government stores. Local sources of income are almost nil. In the past decades the people of this valley used to get good summer jobs on the arrival of mountaineering expeditions, trekkers, hikers and got handsome income. There used to be around a dozen or more adventure parties to climb the high peaks approaching through this valley. Evidently they needed porters; guides, high altitude porters, cooks etc and the local people got jobs for many weeks on good wages and had a coveted source of income beside other benefits on the return of those parties such as good tips, awards, surplus food items, kits etc. But now unfortunately the number of foreign trekking, hiking, climbing teams has declined as a result of Afghan war and also that Tour operators from Chitral have failed to enter Tourism markets to spread information and motivate adventure lovers, using various means of technology for promotion of trekking and climbing and other adventure activities in the Hindukush, this channel of summer income has declined and the local people face financial burden.
Terich valley a gateway to the major Mountaineering, Trekking and Hiking routes, which lead to the highest peaks and longest glaciers of the central Hindukush. Terich, which is one of Pakistan's highest and remote valleys, the last human settlement before the actual march to Terich Glacier and Terich Concordia, Udren and Roshgol Glaciers. Its real attraction is being a gateway to the most spectacular sights of the region to Terich Concordia and Roshgol the amphitheatre of 7 highest massifs of Hindukush and the longest glaciers and peaks, including, Tirich Mir Main 7708m, Tirich Mir East 7690m, Noshaq Main 7492mm, Noshaq East 7480m, Istor o Nal 7403m, Saraghrar 7349m and Shingeik Zom 7290m.
Booni is now a Town and administration centre of the upper Chitral since 1969. It is a big fan shaped flat and big village, perhaps one of the largest villages of the area. It is famous for its fruits like; apples, pears, grapes, apricots, peaches etc. It lies at 72 km from Chitral Town on the Shandur-Gilgit road.
At a distance of 2 hours, is located the famous valley of Injigan, now called Garam Chashma, and could be approached by jeep, car etc. but better to be inside an open jeep to enjoy the scenic beauty enroute to the area while visiting the challenging and breath taking rocky spires of Shoghore and if one has the guts then some rock climbing could be done in the area, as it has become one of the favorite sport for rock climbing after the training camps of Adventure Foundation Pakistan for a couple of year ago. Garam Chashma, famous for its hot springs and the water is considered for centuries, as a natural medication to cure the skin disorders and maladies; therefore the valley is visited by local tourists as well as foreign during the season. Overnight stay at the valley could be one of the most amazing experiences while enjoying the serenity and peacefulness of the area, especially the beauty of the mountains and landscape may enchanter you. Don't forget to obtain a permit from the fisheries department of Chitral before leaving for the valley, if you are interested in doing some angling in the Garam Chashma River and want to taste the trout.
Chitral Gol National Park
Chitral Gol National Park is one of the national parks of Pakistan. It is located in Chitral District in the NWFP of Pakistan beside the Chitral River, at a distance of two hours drive from Chitral city. The park is also known as Chitral Gol National Park. The word Gol in the local language means 'the valley'.
The way leading to the park is quite narrow and dangerous, yet more risky during the rainy days. It is located between 1450 metres and about 5000 metres above sea level. It has an area of 77.5 square kilometers.
This park includes three valleys. Several Glaciers also lie in the park through which several springs make their way and ultimately form a stream of 18 metres. The cold water of this stream falls towards the east into the Chitral River. The park is rich in trees particularly Cedar trees. Chitral Gol National Park is surrounded by high Hindukush peaks and is a habitat of a number of wildlife like: Kashmir Markhor, Ibex, Snow Leopard, Lynx, Chakor, Ram Chakor, Pheasant, Himalayan Griffon Vultures, Golden Eagle, Himalayan Snowcock, Himalayan Monal Pheasants, and a large variety of birds and wild animals. National bird of Pakistan, Chakor, National animal, Markhor and National Tree, Diyar are also found in Chitral Gol National Park.
The annual rainfall in its region is estimated to be 462 ml. In September it rains more on the spectacular peaks surrounding the park. However, in November the rainfall is more in the valleys and on the lower peaks .There is also a session of snowfall during the winter season. The snow covered white peaks also enhance the beauty till June. After which it starts melting. The general weather is cold and dry. The temperature ranges from -12.2 to 43.3 °C.
The Kalash are famous for their festivals and dress code. They for example know how to let their hair down in style. There is much dancing where the elders chant legends with drum accompaniment and the women dance around in the open place. Locally brewed wine is drunk in copious quantities. The festival dates are only fixed to a certain extent as the people and the dates depend on the harvest.
The festival of Chilimjusht or Joshi is for spring harvest and last 4-6 days around mid May and the Uchal festival on 20th August celebrates the pre-harvest with cheese, corn and wine. Chitirmas in mid December celebrates the winter solstice and is the most impressive festival, lasting for up to 10 days.
The kalash worship many gods of Kafiristan like Balomain, the heroic demi-god of the kalash Balomain's spirit is said to pass through the valley counting the people of Kalash and collecting their prayers to return them to Tsiam, the mythical land of the kalash.
The Kalash people thank the creator during their festivals. Each festival is meant to give thanks to the Almighty. The dancing is one way of showing happiness and thankfulness towards the Creator.
Much of the dancing take place in large circles around a bonfire and people chant with mesmerizing repetitions - with just a drum beat accompanying the voices. The girls wear intricate dresses made of cowry shells, coins and beads with beautiful hair braiding and headwear. Each heavy headdress weighing several pounds is presented to a girl by her uncle. The jewellery includes necklaces made from apricot kernels, a traditional gift during the festivals. Single women are expected to find themselves a husband during these festivals.
Just before the main festival, seasonal food is offered to the ancestral spirits and a kotik, light for the ancestors, is lit. After this ritual the food, considered impure, is offered to the elderly women to be eaten.
During the festival, purity is paramount and celibacy is enforced throughout the days of the event so all the people will have a pure mind when Balomain visit the valley. All people must clean themselves in a ritual bath the week before the festival begins. During the men's purification ceremony, they may not sit down at all during the day and at night the blood of a sacrificed goat is sprinkled on their faces. Special bread is eaten, baked away from the main village, and prepared by men only during the purification ceremony. Another Bread, called jaou, is prepared for the festival and stuffed with crushed walnuts and goat cheese.
Special dance halls exist for the purpose of some of the dancing at festivals. They are decorated with carved and ornate wooden pillars and goat-like figurines. The music and dance is a performance of set songs: the cha or clapping song is the simplest one to a lilting dance, sung by the elders.
Chilimjusht or Joshi-Spring Festival (13-16 May)
This celebration is organized to pay thanks to the Almighty. The people celebrate the arrival of the spring season with new hopes and aspirations. Foreign and local tourists particularly schedule their visits in accordance with this festival, having specific aims to record various events of the festival.
Uchal- Summer Festival (20-22 August)
Kalash people organize Uchal, the harvest celebration to pay homage to the Almighty that blessed them with fruits and other crops. They prepare cheese, buttermilk and corn to celebrate this festival.
During the festival prayers, a procession is made to a high plateau outside the village in Balangkuru
where the long night of dancing begins. The festivals continue for many more days moving on to different locations within the valleys.
Chitirmas- Winter Festival (15th - 22nd December)
The festival is celebrated to welcome the arrival of the New Year. All the Kalash people remain indoors and outsiders are not allowed to enter their settlements for 7 days. The people have a merry time by free wine drinking and they sacrifice goats. People show their thanks by dancing and singing together, enjoying every moment
Shandur Polo Festival (7 - 9 July)
The Shandur polo ground is in District Chitral. It is bordered on the West by Yarkhoon valley and on the Northern by the valley of Gilgit District. The polo ground is about 153 km away from the main Town Chitral and accessible by jeep. The road is closed during winter due to heavy snow.
The world famous Shandur Pass is about 3740m above sea level and lies midway between Chitral and Gilgit. The distance from Chitral is 153 km and Gilgit is about 211 km. These areas remain snow covered in winter and turn into a green heaven during the summer season. There is a big lake in the area.
Shandur is the highest and the largest polo ground in the world; there game of polo is played between teams from Chitral and Gilgit each year, 7-9th of July. The game originated in the dim and distant past in the high mountains of the Hindukush and Karakorum ranges. Amongst the horse loving-people of Chitral and Gilgit, here it is still played in its original form, a game that is tough, rough and hard both for man and horse, just as the surrounding mountains themselves. A game is without rules, a game with only a few pre-agreed conventions of play. Polo in Khowar Language is called "Istoorghar" and has been the traditional game of Chitral. The Motto is: We play polo as "the game of Kings and King of the games". The game is commonly played to the music band comprising a big drum.
Chitral and most of Hindukush region gets rains in winter, from December to April and after that Chitral enjoys fine dry weather because the monsoon clouds don't reach this part of Asia so adventure tourism has got the best conditions for people who visit from Europe during their summer vacations. This dry summer of Chitral has enabled climbers and Para gliders to enjoy the best opportunities and that is why most of the mountaineering expeditions are usually successful. Paragliding is ideal even in October from the Zani Pass launching pad, which is approached by jeep or by trek.
Natural Lakes in Chitral
There are a number of lakes in Chitral, mostly at great heights and ideal for trekking destinations Karambar Lake, in the eastern tip of Chitral boundary to the east of Boroghil pass. Shandur Lake on top of Shandur pass is easily approached by jeep, is also known for the polo festival in July each summer. Another lake is Bashqargolo chat lies in the same region. There is a large glacial lake on the route to Udren pass at 4000m and another lies at the end of Roshgol glacier, at the base of Langar Zom south, in the Roshgol valley.
Shordonik, Bemasoor and Ochensoor are located on the Terich Aan ridge to be approached via Zani pass, by jeep. Another lake lies in the Uzhnugol at Utakh. Another lake is situated at the base of Istor o Nal east, a few km from Shughur baisun camp in the lower Terich glacier. These are major attraction but there are hundreds of smaller glacial lakes in the main glacial section of the high Hindukush.
Best season of visit to Chitral from April to December, but for watching Snow leopard, Markhor and other wild life it is recommended to visit from mid December to end of March.
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PIA operates a weekly flight (subject to weather conditions) between Islamabad to Chitral and one flight Peshawar to Chitral. The flying time is 60 minutes and 40 minutes respectively. Islamabad and Peshawar can be reached by air; rail and road from all the major cities of Pakistan. For flight enquiries in Chitral, please contact to PIA Booking office, Opposite Polo ground, Chitral.
Chitral is accessible from Peshawar by the 365km long partly metalled and partly gravel-top jeep-able road, which goes via Malakand, Director and the 3118 meters high Lowari Pass which is open during the summer months only, i.e from June to the end of October and may even close earlier due to an early snowfall. Chitral can also be reached from Gilgit via 3810 meters (12,500 feet) high Shandur Pass.