Saturday, June 1, 2013

Kalash - Lush Green Fields and Natural Springs

A Dream Came True

“We’d go to Kalash soon”, said one of my friends while we were having gossips a couple of years back. It was obviously very difficult or almost impossible for all of us to go together. Then the day came when we got a chance to celebrate the bachelor party of one of our best mates. And our destination was decided to be Kalash rather than a beach or a single night party. Our plan had to be a special and the unique one. We needed a reason and we got a strong one!

Kalash – The Heaven on Earth

Kalash, one of the few most beautiful valley in the northern areas, some 20kms from Chitral,  with its residents who totally differ in culture, religion and customs from the rest of the country, accessible through an extremely uncomfortable and dangerous road where a bit of a mistake by a very trained driver can make us vanish thousands of foots down into the river
Check post at the entrance of Kalash

We at the wooden bridge just before Kalash

Road to Kalash

The Group

We, the group of 8 best mates, some of who have already moved to different cities or countries, were too lucky to have gathered for this cause which never seemed to be possible. Our group consisted of myself, Noman – the source of energy to the group who joined us from Lahore, Abdul Paracha – the bachelor come married whose party had to be celebrated, Naveed – without whom we are always incomplete and who provides us reasons to laugh out loud, Raheel – the only doctor in our group with desi solutions to sickness during travel, Wasim Yousuf – the most enthusiast one who never gets low, Ahsan – the aircraft engineer and group's “saqi”, Umair – the photographer and always seems in panic. 
Rawalpindi was decided to be the place where I had to collect them and start the most memorable trip of my life!   
We met at a Chai Hotel (tea shop) at Peer Wadai stop, Rawalpindi

From right- Umair, Ahsan, Wasim, Abdul, Rahil, Noman and me

Rawalpindi to Chitral

The journey from Rawalpindi to Chitral is a long one and uncomfortable most of the time. It takes almost 7-8 hours from Rawalpindi to Deer and then almost 5-6 hours from Deer to Chitral. Buses are available from Peer Wadai bus station in Rawalpindi.  Our journey was comparatively easier as we hired private Land Cruiser or HiAce. It is advisable to stay and rest in Deer for a night just to avoid tiredness.  

Hired a HiAce for Rawalpindi to Deer
Me, waiting for morning at Daewoo, Rawalpindi 
Rawalpindi to Deer motorway
Tight security along the way

Itineraries and Options

The initial plan was as follows:
  • Karachi to Rawalpindi by air
  • Rawalpindi to Deer by a private transport from Peer Wadai staition, Rawalpindi
  • Deer to Chitral by a private transport after a night stay in Deer
  • Chitral to Kalash by a private transport after a night stay in Chitral

At Karachi Airport

Lawari Tunnel – An alternate to the deadly Lawari Bypass

Our itinerary included one night stay in Deer and a night stay in Chitral but we came to know only in Deer that the only way to go to Chitral would be through Lawari tunnel,  an alternate to Lawari bypass with very cold inside, water dripping from the mountain and very very dark insid  and was constructed by the order of Pervez Musharraf, the former president of Pakistan, because of a number of accidents reported on the Lawari Top by pass, a dangerous road with almost 60 zigzag patterned turns, connecting  Chitral with Deer. It was our deepest wish to go through Lawari top bypass and experience the adventure of dangerous journey but the snow on the top wouldn’t allow us take that road safely with maximum chances for an accident to happen. It would definitely add much to our adventure.   
Lawari Tunnel

Change of Plan and An Adventurous Journey

The plan had to be changed immediately in order to avoid getting stuck in Deer for a day or two and wait for the tunnel to be opened as it is usually opened on alternate days due to the construction work in progress. Regardless of the fact that it was risky to continue traveling during night, we continued our journey and passed Lawari tunnel before dusk despite rainfall and heavily secured area with many check posts on the way. Journey was extremely adventurous as it was thunderstorm and we could see the depth of the abyss when there was lightening. We were fortunate enough to have been accompanied by an army personal who made them open the tunnel, specially, for us.  
Sometimes the gap between the tyres and the road seems to be not more than a couple of inches

The uncarpeted road makes it more risky

Chitral to Kalash

We arrived in Chitral at 0900 hours and hired rooms and started getting rid of tiredness due to a long journey. The river side hotel was a cheaper choice with fresh feeling of river which is a totally different environment for residents of a city like Karachi. We moved to Kalash the next day in a Land Cruiser which took almost 2. Kalash is divided into three villages named Brumbret, Rumbur and Birir. Bumburiat is the most beautiful one with many hotels and food options. Like other tourist places people tried to show us the "cheap rooms" but we went for our own options as usual and found a very cheap and isolated wooden house owned by Razzak Kapoor.
Razzak Kapoor was a Kalashi who would answer to each and every demand made by any of us. He'd make fresh food of us and unforgettable breakfast everyday. This was the place we always wanted. With gigantic mountains around and sound of flowing river all the time made us feel fresh all the time. The evenings were too cold even in May with temperature as low as 4-5 celsius and afternoons with almost 14 celsius. We spent three joyful days in Kalash exploring different villages, experiencing Kalashis’ culture, different places and enjoying the real beauty of nature at its extreme.

Somewhere in Chitral

Hotel at river side in Chitral

View from the hotel

View from the hotel room's window
Breakfast would be ready for every late comer
Pure Desi breakfast with "Jao ki Roti," "paneer" and "Makhan"
First day in Chitral - We are excited for the coming days
A river was flowing just beside our house
Road towards the valley
We all with Ayun, a beautiful valley behind us
A congested road towards Kalash
Photography break on the way to Kalash
Kalash Road
Our place to stay in Kalash, We owned the whole place and used it our own way
We owned the kitchen as well and prepared own food
We used this tap and water flowing beside to take shower in the early morning
No beds, just mattresses. Felt totally different

Our sitting area in the evenings

Looking for something in Kalash village
In Kalashi traditional cap
We started teaching in the school
Met a couch surfer and made him eat tobacco
Our home in kalash

With school children
With school children
Absorbing some heat in freezing weather
Dinner was ready and we are too hungry to wait
With Razzak, whose rest house we hired in Kalash, offered us very good moments

Some Facts About Kalashi People

We found them very honest, trusted, ethical, simple and devoted to their traditions. As far as I know after talking to different people they believe in one God but worship in the ways they won’t like disclose. They have different festivals where they select their partners randomly and are free to select anyone to marry. They would run away for some days and then come back to get married properly. Even an outsider is allowed to marry a Kalashi woman as long as she agrees. Hundreds of thousands of rupees are spend on funeral and they usually dance and celebrate the funeral with only close relatives mourning the death of a Kalashi. They hold a belief that they should celebrate the birth and death similarly. Previously they used to put the boxes with dead bodies under the sky but people started stealing bodies and misusing the bodies so they started burying the dead.
A confused but rather a confident Kalashi girl

In a mela
Women dancing in mela
A Kalashi girl in festival
Kalashi girls doing traditional dance in festival

The didn't bury the dead until people started misusing the bodies 
An old opened coffin with skeleton inside 

Medium they used to worship God like other Paganjs

Kalash to Kalam and Sawat - An Idea We Had to Drop Immediately

On the third day we came with an idea to visit Kalam and Sawat valley on our way back to Rawalpindi by taking a bypass from Deer or Tamergerah. But we had  drop that idea due to shortage of time.  It would however take 12 hours in excess for visiting those places.
Using map on the breakfast table to plan the next move

Rumbur - A Valley in Kalash
On second day we decided to visit Rumber, another valley in Kalash. We hired a land cruiser for Rs. 2500 for almost 6 hours and visited rumbur. We found it as beautiful as Brumbret. We visited their villages in Rumbur and took some snaps.

A breathtaking raod towards Rambur from Brumbret

Our ride towards Rumbur

Eating fresh Mulberry (Shehtoot)



No Phone, Internet or Easy Access to Outsiders

Yes! It was ultimate freedom. There were no mobile phone signals, internet or other wireless communication medium. The thing we likes was that we had no worries about what was happening with our business or family. We would call our home or office once or twice a day to make sure everything is going as they should. The shopkeeper, as usual, became friend with us and would inform us if there was a phone call for us. So actually we were free all  the time!
The shopkeeper whose phone we used and who gave us special services without any money involved

Towards Rawalpindi and Then to Karachi

On the fourth day, with mixed moods of joy and sorrow we had to move back towards Karachi as we had to disperse again.  We left Chitral at 0010 hours and started the undesirable journey towards Rawalpindi which took almost 15 hours and made us too tired to take train or bus. We took an option to travel by air towards Karachi the next morning and spent the last night at Peer Wadai bus station in Rawalpindi. 
Waiting for the Lawari tunnel to be opened

Our ride - A comfortable one
The driver was continuously smoking weed despite we were scared. "I can see wider roads after smoking weed", he claimed

Islamabad Airport