"Where The Fairies Sing"

The Kalash are one of the world's endangered minority communities. The Kalash valleys are located in the southern gorges of the Hindu Kush mountain range of Pakistan`s Northwest Frontier Province. I am in Balanguru village during their Pagan Spring Festival of Joshi. Villages like Balanguru, remain isolated, very poor, and unique. They are also under severe pressure from the surrounding Muslim ‘authorities’ to convert to Islam.  Viewed as a rather special area since they are not Muslim and so close to the Afghan border, you have to get a special permit to visit. Living at an elevation of 8,000 ft., the Kalasha are the last surviving non-Muslim tribal communities in Northern Pakistan. A decade ago, there were 15,000 non-Muslim ethnic Kalasha in the three valleys of Bumborate, Rumbur and Birir. Now there are just 4,000.  

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                             Bridge to village                                                                       Rumbur valley
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                                Joshi festival area                                     People at festival

The spring festival of Joshi, or Chillmjusht is celebrated in May every year. The festival seeks the blessings of gods and goddesses for the safety of the herds and crops of the Kalash community. The spring festival honours the fairies and also safeguards the goats and shepherds before  they depart to the high mountain pastures for the goats’ summer grazing. They present the women with goats’ milk and bread that has been ritually purified. The women sing their praise, and while the men are away, the women stay in the narrow valleys, tending their tiny terraced fields of wheat, maize and millet. The picturesque village of Balanguru of around 60 stone and wood houses sits on a small stream that flows into the main river of the valley. The stream itself is used for everything, from washing clothes and utensils, to drinking water for  them and their livestock.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

                              Washing clothes

                                Drinking water
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

While Kalash men wear ordinary shalwar kameez (the loose long shirt and trousers) as do most of the Pakistanis, the Kalash women wear five large braids of hair , (one in the front, two on the sides, and two in the back).  They also wear the ‘Cheo’, a black woolen homespun dress, red-beaded necklaces by the dozen, and an exceptional head piece (shaped differently in each valley) covered in cowry shells, beads and trinkets that flow down their back. For their black robes, the Kalash are sometimes referred to as the “Wearers of the Black Robes”. Kalash means black in their language.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

The traditional headdress decorated with shells and beads. The Shu'shut is a band worn by women on their heads in their everyday dress, with a long tail that falls at the back. It is elaborately decorated with shells, beads, chain and embroidery.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
The origins of the Kalash have fascinated anthropologists due to the unusually high frequency of light hair, skin, and eyes (particularly green).
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 

 

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

                                   Green and blue eyes

   
Customs

Marriage by elopement is rather frequent, also involving women who are already married to another man. Indeed, wife-elopement is counted as one of the "great customs" (ghōna dastūr) together with the main festivals. Girls are usually married at an early age. If a woman wants to change husbands, she will write a letter to her prospective husband offering herself in marriage and informing the would-be groom how much her current husband paid for her. This is because the new husband must pay double if he wants her. For example, if the current husband paid one cow for her, then the new husband must pay two cows to the original husband if he wants her. The Kalash do not in general separate males and females or frown on contact between the sexes. However, menstruating girls and women are sent to live in the "bashaleni", the village menstrual building, during their periods, until they regain their "purity". They are also required to give birth in the bashaleni.

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 

                                          "Bashaleni"

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                                      School days, they are taught  Urdu, English, and the traditional Kalash language.
 
The Northwest Frontier is a wild region of immense natural beauty. Located in the remote North West corner of Pakistan - one of the most politically complex countries on earth, the Frontier borders Afghanistan to the east, China to the north and India to the west. There is a high threat from terrorism, kidnap and sectarian violence throughout Pakistan. 

 

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                The 635 ft. Hussaini-Borit  Suspension Bridge linking Zarabad village to Hussain Village in northern Pakistan
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                                                                 Rock and mud slides block the roads
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved ©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved

 

                                                                            Spectacular landscapes

©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                                            Ladyfinger Peak, is a distinctive rock spire in the Batura Muztagh
©Kieron Nelson "Vanishing Cultures Photography" All rights reserved
                                                              Cathedral Ridge in northern Pakistan

 Update: August 2015

The Kalash were harvesting their wheat crops and huge sections of ripened wheat fields caved off, crashing down into the raging river below. In this year’s floods, all the irrigation channels the length of the Rumbur valley and the hydro-electric plant were destroyed.  At least fifty families in the Valley are severely affected. The school was washed away by the floods and they are now using a tent. Fund raising is now underway to try and help.

           My journey to Pakistan in the spring of 2007 was arranged through "Wild Frontiers" a U.K. based travel company

 


Comments

2.Vanishing Cultures Photography
Thanks for visiting Priya. I appreciate you kind comments.
1.Priya Balan(non-registered)
I loved the lady finger peak image...beautiful capture of the mountains..Did you walk on that Bridge? I could have never done it. That is the most scariest bridge but the view is fantastic! It is interesting to note that they are still thriving non Muslim tribe.
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