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Chitral Valley

Birir  ||  Birmoghalasht  ||  Broghil  ||  Bumboret  ||  Chitral  ||  Garam Chashma  ||  Kalash Valleys  ||  Lowari Pass  ||  Mastuj  ||  Rumbur  ||  Shandor  ||  Tirch Mir  || 

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Chitral forms Pakistan's northwestern border with Afghanistan, and is home to the precipitous mountains of the Hindkush. This range is different from the Himalayas and Karakorams, and since there are no 8000-meter peaks here, it is not as well known. However, Tirich Mir at 7708m and its accompanying peaks, Noshaq (7492m), Istoro Nal (7403m) and Saraghrar (7338m) command respect. Alexander the Great's troops had to battle through the snows on their passage from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and called the Hindu Kush 'Parapamisus' meaning mountains over which no eagle can fly. Additionally, Tartar hordes passed through here, notably Gengis Khan and Tamerlane, and a route of the Silk Road wound through the Baroghil Pass in Upper Chitral. Nonetheless, Chitralis have been mostly left alone in their valley for centuries, and their origins remain shrouded in mystery. Present day Chitralis are mostly Muslims, but in the south of Chitral there are three Valleys inhabited by the Kafir Kalash, an anamistic tribe that has evaded being converted to Islam. Chitral has been traditionally and, except for a brief spell uninterruptedly, ruled by the Mehtars who claim as ancestors the Tartar ruling family of Tamerlane. However, in the late 19th century the British established a garrison in Chitral, as at that time it was thought that there existed easy passage from Russia to British India. When that proved unfounded, the British lost interest in Chitral, and the Mehtars were left to govern as they wished until the late 1960's. Finally in 1974, Chitral was annexed by Pakistan, and the Mehtars' rule came to a rather ignominious end. The beauty of Chitral lies as much in its rustic, mountainous terrain, as in its warmhearted and friendly inhabitants.

Language : 'Khowar' (Chitrali), Urdu

Climate : Summers are generally pleasant but the winters are extremely cold. Chitral has unpredictable weather during spring with frequent rains and snowfall. The best weather for many may be autumn when it is pleasant with mild temperatures.

Traditional Dresses : The women wear 'shalwar-kameez' (long shirts with baggy trousers) and 'dupattas' (flimsy scarves draped round the shoulders), in winter the men wear 'shuqa', loose, long woolen gowns with long sleeves, the popular headdress is 'pool' which is alsoof woolen material. The Kalash men distinguish themselves from the non Kalash by wearing Chitrali woolen hats to which they add feathers or little metal bells, Traditional dress, reserved for festivals, is of rough homespun in gray, brown, green or blue, very simple with a hole cut out for the neck, They wear long woolen belts and their shoes are often of goat-skins, usually rigged directly to the feet and laced with woolen or leather thongs. The Kalash women wear black gowns of coarse cotton in summer and handspun wool dyed black in winter, They also wear a picturesque headgear which weighs between three and four pounds, It is made of woolen black material encrusted with cowries shells, buttons and crowned with a large colored feather.

Best Time to Visit : Ideal time for visiting Chitral is from June to September.

Kafir-Kalash Tribe:

One of the major attractions of Chitral are the Kalash valleys - the home of the Kafir-Kalash or 'Wearers of the Black Robe', a primitive pagan tribe. Their ancestry is shrouded in mystery. A legend has it that some soldiers of the legions of Alexander of Macedonia settled down in Chitral and the preset Kafir-Kalash are their offspring's.

The 3,000 strong Kafir-Kalash live in the valleys of Birir, Bumburet and Rambur in the south.

Bumburet:

The largest and the most picturesque valley of the Kafir-Kalash, is 40 kms (25 miles) from Chitral and is connected by a jeepable road.

Birir:

34 kms (21 miles) away, is accessible by a jeepable road.

Rambur:

It is 32 kms (20 miles) from Chitral. The road is jeepable upto Ayun and the remaining 16 kms (10 miles) have to be traveled on foot.

The Kalash women wear black gowns of coarse cloth in summer and hand-spun wool dyed in black in winter. Their picturesque headgear is made of woolen black material studded with cowry shells, buttons and crowned with a large colored feather. The Kalash are gay people and love music and dancing particularly on occasions of their religious festivals like Joshi Chilimjusht (14th & 15th May - spring),Phool (20th-25th September) and Chowas (18th to 21st December). Foreign tourists require special permits to visit the Kalash valleys. The Deputy Commissioner, Chitral, issues permits free of cost.

Garam Chashma (Hot Springs):

Elevation: 1859 meters (6,100 feet). Distance: 45-km (28 miles) northwest of Chitral. By jeep 3 hours. This unspoiled enchanting valley of orchards, verdant fields and snow clad peaks is renowned for its boiling sulphur springs which are famous for healing effect on skin diseases, gout, rheumatism and chronic headaches. For the convenience of tourists, "humans" (baths) have been constructed near the springs. Foreign tourists are requested to pay a toll tax of Rs. 5.00 per person.

Birmoghalasht:

Elevation: 2743 meters (9,900 feet). Distance: 15 km (9 miles). Worth visiting is the fairy-tale summer palace of the ex-ruler perched at a height of 2743 metros (9,000 feet). It offers awe-inspiring views of Trichmir and panoramic vistas of valleys below. The fort is approachable on foot only. Polo is an equestrian sport with its origin embedded in Central Asia dating as far back as sixth century BC. At first it was training game for Cavalry Units for the King's guards or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen who played polo with as many as 100 players to a side it was a miniature battle.

Broghil:

Broghil is a small valley at upper Chitral district. It is near Wakhan Border.This valley is very beautiful. There is Yaar Khun river flows from this valley. Chikar and Arshad Gaas are small valley there. There is a lake also. There are lots of Yalks there.

Lowari Top:

Lowari Top is entry point in Chitral from Dir district. It is a high pass which is off six month per year due to heavy snow. Now a tunel is in progress to aviod this problem.

Mastuj:

Mastuj is on a way to Shandor Top. Mastuj is very silent and beautiful place to visit.

Tirich Mir :

The Tirich Valley is populated with several small villages, separated by groves of apricot trees. The valley is very fertile, and the resulting verdant floor is in breathtaking contrast to the orange and yellow apricots, especially in late summer. After driving to Uthul, trek acros Zani Pass (3886m) to Shagram village. At the crest of Zani pass, there are excellent views of the Hindukush and Hindu Raj ranges, and the colour contrasts of the two are readily discernible. Trekking through the villages of Atak and Bandak, one will arrive at Shogor, at the foot of the Tirich Glacier. From here trek on to the Lower Tirich Glacier to the furthermost point of the trek. The day's excursion will allow for fantastic views of Tirich Mir (7708m) and Istoro Nal (7403m) as well as the heavily crevassed Upper Tirich Glacier. Return in two days on the same route to Shagram, from where one will drive back to Chitral.

Shandur Pass:

Drive by Jeep through some of the remotest mountain villages to Shandur pass 12000 feet. Spend some time at the pass and stop bye at some villages later drive back to Chitral.

History of Polo:

Polo is an equestrian sport with its origin embedded in Central Asia dating as far back as sixth century BC. At first it was training game for Cavalry Units for the King's guards or other elite troops. To the warlike tribesmen who played polo with as many as 100 players to a side it was a miniature battle.
Polo became a Persian national sport played extensively by men as well as women in the sixth century AD. Usually played in front of royal palaces, marble goal posts still stand in front of the palace in Teheran. From Persia the game spread to Arabia, then to Tibet, China and Japan. In China, in the year 910, the death of a favorite relative in a game prompted Emperor A-PAO-CHI to order the beheading of all players.
In the sub-continent polo was introduced by the Muslim conquerors in the thirteenth century. the English work Polo is the Balti word meaning 'Ball'.
There are four players to a side but this is by no means a rule in local polo games. In the past there was no limit to the number of players on each side and no time-limit either. Whichever team scored nine goals first was the winner in all official tournaments. The present game with a team of six players in a side lasts one hour with a ten-minute break.
Gilgit, Chitral and Baltistan have always played the game of polo closest to its original form. In the past the local Rajas, Mirs and Mehtars were the patrons of the game. At times more than 50% of the annual budget of their principalities would be spent on supporting the game of polo. The first time a polo tournament took place at the Shandur Top was in 1936. A British Political Agent, Major Cobb, who was fond of playing polo under a full moon had the polo ground near Shandur named 'Moony Polo Ground'.

Calendar of Polo Tournaments:
1. Nauroze Polo Tournament, Gilgit (1-7 November every year)
2. Shandur Polo Tournament (second week of July) every year)
3. Chitral Polo Tournament
4. Skarud and Khaplu Polo tournament (5-10 September every year)

Shandur Polo Tournament:

The most exciting polo tournament of the entire Northern Areas is played on top of the Shandur Pass, almost 4000 meters above sea level, a place unique and exotic in itself surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in the world. the event marks the annual rivalry between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral.
The Shandur Polo Tournament also has some added attractions for the visitors. These include a Golf tournament at the Shandur Golf ground, also reputedly the highest golf ground in the world; a trout fishing competition as the neighboring streams and takes abound with trout; other equestrian events and a festival of folk dances of the Northern Areas. The Shandur Polo Tournament offers much more than an ordinary festival stretching over five days and four nights.
The highlight of all festivals of course remains the final match between the Gilgit and Chitral polo teams. Polo is played here in its original state with a minimum of rules and provides a most colorful spectacle. Supporters of both sides travel long distances from the remote parts of Chitral and Gilgit areas in order to be present at the thrilling Shandur Polo Tournament. The event, as such, provides a fascinating insight into the lifestyle of the ordinary people of these regions. Their culture and indigenous customs are a delight to behold for the visitors.
Shandur offers crystal clear lakes, snow covered mountains and alpine flowers amidst vast stretches of green grass. A tourist village comprising tents and restaurant springs up during the tournament. Merchants from Chitral and Gilgit set up Souvenir and Folk craft shops. The tournament offers visitors an opportunity to mix with the locals of these areas.

How to reach Shandur Polo:

The Shandur Top lies mid-way between Chitral and Gilgit on an unmetalled road travelling on which a adventurous, to say the least. The distance from either side, Chitral or Gilgit, to the Shandur Pass is approximately 168 km (105 miles).
Getting to Chitral or Gilgit is possible by air on PIA Foker operated flights from Peshawar and Islamabad. There are daily flights but are subject to weather and tourists planning Togo by air must make allowance of at least a couple of days in their itineraries just in case the weather does not permit flights to operate.

Access to Chitral by Road:

Access to Chitral by road is either from Peshawar or from Islamabad. Both these routes join up in Swat from where you proceed via Dir over the 3200 meter high Lowari Pass and on to Chitral. Jeep can be hired both at Chitral and Gilgit to finally end up at the Shandur Top. Whether you decide to go through Chitral or through Gilgit you will encounter superb mountain scenery complete with crystal clear waters of Northern Area rivers. From the Chitral side it is certainly worthwhile for travelers to stop at Mastuj for the night. From Gilgit side travelers can stop for the right at Gupis.

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