Inhabited by the smallest religious and ethnic minority in Pakistan, the Kalasha Valleys are a rather special place. I spent a few days in the Rumbor Valley in the village of Balanguru experiencing a completely different pace of life.
There are only around 4,000 Kalash. They follow a religion described as either a form of animism or ancient Hindi, with many unusual traditions and customs. Kalasha women usually wear distinctive black robes, beautifully embroidered themselves with cowrie shells.
The Rumbor Valley was reached by a rather hair raising narrow road following the river.
We walked the final couple of kilometres into the village. The Kalasha Valleys get between 500 and 1,000 foreign and 20,000 local tourists a year visiting, mostly during three festivals and almost all for the day. Visiting in late September there was only my group of a dozen, and two independent travellers from Japan and German (the four independent travellers that stayed this year were the first in a decade). There are a number of guest houses in the villages and a small shop. The locals just carry on with their lives, mostly ignoring the visitors, other than some playful kids. They’ve had tourists visit the region for nearly fifty years. Very little has changed around here for hundreds of years, the buildings are built in the same traditional fashion and they maintain their strong culture and traditions.
The Kalasha Valleys lead into Afghanistan, with the border only 25km away, over which is Taliban controlled land. We were accompanied by an armed police office from Chitral, as well as local police, and only allowed to wander around freely within a 100m of our guest houses. It turned out though that this was more for the protection of the locals from tourists than the other way round.
We took a morning walk up toward Afghanistan, until the mountains of the border were visible in the distance. This is probably the closest I’ll get to there for some time, if ever.
We also walked to a neighbouring village, just the other side of the river but higher up on the hillside, with views of the valley. They make good use of their flat earth roofs to dry food in the sun.