19th June 2018
Ever since I saw an image of a brightly dressed Kalash girl on the Wild Frontiers website it has been my dream to head up into the Northwest province of Pakistan to visit the remote hillside villages of the Kalash people.
It is said that the Kalash are descendants of warriors who once ruled a large area, from Kabul in the west and as far as the Lowari Pass in Chitral. Now about 6,000 Kalash live a simple life in three beautiful valleys, growing wheat, millet, maize and lentils. There are orchards of mulberry, apricot. plum trees and walnut trees as well as small herds of goats.
Houses are basic and huddled on the slopes to keep the flatter ground for growing crops. We stay with Saifullah Jan, who is a local leader and spokesperson for the Kalash. Our rooms are basic but grouped around a rose-scented garden and next to the fast-running river that provides water to the village and is the local laundry where women kneel to beat clothes clean with long wooden bars.
The women are splendid in their traditional embroidered dress and I am delighted to realise this is not just for the spring festival of Joshi, but is their normal attire.
We climb a hill to a levelled area where frantic, rhythmic dancing is taking place. Women and men dance in swerving, turning rows. The sexes dance separately but meet and chat together between dances. The steps are easy to learn and some of us join the fray, pulled in by small girls or their big sisters.
As varied as the womens’ multi-coloured dresses, are their faces - some pale and blue-eyed, others with darker skin and eyes. They are slightly aloof and indifferent to us Westerners, at least to start with, but over the three days we are there, relationships begin to develop and early on the last morning, I found myself pulled hand in hand by a young girl and her school friends to their school. This was a newly-built school after its predecessor had been destroyed by a flash flood in 2013. (Wild Frontiers has helped the community by building defences against further floods).
No teachers had arrived at the school so early but I was proudly shown each classroom in the attractive, modern building. They taught me their names: Reema, Hasingul and Mansoorana. Unlike most of Pakistan, the Kalash write in Latin script. I sing them the ABC song in English, which they clearly have learned before as they sing it back beautifully. Sadly I have to leave them to their classes as I must leave soon for Chitral but I hope to see my new friends again one day.