1st May 2018
Was this your first time in this part of Pakistan?
I used to go regularly to the Hunza Valley in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. I remember travelling up the Karakoram Highway the first time it opened in 1986. There have been lots of changes since then. In the 1980’s there were lots of international travellers and very few domestic tourists. Now it is the complete opposite – you see a few hardy backpackers and that’s about it, although there are more local tourists these days.
Did you find the locals in Pakistan welcoming?
I’ve never found the people of Pakistan to be anything other than incredibly welcoming. I go to Pakistan every year and absolutely love it. In that time I’ve never had any trouble, having been all over including some of the plces that are considered more dangerous. In this particular part of Pakistan we were made to feel very welcome and we particularly enjoyed meeting the Kalash people.
You travelled with your family, did you have any security concerns?
I had no qualms about travelling with my family. Pakistan was as friendly and as lovely as it ever was. There is lots more security these days, you didn’t use to see any police at all, but now the road to Chitral has check points every ten miles, and we had a police escort in Chitral. I guess you could call this presence comforting if you were in any way worried.
What was it like meeting the Kalash?
I’d never been to see them, I’d heard so much about them and their story really is extraordinary. It is one of the oldest religious systems surviving in the world today, probably pre-dating Hinduism. When the population of Pakistan was being forcibly converted to Islam in 1895, the Kalash retreated ever deeper into the mountains, and today they are found in just three remote valleys. This isolation has kept them intact and also their beliefs strong. To see men and women dancing together, drinking mulberry vodka, the women with no headscarves, boys and girls holding hands, in what is one of the most patriarchal societies in the world is extraordinary and not at all what you would expect to find in Pakistan.
What advice would you give people considering a visit to Pakistan?
I would go without hesitation. Of course you should take advice, talk to people who have been, and check before you go anywhere with a reputation such as Peshawar. Most places you would actually want to visit however, such as Lahore, the North West Frontier or the Karakoram Highway, are very welcoming. And your visit will certainly be rewarded; the region up in the mountains of Chitral is as beautiful as anywhere I’ve been in my life. Around there the locals are largely Ismaeli so they themselves are threatened by Islamists, so extremism does not have a home there. As a tourist you are made to feel extremely welcome.