Photographer's Note

Hi all, I'm back after an interesting journey in the North west region of Pakistan.

One of the area I enjoyed mostly is the Kafiristan "the land of infidels" (non islamic) nonetheless a sort of paradise with forests, lakes and greenery.

When walking in the village of Guru in Birir valley I had the chance of spotting this sight of a kalash girl (on the left side) that looks like afraid of her muslim converted friend close to her.

The culture kalash has to be preserved and experts warn that this one will become extinct in the next 20 years as 15 per cent of the Kalash people convert to Islam every year. from Daily Times

About Kalash ethnic group

Although there are heavy Kafiristani (today known as Nuristani) influences in the language, religion and ethnicity of the Kalash, their unique culture and belief system differs drastically from the various ethnic groups surrounding them. They believe in various deities Mahadev (Khodai, the Khowar word for God is also used), and worship other deities that offer protection to different aspects of life (such as Jeshtak, who represents family, pregnant mothers, and marriage). It is suggested that they are based on the Proto-Indo-European religion, similar to the twelve Olympian gods of Ancient Greece. Nature plays a highly significant and spiritual role in their daily life. As part of their religious tradition, sacrifices are offered and festivals held to give thanks for the abundant resources of their three valleys.

Travellers should refrain from interfering with or patronizing the locals. The villages are more heavily visited by tourists (possibly due to the "Palin effect" when Michael Palin visited in 2004 as part of his Himalaya series, in which he states this may happen) than ever before and the Kalash people may not enjoy getting their picture taken. Holy festivals are very serious to them and joining in or gawking at their practices is considered very rude. Also, because they are surrounded by Muslim peoples on all sides, pressure to convert to Islam has been strong. Preaching any religion is considered to be in bad taste.

Kalash women usually wear long black robes, often embroidered with cowrie shells. For this reason, they are known in Chitral as "The Black Kafirs". Men have adopted the Pakistani salwar kameez, while children wear small versions of adult clothing after the age of four.

The Kalash have been ruled by the Mehtar of Chitral since the 1700s and have enjoyed a cordial relationship with the major ethnic group of Chitral, the Kho who are Sunni and Ismaili Muslims. The multi-ethnic and multi-religious State of Chitral ensured that the Kalash were able to live in peace and harmony and practice their culture and religion. The Nuristani, their neighbors in the region of former Kafiristan east of the border, were invaded in the 1890s and converted to Islam by Amir Abdur-Rahman of Afghanistan and their land was renamed Nuristan.

Prior to that event, the people of Kafiristan had paid tribute to the Mehtar of Chitral and accepted his suzerainty. This came to an end with the Durand Agreement when Kafiristan fell under the Afghan sphere of Influence. Recently, the Kalash have been able to stop their demographic and cultural spiral towards extinction and have, for the past 30 years, been on the rebound. Increased international awareness, a more tolerant government, and monetary assistance has allowed them to continue their way of life.

Nevertheless the pressure of radical Muslim organizations increases more and more.

Location, climate and geography
Located in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan, the Kalash people live in three isolated mountain valleys: Bumboret, Rumbur, and Birir. The region is extremely fertile, covering the mountainside in rich oak forests and allowing for intensive agriculture, despite the fact that most of the work is done not by machinery, but by hand. The powerful and dangerous rivers that flow through the valleys have been harnessed to power grinding mills and to water the farm fields through the use of ingenious irrigation channels. Wheat, maize, grapes (generally used for wine), apples, and walnuts are among the many foodstuffs grown in the area, along with surplus fodder used for feeding the livestock.
from Wikipedia

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Additional Photos by Luca Belis (Mistral) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 519 W: 74 N: 2118] (15416)
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