Friday, September 22, 2006


This morning I awoke very early, before even the morning call for prayer rang out from the half a dozen mosques around Chitral at about 5:30am! Though I slept fine the need to decide whether to fly back from Lahore or Delhi & the consequences of this decision had me thinking too much during the night.

Another matter on which I was undecided was whether to sidetrack into one of the Kalasha valleys. I'd heard many nice things of the area but thought I wouldn't have the time. I left the matter to fate, with nice weather I'd go there otherwise not. After 2 days of bad weather there was a change over night , totally for the better. That settled it, to Kalasha I went!

The road out of Chitral to the Kalash town I'd chosen to see made for slow going. There was lots of up, some of it quite steep & all on a road that only 4WDs could cope with, though I managed on my 1WD. I suppose it had to be this way, if they'd been more easily accessible they'd have been wiped out, converted or colonised out of existence. Knowing that the road was short I enjoyed all of it, especially the thought of how nice it would be to go back down in a couple of days time.

I had a bit of bad luck with my bike. I caught one of my gear shifting levers on my trouser hem as I was getting off. It made the alarming sound of something breaking. A part of it had been broken irreparably with the consequence that I could use only half my gears. I'll be able to continue but it's very annoying. Though I'm glad that it happened now that the trip is nearly over rather than a couple of months ago.

To balance things out when I stopped at a small shop for a cold drink & to ask whether there was somewhere to eat in the area I was given lunch by the shopkeeper. He sent his son to his house to arrange things with his wife & had him escort me over to eat. When I arrived there was a table outside with a plate of rice, dal, some chapati & some water. I didn't meet anyone from the family & when I'd finished the shopkeeper had closed the shop in order to pray.

The Kalash people live in 3 isolated valleys between the Chitral river valley & the Afghan border. I headed for the village of Grom in the Rumbur valley. I did so entirely based on the recommendation of a nice guesthouse there.

They, all 50,000 of them, have miraculously retained their belief system in the face of pressure from the sea of Islam that surrounds them. Please note this is not an anti-Islamic statement, Christianity would do the same. Only their isolation has allowed their unconverted survival. They are true pagans (unlike the English lot who hang around Stonehenge & don't wash too frequently).

Apparently they used to live all over the Chitral valley however over the centuries Muslims moved in, Ismaelis from Badakshan to the North & Sunni from Afghanistan in the South, & over time pushed them into the high valleys where they now live.

It's a miracle that they've managed to survive at all. A related group just across the border in Afghanistan were converted at the tip of the sword in the late 19C. Some fled into the top of the Kalash valleys but over time they converted to Islam.

They, or least the woman, dress quite distinctly & not it would seem to please tourists. The woman don't follow the Pakistani & Islamic practice of covering themselves nor are they shy & unresponsive. They wear bright coloured woven clothing & lovely flat topped hats with long tails. After hardly seeing a female in the last while it was pleasure to talk to to representatives of the other half of the human race who were not tourists.

They also make & drink quite palatable (for someone used to the European-style) wine. Many Pakistani Muslims seem drawn to visit the area just to have a drink & since they aren't used to it get drunk quite easily. A group of respectable doctors had had lunch at the guesthouse & were being 'poured' into their transport when I arrived.

I cycled 33 km in 3 hours & 48 minutes
Total so far 11403 km in 179 days
GPS Coordinates of end point - N 35°46.260, E 71°41.735

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