Pakistan, the land of colours, is home to a fading culture. An ethnic minority group nestled deep in the unspoilt paradise of lush green valleys and snowy peaks of the Hindu Kush Mountains – the Kalash people are tucked away near the rugged and remote Afghan border. This is one of the most difficult and inaccessible areas of the world.
The legend of Alexander the Great, from Macedon, now modern-day Macedonia, lives on here. The legacy of the General who conquered the ancient world from Greece to India, has fascinating ties with this remote group.
It is a two-day treacherous jeep ride of adventure, adrenaline and mystere into an almost detached world. The Kalash culture is not only a minority group of Pakistan, but also a UNESCO intangible living cultural heritage.
The Kalash, which literally translates to ‘black infidels’, are happy people with simple lives. Farming is their main source of income, and they sing, dance and offer cheese and bread to worship their gods. Many of the Kalash believe that they are direct descendants of Alexander the Great, and that they are a living link to ancient Greece. They are animalists and a primitive pagan minority which used to be as large as 20,000 people and are now only said to be around 3000 in population who are marginalised, leading many to convert to Islam.
The true origins of their culture are shrouded in mystery. Lead by a shaman, the Kalash people are polytheistic who believe in multiple gods and goddesses. Their culture is oral with no written history. Kalash men can be recognised by a distinctive peacock feather in their hats, and women by their traditional black dress and colourful embroidery. They believe in an ancient spiritual home called Tsiyam which features in many of their folksongs and which has been interpreted by many historians to be what is now modern-day Syria. Many Kalash people are white skinned with golden brown hair and blue or green eyes, further enhancing the connection to the Greeks – for many this connection is a matter of faith.
In an Islam state, there is a cultural anomaly of wine, singing and dancing along with the mixing of the sexes. Kalash women are not bound by purdah, the Muslim custom of keeping females secluded. It is said that the Kalash traditional dance and language, can be linked to Greek words and culture. Many go along with the myth of the Greek connection as it brings in much needed foreign aid.
The first impression of life in the Kalash Valley is an idyllic rural existence, but the reality is, it is a life on the brink of poverty. Education here is a privilege. To teach their own language and culture, is almost forbidden. There are a small handful of NGO’s working in the Kalash Valley to preserve the tribe and many of the Kalash believe that foreign travellers are the only way to protect their fading culture. Our travels to this region on our Pure Pakistan tour, also assist in helping to keep this diminishing culture alive. Sustainable tourism practices are in place for those with the privilege to bring travellers here. There is the constant battle of development vs cultural identity of which we are proud to be part of the ongoing discussions. Many of the Kalash people pray that tourism will be their saviour.
The Kalash people find themselves at a crossroads of blurred lines. Like other ethnic minorities, they are being forced to adapt or be obliterated. Opinions are divided of this unique tribes past and future, and it is possible that these people and their culture, could too become consigned to mystery and legend alongside Alexander the Great.
Are you intrigued to travel to connect with the Kalash minority group? Join our Pure Pakistan small group tour to make this experience yours and support this diminishing culture.
This category of tours involves light trekking, walking, cycling, rafting or kayaking for a few hours each day with a small amount of inclines and declines. You will require a reasonable level of fitness and good health to participate. It is important to note that due to the nature of some of our trips, they may take place in remote areas (with basic facilities) and can involve long travelling days on various modes of transport.
Suggested preparation : At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake aerobic exercise (this may include jogging, cycling or fast walking) for 30 minutes, three times a week. It is also advised to walk on variable terrain and in variable weather conditions. For a cycling adventure, road cycling twice a week is recommended and for adventures which involve paddling and kayaking, it is important to gain confidence and rhythm rather than speed prior to departure.
This category of tours involve trekking, kayaking and cycling for period of 6 to 8 hours a day at a fairly consistent pace. Ideal for people looking to slightly increase the heart rate. For our moderately rated tours, you must have a good level of fitness and also be in good health. It is also important to be prepared for variable weather conditions. Altitude may also come into play. This category of tours may involve visiting remote areas where facilities can be quite basic. Accommodation may also involve camping, homestays or basic accommodation where facilities may not be considered of western standards. To enjoy this style of travel, it is suggested for travellers to have a reasonable level of fitness and health, a positive attitude, as well as a fairly active lifestyle. An open mind is also required.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 months prior to departure, it is recommended that you undertake 45mins – 1 hour of aerobic exercise, three to four times a week. Some potential exercises that could be beneficial include hill walking with a backpack on over variable terrain and weather conditions, as well as running and cycling dependent on the activity you plan on undertaking.
This category of tours involves trekking, kayaking, cycling or other adventure activities in remote areas for up to 8 to 10 hours a day. It is important to note that with the remoteness of some regions comes a variety of other challenges such as variable weather conditions, accommodation as well as facilities. You must have an excellent level of fitness and good health to be able to partake in this category of tour. You must have confidence in your own ability and be in good physical condition. Includes extended periods of endurance.
Suggested preparation: At least 3 to 4 months of strenuous exercise, four times a week. When preparing for treks it would be beneficial to participate in hill walks with a weighted day pack (approximately 5-8 kg) once a week for aerobic fitness and strengthening of leg muscles. It is also important to do this on variable terrain to prepare for challenging adventures. When preparing for cycling adventures, regular bike riding (at least 4 to 5 times a week for 1-4 hours is essential). It is also important to cycle on uneven surfaces or even participate in other aerobic exercises such as running or swimming to build up strength and stamina. Altitude may also be a factor in these tours.
This category of tour often involves extreme trekking, cycling or other extreme adventure activities. It is important to expect remote and poorly defined tracks and to be prepared for variable weather conditions for 10 to 12 hours per day (may sometimes be more depending on weather and altitude). These adventures are suitable for travellers who have prior experience in strenuous travel and activities, are extremely fit and have excellent health. It is also important to note that some of the terrain on these adventures will involve trekking in snow, at high attitude levels and may require technical equipment.
Suggested preparation: It is important to note that physical fitness should be an ongoing activity, commencing around 5-6 months prior to departure, or even before if you have no prior fitness. Exercise should focus on building maximum endurance and stamina. Four to five hard sessions of 40-60 mins per week should be completed and can include exercises such as going to the gym, running, swimming or cycling to focus on building aerobic stamina. It could also be beneficial to prepare by hiking on rough terrain, in extreme weather conditions or partake in altitude training.