Chitral “Khow” Culture

The Chitrali people, who call themselves Khow, are not Pathans. Although their language, Khowar, belongs to the Dardic group, it has strong connections with the languages of the Pamir and Wakhan regions to the north, and with Iran. It is presumed that their language Khowar, has been spoken in the area since early 5th century B.C. It is said that the Khow  were aborigines of this area, from where they sprang and spread in the surrounding valleys of Kalam, Swat, and to Ghizar in Gilgit . There is a big stone in the village of Warijun Mulkhow, which bears the name of “Khow Bokht” or the “Stone of Khow”. According to folklore, this was the place from where “Khow” people and their language Khowar spread in and around the surrounding valleys. One of the early explores Col Durand, who saw them for the first time in 1888 wrote it was impossible not to be taken with the Chitralis, their nobles were pleasant men to meet, fond of sports, courteous and hospitable, the people were splendid mountaineers, fond of laughter and song, devoted to polo and dancing. The Khow are good mountaineers who seem to be impervious to cold or fatigue and after a long days climb would love to sit besides a fire and sing throughout the night. They are of fine physique with a good eye and are keen hunters of small and big game The Khow , though his livelihood is from subsistence agriculture is rich at heart, he must have a green shady patch in which to relax in the afternoon. Hospitality is overwhelming-the generous Khow has to plant a few fruit trees to be able to offer fruit to his guests and travelers passing by. No home in Chitral is without flowers, roses are abundant and villagers will travel long distances to get new varieties of flowers. Theirs is an area that offers a festival, almost every month of the year.

Khow Folk Songs & Dances : 

A Chitrali is full of romance his folksongs depict love and passion where he is willing to exchange all the pleasures in this world and the heavens to win over his love. Folksingers, Sitar and reed instrument players have a special respect in the Khow society and a must in their festivities.

Shishtoowar ( Sauz ): Shishtoowar is popular folk music played with Shehnai played on happy occasions, such as marriages. The tone of the songs is fast and about 20 to 25 people dance collectively in a circle. It also heralds the culmination of the traditional events.


Shabdaraz ( Dani ): Shabdaraz literally mean ‘long and agonizing night.’ It describes the fact that a lover keeps on thinking about his beloved, rendering him restless and sleepless. The song is sad and reflective of the extreme feelings of love likely to disappoint him. Played on a soft tone on the shehnai a dancer has to be light and agile to follow on his footwork which changes from slow to high beat with short steps to leaps.

Ghalhwar (Combination of Dani and Sauz ): ‘Ghalwar’ literally mean ‘the tone of polo’. It is an old tune that is played early in the morning before sunrise before a polo match. At Shandur festival you wake to this lovely song at the Chitrali camps beckoning you to an early morning walk. The tone consists of four different songs, some of which are classical and some are fast. It is also played before polo teams enter the ground with their horses. It is worth noting that some horses joyfully dance with their hoofs in rhythm to the drumbeats to the thunderous clapping of the crowd.

Arab Khanu Dani: Arab Khan was a legendary figure in Khow folklore. His famous Dani known as ‘Arab Khanu Dani’ is played with shehnai to be accompanied by a drummer. Only a few grasp the true song but its tone is quite famous and people like to dance whenever it is played.

Khow Musical Instruments: The Chitrali sitar is a popular musical instrument not only in Chitral but adopted in Ghizar, Gilgit Hunza region and by the Pathans of the Frontier and Afghanistan. It is made out of mulberry wood with five steel strings arranged in three courses, the outer ones have double strings, tuned in unison, while the inner course is single. The performer plays the strings with the index finger of the right hand, generally using upward plucking strokes.

There are numerous songs and tunes about legendary figures from history which are played on reed instruments. These songs have different names, some feature the name of the composer other to people who danced and adopted the tune.



The Kalash tribe, numbering approximately 4,000, is the smallest group amongst the religious minorities of Pakistan. Unlike the other minorities, they live exclusively in a particular geographical area; the three valleys of, Bumburate and Rumbur Birir, known locally as Kafirastan. Kafirastan is situated in the Hindu Kush between the Afghan border and Chitral valley. Until 1896 Kafiristan also included present day Nuristan in Afghanistan, inhabited by the ‘Red Kafirs’, whereas the Kalash were called the ‘Back Kafirs’Kalash myths tell that they originally came from Tsiam, thought to be near Yarkand. The Kalash oral tradition also tells that the Kalash are descended from Alexander the Great’s brave general Shalak Shah of Tsiam,to whom Alexander gave the Chitral valley as a reward. Kalasha language is of great interest to linguists as it belongs to the ancient Dardic branch of the Indo-European languages, suggesting a Central Asian origin. Around 1500 AD the Kalash were dominant throughout southern Chitral; the Kalasha oral tradition mentions eight great Kalasha kings. Local people outside the valleys often find remnants of buildings revealing evidence of former Kalash settlements. When the Kalash migrated from Nuristan in 1896 under threats from Afghan King Abdur Rehman , they found the Chitralis much more tolerant & peaceful .. The refugees were given land by the Chitrali ruler Aman ul Mulk in the upper parts of the Kalash valleys which they possess to this day and were allowed to practice their beliefs protected in Chitral.

“Kate”  The Nuristanis



















The Nuristani tribe are a proud race living in the Hindukush Mountain in northern Afghanistan along the Chitral border. This is a world of extreme isolation in the remotest corner of the Hindukush where caravan routes passed to the east and west of the area avoiding it, with only one road a dirt track leading halfway up the Bashgal valley.

This tribe enjoyed centuries of independence living as warriors and hunters, first with spear and bow and later with rifles. For eight or nine centuries they held out against the tide of Islam, raiding Muslim settlements and caravans until at the end of the last century they came under the suzerainty of Afghanistan. The original name of Kafirastan ‘land of the infidels’ was then changed for Nuristan.

Their way of life, architecture, traditional culture and language are remnants of the former Red Kafir traditions . They still live in villages of 100 to 200 wooden houses remarkable both inside and out for neatness and cleaness, are clustered together, clinging precariously to the steep- sided valleys , the women still till their fields by hand, while the men look after their live stock and irrigation channels.

They breed cattle sheep and all their agricultural products are of fine quality, their cattle which in appearance and size compare favorably with English breeds are much sought after by their neighbors.

Hunzik                                                                                                                                                 The hunzakuts live in the valley of Hunza that slices the Karakorum from north to south. Here is some of the most spectacular scenery on earth great peaks rising on both side of the valley at places so precipitous that in places the suns rays never plumb in depths. For most of its course the Hunza river flows through a world of almost lunar desolation till above Gilgit one comes to an isolated intensely cultivated oasis the Shangri la called Hunza. Here lives the densely populated community of Hunzakuts cut of from the world . The Hunzakuts consists of two quite separate races, the Brusho and Wakhi. The Brusho are an enigma. Nobody knows where they come from, although some ethnologists claim they are descendants of the troops of Alexander the Great. In support of this theory they point out that the Brusho language is completely unrelated to any neighbouring tongue and their irrigation channels are made exactly the same way as in Macedonia and Thrace. Whatever the origin of these hill men they are certainly a race who have lived apart, secluded in their remote and inaccessible valley which they have converted into a oasis of lush green fields lined with popular and orchards of apricot , apple and peach . The Hunzakuts are good skilful craftsmen and their carvings are interesting with extensive design of flowers and geometrical figures. The Brusho are hospitable, courteous, polite , law abiding and resistant to change and have a reputation for longevity.


Baltis                                                                                                                                                 Deep in the Karakorum mountains consisting of the arid river valleys of Skardu, Khapulo, Shigar, Rondu and Kharmang lies Baltistan or Baltiyul the historic junction of the Buddhist and Islamic world. This is a region of lovely oases amongst harsh rock walls and ice with some of the highest peaks in the world , four of them exceeding 8000m with K2 the second highest at 8611m. Baltiyul also has Deosai the highest plateau in the world with an average elevation of 3500m .Deosai biodiversity with its millions of flowers blooming over the lush grassland has earned it recognition as a national wilderness park.. The mighty Indus river flows through the middle of this system dividing the high peaks and the deosai plains. European historians suggest that Bolor ( Gilgit and Baltistan) was once a centre of Bon shamanism, the indigenous religion of the High Himalaya and the original inhabitants of western Tibet, Ladakh and Baltistan were these very Aryans.

Though at one time this area had been under Tibetan, and later Ladakhi rule, the five main valleys of Baltistan ( Skardu, Shigar, Rondu, Khaplu and Kharmang) were more often principalities left to their own rule . The spread of Islam in the area can be traced to Rinchen (or Rinchana Bhoti), a Tibetan prince who ruled Kashmir from 1319-1323. Inspired by a Muslim sage, Bulbul Shah, Rinchen converted to Islam and changed his name to Sadruddin. By the late 1300s, Sufi preachers had begun to arrive from Persia, ushering in the Islamic era in Kashmir and Baltistan Amongst the rulers of these principalities Ali Sher Khan Anchan (1590-1625) of the Maqpon dynasty kings unified Baltistan and briefly expanded its frontiers up to Ladakh and western Tibet in the east, and in the west till almost the borders of Ghizar and Chitral where Muhtaram Shah 1 of the Kator dynasty ruled from 1590 to 1630.

When the British left India, they handed control of Gilgit over to the Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir two weeks before the partitioning of the Subcontinent. The Muslim majority of Gilgit favoured joining Pakistan, and when it became known that the Maharaja of Kashmir had declared accession to India, Gilgit saw an insurrection on 1 November 1947. The Dogra governor was imprisoned, and the Gilgit Scouts and Chitral Scouts under Col Mata ul Mulk took over the garrison of Skardu . A provisional local government was established in Gilgit under the presidency of Raja Shah Rais Khan, a member of a former local ruling dynasty.

The inhabitants of Baltiyul living in the valleys of the Indus, the Shyok, and their tributaries, have cultural affinities that stretch from Lhasa to Tehran. The Baltis proudly still claim their pre-Islamic culture that has so much in common with Tibet and Ladakh that earned them the nickname of “Little Tibet “. Unlike the rulers of Hunza and Chitral who patronized music , dance and cultural activities unfortunately the principalities of Baltistan did not promote this aspect of their culture. The present day Balti is proud of his cultural heritage and in the lovely valleys of Skardu, Shigar, Rondu, Khaplu and Kharmang a revival of their traditional art and music is taking place.

Wakhi                                                                                                                                                   The inhabitants of Wakhan , Boroghil and Gujal are the Wakhi tribe who belong to an ancient Iranian stock, They have Moingolide features and it is believed they are the master speakers of Ghalcha language of the past.. A thin wedge of Afghan territory known as the “Wakhan corridor” separates Tajikistan and Pakistan which is the home land of these nomads. In Chitral and Ishkuman, Wakhan is known as Wokh and the people as Wakhi, in Hunza the name of Wakhan is Gojal and the people of Wakhan as Gojali. In the past the name of Hunza was little Gojal, while Wakhan was known as big Gojal.

The Wakhi live as a semi-pastoral society, which depends on agriculture and cattle raising. The Wakhi huts are made of mud and due to climate conditions their huts have no veranda or corridor. All the rooms in the house are interconnected and have one outlet at a convinent place well protected from the wind. There is a small outlet for smoke and light. Cooking is done in the living room , while

grain storage is in a separate room connected to it. If in the neighbourhood of a settlement a suitable base area of stone is located then a centeral storages place is constructed having separate areas for different families. The people are peace loving modest and friendly. Crimes do not exist in this society and the people have a peaceful existence. Due to the harsh weather and long winters people are addicted to opium.

Trans border relations of the frontier people are very common in areas where borders are mere unnatural barriers. When the Persians and Tartars subjugated the areas north of the Hindukush in the 12th century the southern valleys of the Hindukush gained a distinct identy under different names as Bolor, Dardistan, Tibet Gujal, Kashkar etc who were divided by the chains of mountains however the Ghalcha and Dard people living on the northern and southern side of the Hindukush have been close to each other despite the natural hurdle of the mountain chains.

Trade caravans and pilgrims from eastern Turkistan used to cross over the Kurambar Boroghil and Darwaza passes into Chitral and this caravan route served as a permanent link between these regions. Many people from Chitral crossed into Wakhan for permanent settlement. The Wakhi herdsmen usually came with their flocks to the Boroghil for summer camps. Wakhi horsemen used to visit for Polo and Buzkashi as far south as Razdan field in Torikho valley. The Wakhi art, craft and architecture occupy a distinct place in the neighbouring area. There are certain festivities which mark particular occasions and vary from valley to valley. The first seed sowing is a time of festivity where a bowl of grain part of it roasted is handed to the head of the family who scatters half of it around the house. Then the house head first scrambles as if starting for his plough then rushes back onto the roof top to scatter the remaining bowl through the ventilation sky hole in the roof into the house.

He then goes to the fields to trace circular line twice around it and scatters seeds, his entry into the house is resisted and after much persuasion the women open the doors. Next day early in the morning before daylight he bring an ass into the house and there is much joking and fun made after which the ass is sprinkled with flour and driven out. The Wakhi are fond of music Daf open drum and flute and Rabab are popularly played. Male members are responsible for farming, weaving woolen clothes . While women look after the house and cattle.

Sirikuli ,Tajik & Kirghiz:                                                                                                       The Sirikuli people are Turks in origin and different to the Tajiks. Modern historians and Chinese ethonographers have though termed all the minority races and tribes in this region under the single term of “Tajik” and thus they are termed. “ Sari Kol”, “ Zorkol” is a famous lake in the Big Pamir at an elevatioin of 4070mm. Hindukush Trails reconniance into the area have been carried out since 1997. This is a vast area in the Big Pamir close to the Tajik border . Above the lake at Kol Julgah there are two poles marking the boundry between Afghanistan and Tajikastan and dividing the lake too. Between these poles starts a stream joined later by many more streams becoming the Amu Darya or the sources of the Oxus. The sarikul or Victoria Lake is quite long taking us aprox about 3 hrs to walk one side of it. The Sirikuli chief whose guests our reconniances team were, termed the tribe as “ Sirikuli” and they apply the same name to their language. The Sirikuli language is a distinctive dialect of old Persian called Chalcha.The people are also conservant in Wakhi and Khowar.. The Sarikuli live in Yurts and lead a nomadic life with little involvement in state activities. The Sarikuli raise Yak, fat tailed sheep and camel. The two humped bactarian camel is still found amongst their herds. At different times the Sirikuli tribe has tried to migrate on the southern side of the Hindukush. In 1936 some of them migrated to Hunza seeking help from the Mir of Hunza but were sent back to the Pamirs. In 1938 some families migrated to Boroghil where the then ruler of Chitral H.H. Nasir ul Mulk gave them land at Lashkargaz. Mirza Rafi who was the last chief of the tribe did much for his comminuty, his family is now prominent in this area.

The Tajik live in the scattered oases and side valleys of the Oxus Amu Daria, like their neighbours, they are a mixture of Caucasoid and Mongoloid. The Kirghiz nomads of the Pamirs inhabit numerous valleys of Wakhan. They are a Mongoliod people who originally came from Siberia migrating into the Pamirs in the 19th century remaining there, completely cut of from the world. The general impression of  Wakhan /Pamir is “flat high plateau” this isn’t exactly so. Hindukush Trails while on reconniance on successive years into both little Pamir and Big Pamir has found that numerous passes need to be crossed. These passes at elevations of 4000 to 5000m interconnect different valleys i.e, Au Baleez pass 4490m,Ghirimdi pass 4680m, Karabel pass 4630m, Warum pass 4600m, Sarhad Chup Darra 4650m where we sited Marco Polo sheep, Kuk Turukh pass 4040m leading into China. Dahleez pass 4070m. Wakjir pass 4600m. All these passes and a few more had to be crossed to traverse the area.

There are numerous rivers and stream crossings that we encountered in our reconniuances some of them were high and difficult to cross while at other points suitable points had to be located for crossings . There were many smaller lakes and the prominent ones that we camped on were Chakmatin Lake 3930m, Sari kul Victoria Lake 4070m, and Lake Dufferin.

Summer settlements consisting mostly of Yurts were at different heights. Both in 1998 and in successive years we noted these yurt settlements were pitched at the same points. At the lowest elevation at Gaz Khun 3010m which is the meeting point of the Oxus river and Ab I Wakhan and Sarhad 3280m the structures were of stone and mud . While as we moved deepers into Little Pamir and Big Pamir the settlements at much higher altitudes consisted ofYurts and mud huts, like Ochi Jirgah 3930m near Chakmaktin lake, Irgaeel 4000m on the other side, Karah Jirgah 4060m here we were entertained by a Buzkashi, Saeh Tuk 4030m, Birgitiah 4000m, Taulu Tuk settlement 4500m, Sarhad 3280m, Bozai Gumbaz 3770m, Dul Dul 3920m, Turk I Akhun 4440m. beside many others.

The people of the Pamirs are nomadic Kirghiz; squat, gnarled men, and uncomplaining, flat-faced women who because of the harshness of their environment, suffer the highest incidence of still-born babies in the world.



The Pathans are a Caucasoid race, who emigrated from the Middle East during the first millennium B.C., popular tradition identifying them as the lost tribe of Israel who disappeared into the desert. As the story goes the race was founded in the seventh century by Kais, thirty seventh lineal descendant of Saul of Israel who lived near Ghur in Afghanistan . After being converted by a missionary to Islam Kais moved to Kandahar where the new clan took its language Pashtu and the growing tribe spread north and east into the mountains. The three great branches of the clan which live in north Pakistan and Afghanistan trace their origin to a son of Kais. The Sarbani Pathans, which include the Yousefzai, Shinwari, Mohmands , Muhammedzai , Durrani, Ghori Khel and Khaikai khel, claim descend from Sarban. The Ghilzai Pathans, among which are the Suliman Khel and Aka Khel are descendants of Baitan. The Ghurghust Pathans, such as the Afridis, Khattaks, Wazir, Mashuds, Turis, Jajis ,Daurs, and Bangash are the descendants of Ghurghust. Physically, the Pathan are taller and stronger than the Negroid races to the south, and slimmer and more hirsute than the Mongoloids to the north . The Pathans are a tough, proud and fiercely independent people who call no man master. The Pathans occupy a vast territory, follow a wide variety of callings, and are subdivided into numerous small and semi-independent groups, like the old Scottish clans. The Pathan is an individualist whose relations with others are governed by a code of custom and honour know as “ Pakhtunwali “ the way ,of life for a Pathan . Paktunwali promulgates three basic laws: the law of vengeance, which insists on retribution for every wrong no matter how slight done to family, clan or tribe; the law of hospitality, which must be extended to any who seek it, invited or uninvited , Pathan or foreigner, Muslim or unbeliever; and the law of sanctuary ‘Nanwatai ‘which must be given to all who ask for it, even an enemy. The Pathans adherence to this code in the long-term binds them together, in the short-term it can have just the opposite effect. In war the Pathan generally obeyed approved leaders of his own tribe, in peace it was his pride to obey no one. approved leaders of his own tribe, in peace it was his pride to obey no one.

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