Hindu Kush is land of Festivals

The Kalasha Festivals

The Kalasha are cheerful people, generous, witty and fond of rejoicing and merry making. Their women folk have an outgoing manner that is disarming, delightful and unexpected. As you join them in their festivities and see them dance and sing, you are taken right back into history. The Kalasha have four colorful festivals. To the Kalasha these festivals are the culminations of religious life and, like the big funerals, they unite the people.

“Joshi/Chilimjusht Festival”

The spring festival, in the middle of May lasts for four days. . The spring festival honors the fairies and also safeguards the goats and shepherds before they go to the pastures. Before the festival the women and girls gather from all over the valley and decorate their houses. Inside the houses local wine and milk products are shared. The women then sprinkle milk on Goddess “ Jestak “ the protector of their children and home. The festival begins at Rumbur where the Shaman ( soothsayer ) and tribal chiefs lead a procession to the “ Malosh altar” , high above Grum, to sacrifice goats to the Gods . Later the festival moves on to Bumburate and ends up at Birir , a few days later.

Every religious ceremony is accompanied by dancing and rhythmical chant to a beat of the drum. The women wearing their traditional black robes, ornate cowries shelled head dresses and adorned with colored necklaces, dance in a circle. Then the men join in: it may be a man and a women or a man in the middle with a women on each side, lovers being free to intermingle. One hand is held round the waist of the partner and the other round the shoulders. Tribal chiefs in colorful dresses narrate stories of bygone days and events.

“Uchal Festival”
this festival is celebrate in Augusts marking the harvest of wheat and barley and bringing down of cheese from the high summer pastures. It is celebrated in Rumbur and Bumboret . Earlier in July it starts as the “ Ranat” with dances held on alternate days performed by the young girls and boys in order to safeguard the maize crop.

“Phool” Festival                                                                                                                

This festival is only held in Birir around end of September to celebrate the grape

and walnut harvest. Grape being a staple requirement in the Kalasha society for making wine are grown on trees in protected sites. The holy tree being the best for such climbers. They are picked throughout the valley on a particular day and is an occasion for joy and merry making.. It is also an occasion of the shepherds returning from the high pastures.

“Chomos festival”                                                                                                              

As winter starts around mid December the Chomos festival begins. The festival is observed for the divine, the living and dead relatives, for the crops and the goats to be safeguarded, while the community, the village and the valley are purified prior to the coming year. Sighting a fox is a good omen and great efforts are made in this regard. At dusk torch lit processions are led from all the nearby villages culminating at the “Charsue” which is the main customary dancing place. Most of the festivities are indoors where the local wine is handed around as the dance gathers momentum carries out till late in the night round the bonfire. While the tribal elders sit on hill tops at dawn to watch the rising sun and declare the new year. Goat sacrifices are then made to the Godess “Jastak” , blood from the animal is sprinkled at the temple Jastak An. This is the time when “Balimine” another great God visits the Kalash valley once a year and sacrifices are made at his “ Malosh. Altar” too.

Snow Golf “HimGhal”Winter Sports Festival                                         

There are many sports played in the kalsha valleys of Hindukush, but I would love to introduce the game called cikik ghalkirik ghal and him ghal meaning ‘’snow golf’’, which is a famous sport during winter. It is played between two villages and there are no specific players. Victory is achieved by winning the best of three, and the losing team must sacrifice a bull to provide food for the winning team and arrange a musical party to enliven spirits after the exhausting day. On February 2012 our traditional sports development programme had organized an indigenous winter sports festival and formed a standard team, consisting of 24 members including captain and coach. This step was taken to preserve the game because it was being lost with the passage of the time. The sport is very emotional and there is a slight risk of fighting. In order to minimize risk during the game we sought to have some standardized rules to continue this unique game. The same organization has planned to another winter sports festival in 2013 as well. Do not miss the chance to come to witness and enjoy such a unique sporting occasion.

CLIMATE: The temperature of Kalash is very pleasant in summer month but in winter the climate is harsh because the temperature comes down from 0°C to negative. The maximum temperature of Kalash valley is between 23°C to 27°C and the mean minimum temperature is between 2°C to 1°C.

In winter the valleys are in grip of cold northerly wind and hazard. The extreme minimum temperature recorded in the valleys has been -4.8°C to -15°C for the month of January and February. These valleys get rainfall between 700mm to 800mm. From December to march occasionally even later, snowfall is quite frequent Kalash valley is 30% forest.

Shandur Festival

The remote wind-swept amphitheater of the Shandur Pass, located on the lofty border between Gilgit and Chitral, comes to life once a year as the dramatic venue of the Shandur Polo Festival held during the first week of July.

At 3734m, this is the world’s highest polo field, set in a magnificent landscape of rolling pastures, crystalline azure lakes & Hindu-Raj Mountains; it is just the setting for the clash of the local polo titans, Chitral and Gilgit. This contest is considered the toughest polo tournament in the world – with fraying tempers and passions running high, the strain of the high altitude and the ferocity of the game create a drama in which horses die and players invariably suffer grievous injuries. Yet despite the hazards, the polo tradition continues unabated.  Historically the game goes back many centuries when the local Mehtars , Mirs and Rajas were patrons of polo and it was played, not only for pleasure, but for celebratory and commemorative occasions. The Mehtar of Chitral would send a message to his relatives the Rajas of Ghizar , Yasin and Ishkuman and word would travel far down the valleys to Punial Gilgit and Chilas where the challenge would be taken up. But despite being dubbed ‘the game of kings’, in the Northern Areas, it is not an elitist sport, often played in village square on sorry nags or even on bicycles. “It is the local obsession along with music & dancing on Shandur. In recent years, the event has become something of a legend – the dramatic landscape, the local color, the presence of international celebrities but above all the passion with which the game is played by the age-old rivals, make the Shandur Polo Festival an unforgettable occasion. A large tented village and bazaar is set up with thousands of people camping out.

Each year the following events are scheduled.

  • Traditional dancing & singing and sitar music
  • Para Gliding
  • Rafting in the Shandur Lake
  • Wild mountain polo , horse races and at times Buz Kashi
  • Traditional tug of war
  • Traditional handicrafts on display

“Boroghal” Festival                                                                                                        

The Boroghil festival is held from 15 to 17 July at the famous Boroghil plateau at the summer settlement of Shuwor Sheer 3690m. This is yet another annual festival added to the calendar of events in Chitral. The level grassy Shuwor Sheer ( or Shua Suwere) is situated at the junction of the Chianter glacier, the Zindikharam pass to Darkot and Yasin, the Kurambar pass down into Iskhumnan and the Darwaza pass into the Wakhan corridor.

The salient feature of this festival are various events like wild mountain polo, Horse race on the wide pastures, Yak Polo and Yak race the only event of its kind in the world, Buz Kashi, and traditional music in the evenings. Close by are various summer settlements like Yirgot Maidan ( bearded vultures plain ) and Top Khana and lower down Lashkargah Goz the home of the famous leader of the area . this festival a wonderful opportunity to exchange pleasantries. It is an occasion where families meet, news shared and marriages formalized. The area offers the pristine turquoise Kurambar Lake at 4620m a stopover for migratory birds from Russia and Central Asia. this is a festival of traditions, fun and excitement on the high pastures

Hindukush Tops Adventure take you to these festivals with private “home stays”, to get to know more of the people and their culture and a chance to taste traditional local dishes which you miss out while staying in hotels.

© 2014 @ Hindukush Tops Adventure Tour & Travel

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