Chitral Valley of Hindukush

—Chitral Airport of Hindukush
—Chitral Airport of Hindukush

The snow clad pyramids of the Hindukush range are breathtaking. In whichever direction you gaze, mountains dominate the horizon. The valleys are encircled with peaks of splendor with its highest peak Tirich Mir at 7708m standing sentential north of the main town which has the same name as the valley ” Chitral ”

Chitral has a rich history. Waves of invaders beginning from the Aryans and followed by Alexander and the hordes of Changez Khan have passed through Chitral. The diminishing population of the nature-worshipping Kalash tribe of Chitral is only one example of the remnants of these invasions. Historically the Chitral Valley was one of the main arteries of the Silk road, where caravans from Yarkand and Kashgar in China and Central Asia crossed across the Boroghil Pass to India. Culturally it was linked with central asian emirates and khanates for many centuries. The people of this area looked towards Kashgar, Bokhara, Samarkand and Kabul for trade and knowledge.

Alexander Gardner was possibly the first European to visit Chitral and Kafiristan (now Kalash) in 1830. W.W. McNair of Indian Survey Department, disguised as a Pathan, visited Kalash area in 1883 and did some survey work with a plane table. George Cockerill surveyed the eastern Hindukush in 1892. It was, however, between 1889 – 1891 that Sir George Robertson carried out extensive travel in Kalash area. In 1923 Lord Rawlinson, the then C-in-C of the British Indian Army, undertook a round trip to Chitral via the then traditional route over the Shandur pass and then to Dir through Lowari pass.

From 1460 to 1960 for about 500 years Chitral remained an independent kingdom ruled by the Kator family (Shuja Ul Mulk) are descendants of Timer lane. Presently the Kator families are still active in various development activities, in government departments, development organizations besides tours & hoteling in the region. Chitral became an important player in ‘ The Great Game ‘ played between the Russian and British Empires which has been highlighted so well in the books by Peter Hopkirk, Algernon Durand and later by John Keays. Indeed, because of its unique geo-political location, Chitral will continue playing a role in any future development that takes place in the region involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia and China. For the future adventure-travelers Chitral will be able to offer walks involving all these countries because nowhere else do these countries come within 50 miles of each other.

Culturally and physically Chitral is still the most isolated region of KPK. From December till April for about six months it is completely cut off from the rest of the country as the high passes leading to it are snow bound.

River Valleys & Agriculture

The Chitral River rises in the area of the Chiantar Glacier, a 40km sheet of ice and is known by five different names at various stages along its course. Here, as the Yarkhun, it flows down from an altitude of over 5000m to be joined by the Laspur River which drains most of the northern slopes of the Shandur range. It is then known as the Mastuj until it joins the Torkhow River and Lutkoh branch, draining the Tirich Mir region, where it becomes the Chitral River for much of its course until, it crosses into Afghanistan as the Kunar river re-entering Pakistan as Kabul river. In total the river valley runs for over 300km. Below Chitral town the river plain widens to over 4km in width and runs in a broken pattern of cultivated alluvial fans right down to Nagar, 10km south of Drosh.

Generally speaking agriculture in Chitral is still practiced according to traditional methods, where wooden plough and wooden sickle are still in use. Agriculture is irrigation based involving gravity flow channels. The main crops are barley, wheat and millet, followed by rice, vegetables and fruit, and pulses on the arid land. Due to the low elevation of much of the river plain, double cropping is extensively practiced. Nevertheless, the region experiences a deficit in food grains each year and relies heavily on the surpluses imported from down country. The Chitrali word for ‘level ground’ refers to any land at less than a 45 degree angle!

The Chitrali diet is simple, centered on dairy products and wheat. Chitrali bread, either in the form of Khasta Shapik or Chapouti, is baked in thick round loaves and makes a pleasant change from Chapatis or nan. Shetu is a thin, watery yogurt like drink which can be thickened into Machir, or yogurt and in turn is used to make Shupinak, a delicious thick, creamy cheese. The Chitrali cuisine is unlike food in the rest of Pakistan. Pushoor Tiki, Shak Tiki, Ghalmandi, Chera Shapik, Lazhik, Mishi, Kali , Laganu etc are some of the delicious local dishes. Unfortunately none of the local hotels offer the cousin as such dishes need to be cooked on wood fire and is laborious. But if you get invited into private homes it is a delicacy not to be missed.  Hindukush Tops Adventure  provide “home stay at Happy Guest House  & Kalasha home based guest houses” situated on route to the Kalasha valley Bumburate oldest  village of Kalasha ,offers traditional local dishes to the guests.

 

 

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