Tribes of Chitral

The population of Chitral us comprised of varying ancestry but this difference is forgotten in the unity and affection that binds them to each other. The various tribes of Chitral are as follows:

These account for 92% of the population of Chitral and are spread in many villages. Original khow are of Aryan ancestry. It is believed that they came from central Asia, Afghanistan and Kashmir. This dominant ethnic group is a heterogeneous tribe with an age-old class system. Basically, they are happy and contented people fond of music and hunting. Women observe pardah and are expert in making handicrafts.

In the tenth and eleventh century, the Kalash ruled over Lower Chitral, up till Hurbuns. In 1220, the tribe of Khow defeated Bal Singh, the Kalash ruler, and pushed them to the south western valleys of Chitral. Living with the Khow, they gradually embraced Islam. But those in the valleys of Bomborate, Birir and Rumbur clung to their own religion and culture.
Until the 1970s, not much was known about this tribe that resided in the south west of Chitral, in the three valleys of Bomborate, Birir and Rumbur. This pagan tribe of 3,000 people follows its own distinct culture and traditions. Their origin is still not known. Either their original home is Syria or Tsiyam, the old name of Thailand. From here, they migrated to Afghanistan and then to Pakistan. The Kalash are illiterate but clever people, and excel as masons and craftsmen. They have a friendly temperament and are fond of music and dancing. Their native language is Kalasha or Kalashamun.

These tribes live in Gabore in the north, Langoor Butt in the south and the valleys of Bumboret and Ambore in the south west. In the last decade of the nineteenth century, they came from Noristan (Afghanistan), their homeland, due to Ameer Abdur Rehman Khan's forced conversions to Islam. In 1926, they embraced Islam. In their families, women work while men love gossip and sports. Their favorite pastime is to play with snow in winters. There was a time when they were known for their skill in arrow shooting.

These can be classified into three groups.

*Wakhak, who migrated from Wakhan, Afghanistan

*Sri Qali, who came from Tajikistan

*Craimanar, who came from San Kiang, China
Together, they are all known as Wakhi and their language too is also called Wakhi. Khowar is also spoken by some of them. As for their residence in Chitral, some writers say that they live in the upper areas of Chitral that border Afghanistan while others have placed them in Broghail Valley in the east of Chitral. Their living depends on agriculture and livestock.

Madaklashti / Tajik
These came from Tajikistan and Badakhshan in 1700 AD and settled in Madaklasht village of Shishi Kuh valley. Their ancestor made weapons from iron and the ruler of Chitral invited them for this purpose. The speak Khowar and Persian and follow the customs and habits of the Khow people. However, some of their culture is still preserved and Daree, their language, is still spoken in Madaklasht. Thus, they have preserved their individuality while mixing with the Khow society.

This is a nomad tribe that came from Dir, Swat, Hazara, Kohistan and Afghanistan during Katur rule and settled in the southern valleys of Chitral. Their population is concentrated in Shishi Koh and also in the valleys of Arundu (or Arnadu) or Domail. They are herdsmen distinguished by their migratory temperament; in spring, they move from the south to the north eastern valleys (the upper areas) in search of pastures while in winter, they descend to warmer areas at lower heights. And because they are nomads, there is no discipline amongst them. Today, however, they are giving up herding in favor of a settled life of trade and farming. The slyness and cleverness of the Gujars have become proverbial.

The Dameli are immigrants from Afghanistan and have settled in the southern parts of Chitral, about 20 miles north of Arundu/Arnadu. They are divided into two groups; Shintari and Sawatis or Afghanis. The Shintari claim that they are the originals or ancient inhabitants of the area. The latter separated themselves from Arandvi Afghans and came here around 1400 AD. They speak Damia, a language that is related to Khowar and Gowarbati.

Gawari or Arandui
Gower Bati is their mother tongue while Afghanistan their original homeland. They inhabit the valleys that are in the extreme south of Chitral and are be grouped into three categories:

*The Sniardai came about 500 years back from Asmar in Afghanistan.

*The Sultana came from Jalalabad and have been living here for about eight generations.

*The Afghani or Swati came about twenty generations back from the Kohistani area of Dir and sawat.

In 1939, the Sariquali migrated from the Chinese Turkistan and settled in the north of Chitral in the Baroghil valley. They converse in Sariquali, a distinct Turk dialect also spoken in the Sariqul mountain area in Tashquraghon.

Here we have a famous Turk race of Central Asia who speak Kirghiz, a language well known in history. They migrated form Andijan Fargana valley in western Turkistan (a part of what we know today as Uzbekistan) and settled in Baroghil valley.

In 1915, the Pathans came to Chitral from Dir and Jandul. They came on a trade and diplomatic mission and but settled here due to the affection and hospitality of the ruler of Chitral. With time, their population spread all over Chitral, but Drosh, Chitral, Mastuj and Arnadu (or Arundu). Pathans are caring, sympathetic and loving people. They depend on trade and business for a living, and most of the trade of Chitral is in their hands. Though they live with the Khow, they disloke mingling with them. Subsequently, their customs and habits are safe from Khow Influence. Pashto remains their mother tongue.

They have come from Chilas and have been living in Ashirat in Drosh Tehsil for about twelve generations. Their language, called Phalura, is a dialect of Shina
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 forced the Afghans to take refuge in Chitral, Pakistan. Some of these Afghans are from Panjsher and Badakhshan and Persian is their lingua franca. Others belong to the Pashtu speaking belt of Nangarhar, Qunduz and Kunnar.

Mukhbani or Yidgha
This tribe came from Badakhshan and settled in the west of Chitral in Lutkoh Valley. Yidgha is their native tongue, and this is the only thing they have preserved in this area. For they have changed their habits and customs and merged themselves into the Khow social set up.

Towering over the Chitral town is Birmoghlasht, rising to a height of 2743 meters (9,900 feet) and 15 km (9 miles) from Chitral. Here, at an altitude of 2743 meters (9,000 feet), is located the summer palace of the former mehtur of Chitral. Its balcony is decked with Ibex and snow leopard trophies, and the head of a mounted markhor. From the palace, you can get a good view of the river. The place also offers a spectacular view of Terich Mir rising above and the valleys sliding down. A narrow winding road leads to the fort; the distance is short enough to be covered by foot. If you are not in a mood of walking, you are advised to hire a local driver, for they have mastered the art of driving on the narrowest of roads at a reasonable speed. Do not forget to visit the mosque by the river. The mosque, called the Shahi Mosque of Chitral, was built by Mhetar Shuja-ul-Mulk about a century ago. It is a stylistic piece of architecture with its impressive inlays and decorations and its minarets and cupolas poised against a backdrop of a bleak, hilly landscape.
Visit the Kalash Valleys of Bumboret, Birir and Rambor, which are at a distance of 40 km, 34 km and 32 km respectively from Chitral. At Dubaj, all visitors have to pay a toll tax. The lifestyle of its people is a living image of what the European community once was in the medieval age. This may be because this pagan tribe was set apart from the world for centuries and had lost interaction with its inhabitants, thereby following their unique customs, culture, and religion since 400 BC. And till now, the history and background of this primitive tribe and its 3,000 people is still shrouded in mystery.
The Kalash share a legacy of being expert architects and skilled wood carvers. They amuse themselves by numerous festivals that are intricately related to dancing and music. Their music flows in a different strain when juxtaposed with Pakistani music. Women wear a long black gown embroidered around the hem and wrists. What most holds attention is their head dress. It is usually made of woolen black material and ornamented with pompoms or a large colored feather on the top; the hood is beautified with metal buttons, coins, red beads, white cowry shells, trinkets that fall on their back and similar objects set in rows. (For more information, see article on Kalash).
If you are a naturalist, Chitral Gol National Park is the place for you. Chitral Gol is in the north west of Chitral Town and is in the shape of a a huge mountain amphitheatre. It spreads over an area of 7,750 hectares and was established in 1984. The park has two hunting lodges, which were built by the mehturs. The best time to go there is from May to September. Lammergier vulture, Himalayan Griffon vulture, Golden eagle, Demosille crane, Peregrine falcon, Himalayan snow cock, Himalayan monal, Snow partridge and rock Partridge are the most common birds found in the park. The park is also the habitat of not more than 650 markhor goats (V). The Siberian ibex (V), the snow leopard (T), the Ladakh urial (Shapu) (T), the Tibetan Wolf (V), the Red fox (C), the Yellow throated martin (C), the Himalayan otter (V) and the black bear (T) can be found in small numbers.
Another attraction of the area is Garam Chashma (hot springs) in the north west of Chitral. At a height of 1,859 meters (6,100 feet) these gush out of the Hindu Kush mountains and are located at a distance of 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Chitral. The journey, undertaken in jeeps, takes 3 hours and goes along the Ladakh River. Halfway through the journey, there is the Shasha Pass, damp and lonely. Crossing it, the Ladakh and Shagor Rivers come into view, both flowing together into the Indus.
Visit the place in autumn and you will be amazed at the variety of colors. Swaying with the wind, poplar, willow and apricot trees fringe the river bank. Along with these are flowers with leaves of a golden hue. And when you see steam rising into the air, you are at the sight of Garam Chashma. Busy washing clothes, nomad women can be seen clustered around the hot springs. It is a popular belief that the sulphurous hot springs can cure spring diseases, headaches, gout and rheumatism. To facilitate bathing, "hamams" (baths) have been constructed in the vicinity of the springs. To use these, tourists have to pay Rs. 5.00 each. Shops have developed around the area, but not to a scale that makes it a bazaar. Things sold here are lanterns, blankets, sweaters and boots. The bulk of customers are the refugees who migrate from Afghanistan to Pakistan.
There are four famous lakes in Chitral; Shandur Lake, Karbaza lake Chatti Bai Lake and Chiyan Tar lake. The first two lakes still exist while the other two have dried up. Lake Shandur is a beautiful spot on the border of Laspur Valley. Lake Karbaza is at Broghail in Yarkhoon Valley. Lake Chatti Bai is also in Broghail, but as mentioned earlier, it has dried up. Lake Chiyan Tar is another dried up lake in Lutkoh at Dorah Pass. Hot springs of brackish water force out their way at various places in Chitral, such as Lutkoh, Ambore, Treech, Boni, Shah Jinnali, Yarkhoon and Sindoor. People visit these in great numbers for the cure of skin diseases and asthma.
Other tourist spots are Boroghil, Thoshi Game Resort, Shahgrom Terich and Durah Pass at a distance of 250 km, 18 km, 138 km and 120 km respectively from Chitral.

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