Chitral is the name of a whole district as well as the main town of this district. It draws its name from a tribe known as Chetar. In Khowar, Chetar means a tribe or farm, for the tribe was built upon a big farm. Mountain glaciers, weathering, erosion, tectonic uplift, earthquakes, landslides and floods contribute their share in shaping the area. From the historical viewpoint, Chitral valley is closely connected to the silk route.
Chitral has been left undisturbed by invaders due to its location high up in the Hindu Kush. The Lowari Pass, more than 10,000 feet high, is the lowest pass that leads into Chitral. No army has entered the region by the path from Jalalabad that goes up the Kunar River because it gets too narrow below Ashret. Hence, attempts to invade Chitral ended in failure.
In older times, Chitral was known by the name of Kashkar. The foot of the Hindu Kush was the home of the genies. It is said that the genie who stole the ring of Hazrat Suleiman lived on Terich Mir and had his forts on many high mountains. At that time, forests and plains dominated the landscape. The genies used the grounds to practice drill and training exercises. Even today, those who go into the forest still hear the sound of parade and orchestra. The folklore of Chitral is mostly about fairies and genies, and about Hakeem Luqman, the Greek, whose name is associated with cure.
The history of Chitral can be classified into six eras. Theses are:
1.The Iranian Rule
2.The Kushan Rule
3.The Chinese Rule
4.The Kalash Rule
5.The Rais Rule
6.The Katur Rule
Professor Dani of the University of Peshawar coined the term, 'Gandhara Grave Culture' in the early 1960s when he excavated the burial site at Timargarha in Dir District and Thana in Swat. Today, the name is used with reference to the pre- and proto-historic cemetery sites that were explored in the vicinity of ancient Gandhara, the easternmost province of the Persian Empire. These burial date back to 1800 and 600 B.C, (according to Dani) and belong to the Aryans, these sites significantly unfold the nature of archaeology and change over the years. Indeed, a careful study of things such as the pottery and tools, the grave construction and the burial style point to the changes over time.
One of the rare archeological expeditions in Chitral was conducted in the sixties by the Italian Archaeologist Professor Stacul and British Archaeologists Bridget and Raymond Allchins. It was then that some light was shed on the Burials of Gandhara Grave Culture in the Lower Chitral. To be more precise, in 1969, Professor Stacul discovered that Chitral had some Gandharan Grave sites. Field work, however, has been of an unsatisfactory nature and not much has been published. Additionally, three ceramic vessels from Ayun have been examined by Professor Allchin (1970) with the conclusion that they resemble the pottery found in the Gandharan Graves. Various scholars and travelers too, are positive about the presence of Buddhist monuments in Chitral.
Sites of the same nature were discovered during the 1999 expedition that was a collaborated attempt with the University of Bradford. These came in to notice with the help of local knowledge of structures and graves in the area and field survey. Farmers were a valuable source of detailed local knowledge Moreover, two types of sites were discovered in 2000 with Peter and Azra Meadows. These are
1. Sites of Gandhara Grave Culture (Proto historic Period)
2. Forts and settlement sites of the 17th-19th centuries
In addition to these, there was one Megalithic Burial Site also.
At all these locations, a similar pattern follows in grave construction and the way of burial. Large slabs of stone are used to make a rectangular cist grave). Goods, such as pottery are buried with the deceased and the burials themselves are either interments or cremations. All this suggests that they can be relegated to one cultural group.
The grave burials are a significant discovery in the field of archeology, and have fitted into the gap between the decline of Indus Valley Civilization and the arrival of Achaemenian in 600 B.C .the discovery has also ut to doubt some accepted notions, such as the term, 'Gandhara Graves' because at no time was Chitral a part of Ancient Gandhara. An excavation of the site would give us the date of the burials and provide material for the Chitral Museum, which has been approved by the Government of NWFP.
CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
The lifestyle and social habits of the Chitralis date back to ancient times. Joint family system is still the norm. The father is considered the head of the family; the privilege is conferred on the eldest son after his death. Usually it so happens that while the father is alive, all live together in a single house. After his death, the property is divided and the sons move with their families into houses of their own. The youngest son inherits all houses owned by the father. The eldest makes a house for him by himself. For this purpose, he is provided with land and wood for construction.
To comment on their houses, the most important room of the house is in the shape of a hall and is brought into multiple uses. It is divided into parts and each part is utilized differently. In the center of the room is a fireplace, whose smoke escapes through a hole in the ceiling. Men sit to the right and women to the left of the fireplace. The area at the back of the male and the female sitting rooms is used as bedroom. Wheat-flour, ghee, meat and milk are stored in cellars.
The main room also serves as a kitchen. This is especially practical during the winter season when the same fire is used to cook and warm people. Every family member sits on the seat assigned to him. The first or the most prominent seat in the male section is occupied by the head of the house. As a counterpart to it, the leading female member of the family (usually the eldest daughter-in-law) sits on the most prominent seat in the female section and cooks for all. Other members also sit in accordance with hierarchy. When visited by a religious and spiritual leader, the head of the family offers his seat to him. On the arrival of a guest, all embers of the family get up from their seats to welcome him. The guest is given due respect and while elders are talking, youngsters do not interfere. They only speak up when asked a question, and that too is answered with decency and respect. They do not even laugh in front of their elders. It is deemed improper to raise one's voice in gossip or everyday talk. As for their eating habits, a wheat bread (chapatti) is passed around and all people present take a morsel. The guest begins this prologue to lunch. Little matters, like washing hands before meals or drinking water demand delicacy, for allowing others a chance to wash hands or drink water before they do is a means of showing respect.
Chitralis love social gatherings; pleasure is doubled by the provision of music. The area has a rich musical tradition perhaps because music is not restricted to a caste or social group. The rich and the respectful do not consider musical parties or concerts as a disgrace. Rather, the playing of musical instruments is an art relegated to the elite. Musical concerts can be arranged at any time of the year; just contact any youth society or cultural club. Music, today, is patronized by the rich while in older days, this was the job of the mehtur.
In the times of the mehtur, daily sittings (nashist) were held at court. These can be likened to a meeting of higher social and political order, or a meeting of Parliament. The respected people of the area, the elite, administrative authorities and social agents representing remote areas of Chitral made up the participants. Attending this sitting was taken as a token of special affiliation with the mehtur.
'Maarka' was a sort of meeting where open discussions were held on national problems and administrative issues. Critics and analysts gave their views, which entertained the ears of the mehtur. Then the mehtur asked questions on various national and regional issues, which were answered by the participant-audience. Then followed a session in which different problems and matters of importance were discussed with the mehtur and his opinion taken. Significant political decisions were made and legislation drafted. The participants targeted each other with pranks and wit, and sometimes, this progressed into an interesting argument. These arguments proceeded in a metaphorical language and were enjoyed by both participants and listeners. Harsh words were delivered under the garb of politeness.
Such meetings were also organized by the governors. These were punctuated by refreshments and dinner parties. Food was served on tablecloths spread in front of all participants. A big tablecloth was set for the mehtur. It was the custom that the mehtur sent a few morsels to those whom he wanted to honor. The honored swelled with joy and paid his respects to the mehtur. Often it so happened that the mehtur distributed all food in front of him and didn't eat anything. The story goes that a simple natured rustic was appointed guard to the room where the meetings took place. When, for some days, he saw the mehtur sitting hungry, he felt sorry for him. The next day, he made a bread (chapatti) of corn, for this was what his economic standing allowed him, and brought it secretly with him. At dinner, the mehtur again distributed his share and ate nothing. Witnessing this, the innocent guard started making signs, as if he wanted to convey something to the mehtur. He wanted to tell him not to worry, for he had brought a chapatti with him and that he could eat it comfortably when the others had left. Unable to interpret these signs, the mehtur sent a person to inquire. When the matter came to light, the innocence of the villager took everybody by surprise. The mehtur rewarded him with prizes.
A similar tradition is followed at marriages. In honor of the wedding guests that arrive with the Baraat (wedding procession), a special dish is served at breakfast of the following day. The chief guest distributes its contents amongst his relatives - the bridegroom's side. Also on special occasions, the head of the family distributes amongst other members some special dish made for the occasion.
It is believed that the soil has a special preference for its old inhabitants. On festive occasions, these people are treated with great respect. In the traditional social set-up, the shepherd was also raised to a significant social stature; they were cordially invited to all festivals and sent some special dish or meal. They had the authority to fine anybody who deterred from this general norm.
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.
PLACES OF INTEREST
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.
Upper Chitral Valley
A jeep road goes along the Mastuj River for 107 kilometers (66 miles) to Mastuj in the Upper Chitral Valley. Break your journey at Subedars village, for it offers a good camping site with plenty of water and grass. From Mastuj, cross the 3, 736 meter (12, 250 foot) Shandur Pass and camp on the meadows near the lake/river at Phandar. The Shandur Top is equally distanced from Chitral and Gilgit, the distance being about 168 km (105 miles). The only road over the pass can only be journeyed in jeeps. From January to May, it is closed for all traffic. Trekkers, mules and pedestrians however, can use it throughout the year. Resuming our journey, drive to Gilgit via Gakuch and Gupis. A two-day drive would take you from Chitral to Gilgit, and that too depends on the jeep road, whether it is open or not. If tourists intend to deviate from the main road, they must get a permit from the Deputy Commissioner.
There is also a Jeebable road goes to torkhow (the sub Tehsil of Mastuj). Torkhow also surrounds many beautiful small and big vallies. like Khot Valley, Rech valley, Melp Vally, and also villages like Istaru Shagram, Werkup, Rayen, Shutkhar, Washich etc.
To get to Chitral, the best and easiest way is by air from Peshawar. Since 1962, PIA has been operating daily Fokker flights to Chitral on subsidized rates. The flight takes 55 minutes but as is the case with all flights to the northern areas, this too is scheduled by the weather. To deal with this frequent cancellation of flights, book several days in advance.
Chitral is at a distance of 393 kilometers (245 miles) from Islamabad and 363 Km (227 miles) from Peshawar. It would take you 10-12 hours to get there by road. Drive from Islamabad or Peshawar via Chakdara and Dir, and over the 3,118-meter (10,230 feet) high and 3118-meter long Lowari Pass. Amongst all roads that take you to Chitral, this is the only metalled one. Today, the National Highway Authority is responsible for the construction and maintenance of this road. Nearing the pass, the weather beaten road r climbs up on the Dir side in wide loops and plunges into Chitral in about 50 sphincter tightening switchbacks. Clouds envelop the Lowari summit throughout the year. These are accompanied by high winds strong enough to blow away your hats and other small belongings. Here is also a small hut that serves as a customs check post with a tea stall by its side. Gypsies, with their tents and other belongings, can be seen on the road in the beginning and end of the summer season.
Snow blocks the pass from December to April. During this time, the Kunar road is the only way into Chitral. Opened in 1987, the road links Chitral and Kunar; it enters Afghanistan at Arandu. Running through the Afghan province of Kunar, it re-enters Pakistan through the Khyber Pass. The road remains open throughout the year, and its usage is made possible through an interim arrangement between the Chitral administration and Afghan authorities. Work has been undertaken to construct a tunnel under the summit so bring the pass into use at any time of the year. Due to financial and technical reasons, however, the project has not yet been accomplished.
If you want to get to Chitral from Upper Swat, the route goes via Mingora, Chakdara, Timargarha, Dir and the Lowari Pass, and would take you about 10 hours. Buses are stationed at Mingora that leave for Timargarha at short intervals. At Timargarha, you will have to change for Dir. At Dir, get a jeep from Manzar Hotel this will take you to Chitral via Lowari Pass. To get to Chitral from Gilgit, the 405 km (252-mile) journey would take 20-25 hours. Get a jeep to take you to Phander (below Shandur Pass). Camp there for the night and resume your journey the next day. As an alternative, you can also hire private cars (with drivers) from Tourist Information Centers and rent-a-car companies. On reaching Chitral, all tourists must register with the police. This can be done from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in summer and 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in winter. The task cannot be accomplished on Sunday, which is a holiday, and at noon at Friday and Saturday.
To get an idea of the infrastructure, 150 km of black-topped road serves an area of about 15 thousand square km. It has been pointed out that the most risky roads in the country are those in Chitral. To deal with the problem, the drivers have devised a code; when two drivers coming in the opposite direction meet, the better and the more experienced one reverses to the side of the narrow road such that room is made for the other to pass.
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