Chitral chronicle: A diagnostic study unwrapping Pakistan
AMIDST all the heavy news regarding the prevailing economic crunch and political turbulence, visiting Chitral to conduct a Diagnostic Study was a fulfilling promenade.
The study was multidimensional, deep and informative. Apart from drinking directly from the fountain of nature, starting from the 9th of May 2022, the week was full of learning, data collection and analysis.
The diagnostic study was an extension of the Pakistan China Industrial Cooperation Framework and facilitated by the Prime Minister’s Office, Board of Investment, CPEC-ICPD.
The study incorporates both governmental and entrepreneurial approaches to evaluate opportunities, challenges, and strategies to proceed on a dynamic industrial cooperation framework— particularly in the tourism and mining sectors.
An overlook: The socio-economic development of Chitral is linearly linked with its indigenous potential—mining and tourism.
While located along the western edge of the Kohistan geological island between the Gondwana and Eurasian tectonic plates, Chitral comprises Eastern and Central Hindu Kush ranges bordering Afghanistan and Central Asia—saturated with a wide array of metal base minerals, building materials, radioactive elements and precious gems.
Moreover, Chitral hosts a distinguished cultural tourism potential. A large area of the Upper Chitral is still unknown to the human eye due to the absence of connectivity.
Chitral covers an area of 14,850 km² with a population of 447362. Anciently, there was a strategic trade route from Badakhshan through the Darwaza pass, across southern Chitral, and through the Lowari Pass to the ancient Buddhist monasteries down in the plains of Indus River.
In the 4th/10th century, it was subject to the king of Kabul. From 1320 onwards, Chitral became a princely state under the rule of Mehtars from different dynasties.
The British imperials kept an eye on Chitral because of its proximity to Tsarist Russia. The last and the longest Katoor dynasty ended with the annexation of the semi-autonomous state to Pakistan in 1969.
Chitral’s princely status lasted centuries with Lowari Top as the only connectivity southwards.
Its semi-autonomous status and isolated geographics nurtured a cultural orientation different from the rest of the Pashtun belt in the KP.
Chitrali mythology is developed in the tallest portions of the Hindu Kush Mountains, at the juncture of South, Central, West and East Asia, exposed to many external cultural influences.
The tourism sector in Chitral centres around its rich royal castles, Polo festivals, stones of colossal volume, playing fields, riverbanks, shrines of the Central Asian saints, rising rusty peaks with vast green pastures, glaciers, water channels and, above all, the people of Kalash!
Tourism: The study diagnosed four potential avenues to beef up the tourism profile of Chitral.
- A new road link is under construction connecting Mastuj, Shandur and Phander Valley.
This road link will multiply the tourist influx in Chitral and GB due to Shandur Polo Festival (Kings Game) at Shandur Polo Ground (3,800 meters), held annually since 1936—a decorated international sports gala.
The track needs rest points and proper mapping of the potential resorts and documentation of the allied folklores.
2. The second track is from Mastuj to Broghil, Lashkargah, Quramber Lake and Darwaza Pass. Darwaza Pass connects Pakistan with Tajikistan (Wakhan Corridor).
Life in Broghil Valley is uniquely primitive. People travel on horses to do groceries and meet their relatives. Most of the people follow the Ismaili sect and speak Wakhi Language.
This route was trampled by ancient Central Asians for hajj expeditions. Currently, Lashkargah is the last civic population on this track.
The locals unanimously believe that Changez Khan’s forces (Lashkar) rested at the bank of Quramber Lake.
From Broghil to Darwaza Pass, the whole track unveils beautiful looks with dozens of freshwater lakes and lush green pastures.
Nature and population both reside in their most organic forms.
Undoubtedly, the road network between this mysterious land will enhance cultural and trade linkages with Central Asia and unveil majestic tourism potential.
In the meanwhile, it requires well-coordinated planning to prevent the adversaries associated with climate change and ecosystem degradation as happened in Mastuj-Shandur track where an entire village Duma Dumi has lost its drinking and irrigation water channels due to massive cuttings and erosions.
Moreover, there are no forests on this track to balance an ecological intervention so environmental planning is very important to preserve the consistency of weather and culture.
3. It is important to archive the extinguishing folklores of Chitral. For example, the polo ground of Shaghore village on Garam Chashma Road throws back to the memories of a gallant lady living in the chronicles of Chitral by challenging the ruler for avenging the murder of her son.
The mother of Begal, the slain young man, had falsified the notion ‘thy name is frailty’ by putting the ruler to rout.
Similarly, the pedestrian suspension bridge at Shogram on Booni Road silently beats the love story of the saint Baba Siyar whose rhymes were sung by the mothers to lull their babies into sleep.
4. The fourth and the most important step is to preserve the uniqueness of the Kalash people—an endangered culture.
There are almost 7000 Kalashes living in three valleys—Bumburate, Birir and Rumbur. The dominant trait of the Kalshi religion is their spiritual and physical response to purity and impurity.
Their culture stands on two pillars—environment and women. Unlike Power and money, these pillars sink them with the genuineness of nature, making them value-oriented, compassionate, and aesthetically fulfilled.
They celebrate every season and its harvests. They are normally soft-spoken, speak the Kalash language, and they learned to survive while being sandwiched between Muslims around them in Chitral and the Nuristan border where the majority of votes were polled in favour of religious-political parties!
Surprisingly, the government has not codified the Kalash mythology yet. To preserve their uniqueness, a few steps have to be taken on a priority basis.
Firstly, to codify their history and ancient mythology. There is only one dedicated primary school for Kalash kids with one textbook expounding on the Kalash language but nothing on their anthropological history and culture.
The Education Department admits one child from one family in this school due to insufficient teaching staff.
The secondary school in Kalash has 25 Muslim teachers and 1 Kalash teacher. It is imperative to compile relevant textbooks and increase their access to quality education without creating an inferiority complex.
Secondly, elevation of their economic status. While subject to systematic social intervention and economic insecurity, they are mainstreaming themselves and depleting.
Their uniqueness has a cost that is getting unaffordable for them to maintain with every passing day.
Other than their expensive seasonal festivals like Chilm Jusht, Uchhal, Chitirmas, and female dresses, every household has to spend approximately PKR 1 million on every new Birth and Death as a social obligation.
A local “Qazi” told that now they have constituted a committee to help each other by sharing the cost of these events with the celebrating or the aggrieved family.
Apart from cattle grazing, selling wine and tourist tips, Kalashes need a socio-economic development plan: an increased share in the services sector and an inclusive tourism development plan while keeping the originality of their culture intact.
The Deputy Commissioner of Chitral Anwar-ul-Haq has shown his resolve and shared many elaborated initiatives to preserve the Kalash culture from an identity crisis and unseen cultural onslaught.
—To be continued.
—The writer is contributing columnist, based in Karachi.