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See Northern Kashmir maps about culture & local
The Northern Kashmir, an ethnical mosaïc :
The strategic position of this area at the borders of Afghanistan,
China, India and Central Asia of the Middle East, brought about that
this region developed various cultures, various trades, different faiths
and had many invaders. Its artistic wealth and its heritage are proof
of the continuous changes. In spite of the Moslem hegemony of Cashmere
(the Pakistani Cashmere has a population of close to 2 millions Moslems,
mostly Sunnites, a territory of 79000Km2 and in Indian Cashmere, the
Moslem population is 70%) it occurs that the most striking aspect in
the northern region of Cashmere is the complexity of the ethnics and
Usual pictures of
pakistani muslim life.
Already on the Karakoram Highway, one is amazed to meet the Hunzakuts,
their faces surprisingly white, red cheek bones, blond hair and blue
eyes. Further at the northern borders, one meets men and women from
Central Asia, Chinese Ouigours or Kazakhs who came to trade at Sust
or Gilgit. Further to the east where the area's still closed from west
Pakistan, we find the little Tibet - Ladakh, India - which is inhabited
by Mongolian people of Tibetan origin. In the Baltistan valley, an area
populated 100% by Moslems, we still find Bouddhist ruins ; in fact the
beautiful Bouddhist painting, near Chilas are well known and represent
proof of past Bouddhist cultures.
Popular polo is the
origin sport from Northern Kashmir
In all the mountains on earth and particulary in this region, the
valleys often hide special customs and original cultures which are testimonies
of their life styles, necessarily autarchic in these mountain ranges,
where exchanges or trade is very difficult, especially in winter. This
is especially true in Cashmere because of the elevated valleys which
are enclosed by the very high mountains. Whatsoever, the silk road,
which at that time went through the east region, allowed cultural exchanges
; the famous passes of Shimshal, Karakoram, Mutztagh and Kungerab, were
often used. For this reason the aspects of culture and ethics in Cashmere
are very contradictory ; it's a crossroad of civilizations that enabled
trade and exchange but it also represents an ethnical and cultural hole,
very original and isolated in the lost valleys that are difficult to
reach. Here we find a big assembly of people, a place of ancestral murderous
dispute but also a place of harmonious well being between ethics of
very different cultures.
From the Chitral Area to the afghan border :
The Kailash are part of a small community of 3000. Non Moslems, they
don't adore Allah and are the only non-Moslem people of north Pakistan.
The Kailash believe that their God Dezau came to the Indus Kush valley
on horses that had two heads. They speak Kalashamun. Their territories
went much further into the east Afghan valley before the population
was, by force, converted to Islam at the end of the 19th century. East
Afghanistan was rebabtized "Nuristan" "the Country of
Light". The animists, true to their religious faith, took refuge
on the other side of the Afghan border and joined their next of kin
- cousins, who still live in the valleys of Rumbur and Birir. They were
the inheritors of a millenary culture and received first, the British
protection and thereafter the protection of the Pakistan government.
This is how Wilfried Thesiger discovered the Kailash when he travelled
through the Chitral valley in 1952. (At the time, they were called the
Black Kafirs) :
The Black Kafirs who call themselves Kailash Gum, occupy the Brumforet,
Rambor and Barir valleys. They adore their ancient Gods, cultivate grape
wines and set up sculptured wooden statues on the graves of their dead.
Their cousins on the other side of the border, had by force, been converted
to Islam by Abd-er-Rahman, an Afghan Emir, at the end of the 19th century
; their homeland, originally known as Kafiristan, now has the name of
Nouristan "Country of Light". Lots of the Moslems who live
in Chitral are descendants from the refugees of the Red Kafirs who fled
from Kafiristan in 1897. Some years later, I was to go through the Nouristan,
but I'm happy to have seen the population just as it was before in all
of the Kafiristan.
After some days of rest, I visited the Kafirs, accompanied by Mir
Ajam, a political commissioner, who took me in a jeep to a Red Kafir
village called Aijun ; he assured me that it was one of the biggest
villages in Chitral. From Aijun, I went up walking through a narrow
valley from where at its foot, could be seen a clear mountain stream
coming down from the north west. The rocky walls of the two slopes of
the valley are abrupt and covered with trees, also surprisingly, a Kermes
Oak, the leaves look like those of a Holly but the tree can be identified
because of its acorns. Bridges, made of wooden planks, allowed us to
cross the mountain stream. After about one and a half hrs, we turned
into the Brumboret valley, the one more to the south of the two affluents.
The other one, uphill of Brumboret, is called Rambor.
We passed lots of men in groups and young boys who had sacs of walnuts
to take to Aijun. They had long sticks to beat the walnuts and with
which they broke the walnuts open wherever they were. Further up, at
Bromberet, we got to a series of farms and cultivated fields in terraces
wherein they harvested rice and corn. I saw a lot of nut trees and other
fruit trees, some of which were huge mulberries. At this time, the valley
was relatively large and less steep ; however, the two slopes on both
sides were rocky and very marked, first covered by Kermes Oak and further
up by pine trees and fir pine trees. The villages in the Brumboret were
inhabited by Moslems and Black Kafirs. We made a rest in an adjacent
valley of Batrik, a group of about twelve houses well built by the Black
Kafirs. The men dressed like Moslems, the women and small Kafir girls,
however, had a head cover which was characteristically decorated with
little shells. All the women and young girls wore a very large dark
brown garment that they attached at the waist.
I took lots of photos of the Kafir - men, women and children, as well
as two wooden statues approx 1.80m high with which they decorate their
tombs. The corpses are buried in wooden coffins ; they are taken to
a corner of a field and left there to decompose by themselves. The statues
apparently are there in remembrance of the dead but nobody minded when
I moved them to take a better photo ; they were even pleased when I
looked for the best exposure. The front of the Kafir houses are also
decorated by rustic sculptures. Above Brumboret, the path that leads
into the Barir valley is an extremely steep trail between firstly, Kermes
Oaks and then goes through a huge forest of pines and Himalayan cedars.
I saw no birds there and noticed on the trail, recent smoke, no doubt
that it came from a markhor. Going down into Barir, the slope was much
more abrupt, hardly any existing trail. At the foot of a narrow gorge,
we found some Kafir houses surrounded by rice and millet grass fields
as well as fruit trees and grape wines. We took a one and a half hr
rest during which we swallowed large quantities of small sugared grapes;
we picked them from a climbing grape wine which was at least 9m high.
We then continued to go down the valley towards Gurru ; there, the houses
looked as if they were suspended from a hill, just above the stream.
It seemed to me that the Barir valley was prettier than the Brumboret
one. The first group of houses we went by was inhabited by Moslems and
Kafirs ; however, I learned that the Kafir were overwhelming the Moslems.
These Moslems, as well as the newly converted, were very strict about
the call of prayer. In Gurru and the area, the houses belong to the
Kafirs. I noticed some non- resemblances between them and those of Chitral.
For example, contrary to the men and young people of Chitral, none of
the Kafirs or Moslems carry a bow ; other than that, smoke of the domestic
fire only comes out the doors ; there is no funnel above the fire place.
I found the Kafir villages quite dirty and in Gurru, I counted 60 bedbugs
in my sleeping bag. At Gurru, I found 8 burial sculptures carved in
wood on top of a small cliff ; they were approx 1.50m high and thus
smaller than those I saw the day before. They were representations of
men, practically nude except for a short loin cloth with pompons and
on their heads they had various shaped helmets. I also noticed that
some Kafirs too, wore cloths with pompons around the waist which were
attached to the shoulder ; underneath though, they wore pants. Two statues
were in the shade, I took them down to a field to photograph them.
(source "In the Asian Mountains" Surprising Travellers Collection,
Even if protected, these people are close to extinction. Little by
little the homelands of the Kailash are taken from them. Considered
to be impure, the Kailash undergo many pressures from the Moslem farmers,
schoolteachers, civil servants or the mullahs who insist on them becoming
a member of Islam. Their cultural living areas become less and less,
Islam always claims more ground. How long can this culture still survive
? The days of the Kailash might.
Pathan community of Kashmir :
The Pathans (or Pachtouns) live on both sides of the Afghan borders.
Their language, which belongs to the Indo-Iranian group, is Pashto.
It's a war tribe divided into many clans and tribes with war like characters
and lots of independence. In Pakistan, they distinguish the mountain
Pathans, who traditionally live from highway robberies from those who
live in the plains and are agricultures. They are appreciated for their
construction talents. There were many refugee camps of Pathans in Pakistan
during the Afghan war including the north of the country.
Kho Minority of kashmir:
The Kho community lives in the Ghizar region and represents the main
population of the Chitral valley (80%). They are of Moslem Sunnite majority
but they are Ismaleans in the northern part of the Chitral valley. The
Kho minorities were attached to the Pakistani government in 1970. The
Kho's craft work is highly appreciated. Their potteries and the qualities
of their songs are legendary.
High valleys of Hunza and Kashmir :
The Hunza valley :
Hunza valley from Karimabad
With its rocks, its streams, its superbe mountains, its apricot trees
and their barley and wheat cultivations, the Hunza valley offers beautiful
scenery. Ever since many centuries, the travellers are amazed by the
miracles of green cultivated terraces of the Hunza country, these were
cut directly into a forest of desert mountains. Seeing that the valley
only received 14 centimeters of rain per year, the fields and fruit
trees depended entirely on irrigation canals that caught the waters
of the streams and then , in turn received the waters of the melting
snows of the glaciers and the tops of the mountains.
During the 60ties and up until the availability of regular flights
between Islamabad and Gilgit became possible, the Hunza valley was totally
closed in - one could only reach it by jeep going through the high Swat
valley after a long journey. Since the 80ties, the Karakoram Hwy opened
(To learn more about the Hunza valley, click on the encyclopedia AGORA
touch : l'encyclopédie
AGORA (valley of the immortels by Helen Laberge)
Irrigation, the miracle of Northern Kashmir :
Channels in Karimabad.
Hunza's water is very precious
On this soil, where it rains even less than in the Sahara, irrigation
is vital for mankind. Without it, no cultivation and no life in these
valleys. The water that comes down from the glaciers is caught and then
distributed thanks to irrigation canals which are set up by specific
maps in the mountains and sometimes built on the side of the cliffs
of more than hundreds of meters. These works need to respect a certain
calculated slope ; not to abrupt because the water may erode the canal
and not too flat either because sand may come into the water. This is
why the reappearance of water from a canal often occurs from a collector
that was built like ten kilometres uphill. In this way, the water is
distributed according to the richness of the cultivated parts thanks
to many traps next to the water canal.
The water in these canals comes from the melting snows of the glaciers,
it's full of precious minerals. One could even assume that the surprisingly
long, healthy life of the inhabitants of these valleys, is due to it.
It's surprising to see one's skin shine gloriously after having taken
a shower in this water.
Whatever, it's greatest power is probably not magic but the means
to fertilize these valleys which, without water, would only be rocks,
sand and dust.
Wakhi minority of Kashmir :
The upper Hunza
The Wakhi people are installed at the borders of Afghanistan and Tadjikstan
at the foot of the Chinese and Pakistani Xing Yang. On the contrary
to all the communities one meets in these high valleys, the women play
a leading part ; they take care of the milking and the transport of
the herd to their high pastures. As for the men, they stay in their
villages to take care of their crop cultivations. The Whakhi community
exists for at least 2 500 years ; they converted to Islam and belong
to the Ismalian branch of Islam. The endurance of the porters and their
welcome are remarkable.
In the high Hunza valleys, they speak Wakhi Iranian, it's there where
the bond between the Wakhan and Bodakshan gorge is traditionally narrow
because of many caravan passages and herds that go through the Kilik
pass. The Kighises Afghans, when the Soviet troops invaded and annexed
Wakhan, found a natural refuge ten years ago in the Gojal region before
they were welcomed in Turkey, where still today, they have established
themselves in a large majority.
The Shimshal valley near the border of
It's in the Shimshal valley that one finds the biggest Wakhi Ismalian
community. Isolated, they get along alone ; they always insisted on
a certain independence towards the Mir of Hunza whose jurisdiction it
represents. The high Shimshal valley has the five biggest glaciers coming
from the north, the Kanjut-Trivor line, those are the Momhil, Malangutti,
Yazaghie, Khurdopin and Virjerab glaciers.
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