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The Northern Kashmir, an ethnical mosaïc
From the Chitral Area to the afghan border
La minorité Kailash du Cachemire
Pathan community of Kashmir
The Kho minority
High valleys of Hunza and Kashmir
The Hunza valley
Irrigation, the miracle of Northern Kashmir
The Wakhi minority
Valley of Shimshal
The Ismaelis religion
The altitude porters of Shimshal
Rajab Shah
The Burusho minority of Pakistan
The Shina minority of Pakistan
The Gujar minority of Pakistan
Baltistan in Northern Kashmir
Les Baltis
Le village de Hushe
Little Karim
La région du Ladakh
Le sud du Cachemire
Les autres minorités
Les Dardes
La minorité Gipsi

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See Northern Kashmir maps about culture & local life :

The speaking languages in Kashmir
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The Kashmir religions

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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 cultures.

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.

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From the Chitral Area to the afghan border :

Kailash Minority:

Kailash kid

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, Loebeke edition)

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.

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Pathan community of Kashmir :

Pachtouns workers

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.

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Kho Minority of kashmir:

Khowari people

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.

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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 this valley.

(To learn more about the Hunza valley, click on the encyclopedia AGORA touch : l'encyclopédie AGORA (valley of the immortels by Helen Laberge)

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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.

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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.

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The Shimshal valley near the border of China :

Shimshal village

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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