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Les hautes vallées du Gojal et de Hunza au Pakistan
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
Baltistan people
Hushe village
Little Karim
Ladakh area
Southern Kashmir
Other minorities
Gipsi minority

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See Northern Kashmir maps about culture & local life :

The speaking languages in Kashmir
(120 ko)


The Kashmir religions

(97 ko)


Les hautes vallées du Gojal et de Hunza au Cachemire (suite) :

The Ismaelis religion :

Harvest in Shimshal

Shimshal is a village nestling in the high valleys of Karakoram. The discovery of Shimshal is a must for all those looking for new cultures. The people of Shimshal, who are Ismalians, are very welcoming people. It's preferable to go with a guide who will help you more to discover the particular culture of this community than only show you the way. To know more about the Ismalians, the excellent book of Michel Malherbe "The Religions of Humanity" will allow to better understand this particularity attributed to the inhabitants of the Hunza valley :

"Ismalian is born through a Chiisme reform promoted by Ismael, the eldest son of the sixth Chiite Iman Djafar. However, Ismael died in 751, fourteen years before his father and was thus never able to become Iman as he should have. The Ismalian partisants refuse the seventh Iman as well as the others that followed - they remain attached to their master, considered to be the seventh " hidden Iman". Today, they have no political influence but their solid community is of big economical influence. The Ismalians can be divided into two branches ; the Mustalis and the Nizaris. The Nizaris who recognize the Agha Khan Iman, live in the mountainous regions of Central Asia - there were about 250,000 of them in Afghanistan in the Bamyam region, 120,000 in Tadjikstan, 80,000 in the Chinese Xing Yang, 120,000 in Syria, 80,000 in Ian and 250,000 in various regions of India and Pakistan. The role of the Iman is considerable because he represents the manifestation of God on earth as a human. He is a superior being who serves as an intermediary between God and the soals who are to go to heaven. By his speeches and writings the Iman Agha Khan, gives spiritual instructions to the faithful and guides them.
By exaggerating a little, one could say that the Ismalians consider the usual Islam as an elementary form of spiritual life and because of that, they don't hesitate declaring themselves Moslems. However, there is also a secret esoteric doctrine, called "Batin". The Ismalians who assume to have the knowledge of this esoterisme, are able to interiorize and interlectualize their religion. This explains that the rules of the Coran do not seem strictly compulsory to them and may be used as a symbolic means. The Nizari Ismalians usually only pray twice a day, they do not restrict themselves to the Ramadan fasting and prescribe monogamy. That means, that the Ismalians are far from being fanatics and they easily accept discussions with other religions. Never however, they make use of any proselytisme, which in some way, explains the weakness concerning their values.

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The altitude porters of Shimshal :

The strength of the Shimshal porters is known world wide by all the mountain climbers. Three reasons allow to affirm that these inhabitants are in exceptionally good shape which is of course, very useful for the international expeditions who attack the great mountains of Pakistan. Firstly, the Ismalians don't smoke, drink or use any drugs. Furthermore, seeing that Shimshal was, at that time, separated from the nearest road by a five days walk (today it's only two) all the prefabricated products had to be carried by men to their village. The men were thus trained to carry and this ever since childhood. Lastly, the village is at 2800m altitude, so the men became used to it. The Shimshal men all speak English. The teacher of the village spoke to me about his fear concerning the road that will soon come to his village. Truly, it might seriously disrupt the life of the community.

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Rajab Shah :

Mr Rajab Shah

This dweller of Shimshal has climbed all the 8000thands of Pakistan between 1989 - 1998 , always without oxygen, on various occasions of European or Asiatic expeditions for which he had been employed as porter. He'd invited me to eat at his home twice, quite spontaneously. I was impressed by his peace of mind. He's considered as a star in his country but stays very modest and full of respect. We spoke a long time about Messner and his favourite mountain, the K2, but for him, the big challenge was the north side of the Kunjat Sar. "My work consisted in mounting the camps 1 and 2, thereafter, there were no more restrictions and I went to the summit, it was for my own pleasure. The Westerners come here for the summits, they spend millions of roupies, so why shouldn't I climb it myself ? " On one occasion at an expedition for the Japanese television on the Gashertorum 1 in 1992, he reached the summit together with two other Pakistanis, where even the Japanese mountaineers did not succeed. For this, he got a decoration from the Pakistan President. Rajab Shah always succeeded his escalations without oxygen. "I carried oxygen but never used it. I helped a lot of foreign mountaineers to trace their route and carry oxygen but I myself have never needed any help." In 1997,he was one of the members of the first Pakistani expedition on Everest which broke down 200 meters before the summit. His real regret was that he didn't succeed the 7000m for his country. "I needed more time and luck" He did however succeed the Mustagh Ata (7546m) in China as a Sirdar. He insists a lot on the education of the local altitude porters ; the big problem is technical and financing, there is no mountaineering school in Pakistan and no money to organize expeditions. I'd like to go back to Everest and more than ever, organize my own expedition. If ever you go to Shimshal, go knock on Mr. Rajab Shah's door (first house to the right, in the back of the garden) - this remarkable man would surely be happy to offer you tea.

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The Burusho minority of Pakistan:

The name of the Burushos makes reference to the inhabitants speaking the Burushaki language from Karimabad, Nagar and the Hunza dwellers ; they are also called Burushakis or Hunzakuts. Their language has no known root and is plunged into a historical legend. The Burushos are Ismalean Moslems in Karimabad and Chiite Moslems in Nagar. The Hunza Mir (or Tham) is the man of law of the Hunzakuts. He's no longer is influential since 1974 because at that date the Hunza Mir attached himself to the cause of the Pakistani government. The welcome and openness of the minds of these people are exceptional.
The Burusho musicians and blacksmiths traditionally come from an ethnic minority called Bericho and speak Dumaki.

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The Shina minority of Pakistan :

Kids fishing in Gilgit River

The 300 000 Shinas live at the bottom of the Hunza valley, in an area that stretches approx from the Gilgit valley to the adjacent valleys. The Shina people are traditionally divided up into four communities. The Shins, the Yeshkuns, the Kamins and the Doms. The Shins are the highest status community, the Kamins are agriculturers, the Doms are musicians and blacksmiths. They speak Shina and have the Ismalean, Chiite or Sunnite Moslem religion.

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The Gujar minority of Pakistan :

Gujar women in Batura valley

The Gujars came from South Asia and settled down in North Cashmere in the north Hunza region and the south of the Chitral valley. Their name indicates that they are breeders ("Gu" means cow). They found grounds of fresh herbs that grow at high altitude in order to be able to take their cows and yaks to these pasture fields and then settled. The Gujars are mainly Sunnite Moslems and marry amongst the community members. They speak Wakhi or Gojal, Khonar or Shina in the Chital valley.

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Baltistan in Northern Kashmir :

Sunset in Skardu valley

The Baltistan stretches along the Indus and shyok rivers between uphill Ladakh and downhill Gilgit.

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The Baltis minority :

Old balti man in Askole village

The Baltis (approx 200 000) come from a Tibetan culture, therefore they are the most western people of Tibet. They left their Bouddhist belief in the 15th century to become Chiite Moslems. Their customs are close to the Tibetan customs. Their language, the Burushaski, coming from Tibet, as well as their clothing and their food are close to those used by their Ladakh neighbours. However, their features are not those of the Tibetans ; they received the Tibetan culture as an heritage but don't look like their Tibetan cousins. The villages they built are densely constructed. The flat roofs of the houses are there to dry their crop and catch the sun. The villages are surrounded by well irrigated fields. The flowering Balti universe is always in contrast with the hostility and dryness of the mountain landscapes around.

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Little Karim :

Abdul Karim dit "Little Karim"

Abdul Karim, known as "Little Karim" is one of the anonymous heroes who lived in Hushe and really became well known during the climbs. This modest man accompanied the biggest international expeditions in the Karakoram, he was the man who stayed for longest at 8000m altitude, going far beyond the records of the most famous western climbers. This man was able, alone, to haul the 20 Kilos hang glider belonging to Jean Marc Boivin onto the top of K2. Without Little Karim, a man whose force is impossible to equal, Jean Marc Boivin would not have been able to be the first man to take off from the summit of K2 nor to be so admired or have so much success.

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Village of Hushe :

The Hushe village, in the shadow of the Masherbrun, only received a brief visit of the Bullock couple in 1911 : it stayed totally unknown to the west until 1980. Hushe is in one of the more fertile valleys of the Karakoram, it stretches over 30Km along the north of the Shyok river up to the foot of the Masherbrun (7821m). Hushe has more and more tourists ever since the Gondokoro pass was discovered because this gave the possibility to reach Hushe by Concordia. The Hushe inhabitants work on their fields outside the short tourist season. They readily work as altitude porters for the trekking expeditions or important steep mountain climbs.. There is a reserve of great talented men in Hushe whose strength have been used over the last 20 years, this is closely related to the big successful ascends of the Karakoram in the 1980ties. However, no mistake, in spite of this ideal area and the joy of its inhabitants, Hushe stays very poor and the daily life is hard there, its inhabitants always cultivate crop to survive and the death rate is very high.

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Ladakh area :

Moissons au Ladack

Usually, the Ladakh is not mentioned in the regions next to Cashmere, it's next door though. The Cashmere conflict closed the road from Kapalu to Leh thus isolating the Ladakhis and their close Baltistan cousins.

Ladakh menas "Country under the Passes" or "Little Tibet". In Ladakh there is a majority of Bouddhists (80%) and they represent the last western base of the Mongolian people of the Himalayas. Truly, Ladakh is in fact, like Tibet but smaller. Here we find the Tibetan traditions in the architecture of their houses, their Chortems and Mani walls. Here, one prays "Om Mani Padme Om" one drinks chang (barley beer), grean salty tea with rancid butter, one also eats tsampa (a meal made of a mixture of barley and black corn flower). The yaks are used as animals of burden. The Ladakhis are very warm hearted and welcome visitors just like their Tibetan cousins. The Nubra valley, close to northern Leh, is already the transition to Central Asia.. Camels are in the pasture fields of the altitude prairies ; before these animals were used to carry the goods on the high silk road that went further north through the Karakoram pass.

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Southern Kashmir :


Srinagar :


It's not possible to speak about Cashmere without briefly talking about Srinagar. Srinagar is on the edge of the Dal lake at 1700m altitude and has a population of approx 450 000 people. At the time of the British Raj, the Rajah of this semi-autonomous province, prohibited all foreigners to own a house in Srinagar. To go around this law, the English built their boats on the lake. Ever since, the tradition of these "house boats", the floating houses, still exist.

Cashmere is often called "Switzerland of Asia" and the town of Srinagar "Venise of Cashmere". However, the conflict between India, Pakistan and China darkens quiet a bit this ideal version. Srinagar has been closed to tourists for the last 10 years because of the extreme violence that takes place there from time to time. However, Srinagar is still the base of Cashmere's culture. Very fine craft work, silk weaving and the safran cultivations are world wide known.

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Les autres minorités :

Dardes minority :

This is an ancient population whose origins are uncertain. Some traces of the Darde King can be found in the 4th and 5th century A/C. The linguists who speak the Darde language compile it into a global form including the archaic languages spoken in the western Himalayan region. This region was, at an earlier time, called Dardistan.

It seems that they were Shepard, half wondering tribes, who held onto the millions of traditions and Tibetan culture, especially the polyandry even though this has been prohibited by the "modern governments" of India and China, the two countries in which they live. They wonder with their yak herds and pashmina sheep in the Rupshu region, in the Changtang, - the south west of the high Tibetan plains which is part of Ladakh as well as part of India , Jammu and Cashmere (except the north-east, occupied by China, Aksai Chin). The Indian government has just opened these regions to foreigners, with lots of reserves and certain limits because these are strategic sensitive zones. The Dardes villages are situated in the Indus valley only a few kilometers from the still not stable border of Pakistan and Changtang which border China. The Dardes or Drokpas, are of Aryan ethnic and originate from Baltistan where they stayed, they were Bouddhist before the conversion (9th-10th century). Their gardens are well taken care off, onions, tomatoes and hundreds of apricot trees around which can be found many wine shoots Every morning, the Dares pick some flowers, which according to tradition, they pin onto a small hat decorated by pieces of money and mirrors. Their skin is white, their eyes pale and they have a "Greek" profile. . The Ladakhis, rough mountaineers and not very talkative, say that the Dardes are descendants of Alexander the Great's soldiers. It's only a legend which the Dardes like a lot and they talk about it to anyone willing to listen. All around are pashmina sheep, their precious wool, much desired will be sold to Cashmere merchants in Leh.

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The Gipsi minority :

It's not rare to find in northern Cashmere, small groups of travelling people here and there who come from India. Often, they are looking for gold and one can see them at the rivers sifting non-stop the mud of the rivers. Not very much appreciated, they do small jobs to survive and live in their tents. (near Pas for example)

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A voir aussi sur le même thème :
Galerie d'images


Sources :

* Trekking in the Karakoram & Indukush, edition Lonely Planet
* Les religions de l'humanité
de Michel Malherbe
* Peuples d'asie centrale
, édition Anako
* Le Grand Guide du Pakistan
, édition Gallimard
* Montagne magazine N° 264
* Dans les montagnes d’Asie
, édition Hoëbeke, collection Etonnants voyageurs

Révision B /27/07/04 (

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