Kailash is the name of a group of three small valleys situated near Chitral. According to legend, some soldiers of Alexander’s army, charmed by the beauty of the valley, decided to stay there and the locals of the Kailash valley are their descendents.
Arriving in Kailash at around two in the morning, I could see the charm even in the darkness. In fact, darkness does nothing to hide the unique and breath taking beauty of the valley. You can hear the roaring of Kunhar River on one side and the sleepy chirps of insects on the other side. It is a place like no other.
I had been to Fairy Meadows in 2014 and I honestly thought that if I can travel the jeep track which leads to Tatu village, I can travel anywhere. I still think that the jeep track was more daring and adventurous, but the way to Lowari top gives it a close run for its money. The zig zag way to the top is surrounded by beautiful scenery of flowing river and the most surprising thing was to experience extreme hot weather near the middle of the mountain and then almost freezing weather two hours later near its top.
All of this serves a greater purpose; it distracts you from the mud road and the head spinning turns! It’s a great journey for people looking for new experiences and adventure. The skill of the bus drivers is a must for this part of Pakistan so if you are planning to travel, make sure that the bus driver is a local who has experience traveling on these routes.
We started our journey around four in the evening…and reached Bhumburat around eleven at night that is the next night. Normally the journey does not take this long but there was a lot of traffic due to the vast amount of people traveling to the valley to attend the Chilimjusht festival. After arriving, we all had little energy left to do anything other than collapse on beds and sleep. When we woke up the next morning refreshed and full of excitement, we set out to explore the valley. The Kunhar river flows on one side of the valley and on the other side the mountain side hosts charming houses made of wood and rough stone. The people as it is said, are extremely beautiful and helpful. Their multicolored clothes and their unique hairstyles bring a smile to even the dourest person and that I think is one of the purposes of their culture-to remain happy and optimistic no matter what the odds are.
We had limited time in which to explore as much of the valley as we could. So after a quick tour of the area surrounding our hotel we set off towards the open area or stage where the festival was supposed to take place. One thing which definitely struck me was how much freedom the women seemed to have. There were posters everywhere for women standing for election of different government posts, women were dancing in the festival- in fact the men seemed to be on the back burner as the matriarch of the clan or tribe was the one who seemed to be calling the shots. Another thing which must be mentioned is the physical fitness of the people. It is obvious that they have more stamina but it’s more than that. Although their faces are tanned and sometimes sun burnt, they have a radiance which is hard to find anywhere else. They smile easily and I could not find anyone who was frowning.
After climbing around a hundred stairs along with a huge throng of people which included locals and visitors alike, we finally reached our destination. It was an open area which had a courtyard right in its center. The courtyard was surrounded by seating arrangements for the spectators.
Many of the visitors…mostly girls… had donned the dress of the Kailash and were dancing with the locals. The men were standing on the boundary of the courtyard and would occasionally burst out singing and whistling. They had their own distinct way of dancing and singing. After a while when the dancers wanted to take a little break, the elder men and women would gather around and sing in a deep and melancholic voice. We were told by a local that they were singing about the people who were no more with them. They were mourning the loss of their company and celebrating their life through these songs. It was a touching and a beautiful custom. They were sad that their loved ones were gone, but happy that they had lived a full and enriching life.
We stayed at the festival till around three in the afternoon. As we started walking back to the hotel for lunch… it was somehow decided that we would go and visit Sheikhani village which is around forty minute jeep ride ahead of Kailash. I went along as all the others were going as well, but as we reached the village and entered the trout farm which is the main reason we had gone there, I was mesmerized. It was a scene out of a calendar. Lush green mountains surrounded the village and the wooden cottages were simple stunning. There was a peaceful feeling which descended on you the moment you sat down and simply took in your surroundings. There is nothing like the clean fresh air of the mountains and the silence in which you can hear yourself breathe. It is true that when we travel we find ourselves and it is moments like these that we truly discover who we are and what makes us happy and sad.
The next day we went to visit the graveyard of the residents of the valley. The harmony of their customs with nature is highlighted the most in their graveyards. They believe that we have come from the earth and we return to it. So somebody dying is not a sad thing, it is a happy occasion as the person has actually returned home. Ashfaq Ahmad reported in Gulf News, ‘Kalash sing and dance around the bodies of their loved ones for two to three days before burying them in a coffin and offer a feast with a sacrifice of 30 to 40 goats to guests who come to celebrate (not mourn) the death.’
There were many memorable moments in the trip, but nothing compares to the absolute purity and the unaltered surroundings of the valley. It is a must visit for everyone at least once in a life!