The Kalasha are an ancient community that has historically been closed to outsiders and who are very guarded about their customs. Living in harmony with nature in three separated valleys of the Hindu Kush mountains, the ancient tribe has long protected its cultural mores and customs from the ‘outside.’
Sharing borders with Afghanistan, the Kalasha live in three Kalasha valleys—Bamburate, Birir and Rumbur. The majority of them dwell in Bamburate. The Kalasha are shepherds, farmers and a few of them own local businesses. Even fewer of the estimated 3,800 Kalasha have government jobs. They are dependent on their livestock and farming — something that explains their festive seasons.
There are three festive seasons a year in Kalash valley: Camos, Joshi, and Uchaw.
Chamos is the biggest festival, observed in December to celebrate the end of the year. The Kalasha sing and dance around a fire and sacrifice goats to welcome their god, Balaumain, who is believed to visit them during the festival.
“During the last festival, two earthquakes happened,” says young Schamim in an incredulous tone. “I guess the first happened when Balaumain came and the other when he left the valley.”
The Joshi festival marks the beginning of spring. It takes place every year in May for a week. Customs dictate that everyone wears new clothes while women are to bejewel themselves heavily. They go to the hillside to sing and dance. They also decorate their houses.
The valley celebrates Uchaw or Uchal festival before the harvest season. And this festival, like the others, is marked by dancing and singing, paying homage to Mother Nature for blessing them with barley and wheat.
Uchaw used to carry on from July 1 till August 22 each year. But things have changed due to security reasons. Now only two days, 21 and 22 August, are earmarked for the Uchaw festival.
But even for this brief period, security of guests arriving is paramount. Shahzada Jan, a Kalasha and owner of a guest house, says that due to deteriorating security circumstances, “every foreign national is given at least one guard when they visit the valley.”