A quick guide on how to get from Chitral to the Kalash Valleys via public transportation, and what to do and where to stay once there.
Most tourists who travel to Chitral do so to visit the remote Kalash Valleys.
The valleys are home to the famous Kalash people, a unique people said to be descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great. Cut off from the world and saved from Muslim invaders by their location in three remote mountain valleys, the Kalash are a cultural world apart from the predominantly Muslim population of Pakistan. The colorful Kalash are animists, not Muslim, make their own wine, and have a plethora of other unique traditions and festivals.
Which Kalash Valley to visit
Before you go, you must decide which of the three valleys you want to visit:
- Bumburet – The most developed in terms of facilities, and most popular with domestic tourists.
- Rumboor – Small villages in Rumboor are less developed, and more popular with foreign tourists. Predominantly Kalash.
- Birir – The least developed, and sees the least visitors.
We suggest you visit either Rumboor or Birir, as Bumburet has undergone a Disneyfication process, and is less Kalash and more Murree Hills at this point. The percentage of the population that is Kalasha is also much lower in Bumborit.
How to get from Chitral to the Kalash Valleys
Regardless of which valley you visit, the way of getting there by public transport is generally the same. Direct Jeeps from Chitral to the three different valleys leave around 13:00 from near Bank Alfalah in the center of Chitral. These Jeeps charge 200 – 300 Rs per person. However, Jeeps go to Birir only when there is a demand.
If you don’t want to travel during the middle of the day, there are shared cars going to the valleys in the early morning and late afternoon. To find a shared car, head to the Chitral central bus stand (the partially covered area with minibuses and shared cars), and get a shared car to Ayun. Ayun is about an hour from Chitral, and a seat costs 100 Rs, or 600 Rs for the whole car.
From Ayun, shared cars and Jeeps go to the different valleys once full. They charge 100 Rs per person for the bumpy ride to your valley of choice, although cars might charge a bit more depending on the day’s demand (or lack thereof). If there are no transport options available when you arrive Ayun, a private hire should cost no more than 1000 – 1200 Rs to any of the valleys. However, if you wait for a while, it’s usually possible to fill up a car with other travelers and locals who are going to the valleys. From Ayun, it will take one to two hours to any of the valleys.
Note: If you’re a foreigner with a police escort, you’ll have to pay for his seat, too.
Police registration for foreigners in Chitral and Kalash
Note: Police registration in Chitral has recently been simplified. You will register and get a FRO either at Lowari Tunnel or after Shandur Pass, depending on the route you take. Updates are welcome in the comment section.
As a foreigner, prepare to be hassled by police, army, the Levies, and “intelligence” a lot while you’re in Chitral and the Kalash Valleys. Upon arrival in Chitral, someone will likely approach you about registering with the police, and you’ll receive a foreigner registration number (FRO number). They will likely come to your hotel to make the arrangements, and hotel staff should know the drill. If no one approaches you, however, never fear—we failed to register since we stayed with a friend, so we just made up FRO numbers when made to do entries along the way to Kalash.
There’s a chance you will be assigned a guard for the duration of your stay in Chitral and the Kalash Valleys, but this being Pakistan, things are not always clear, and the procedure can change at the drop of a hat.
What is clear is that you’ll get a guard assigned in any of the Kalash Valleys. Sometimes this guard will come with you from Chitral, and sometimes they will be assigned to you in the valley you’re staying. Whatever happens, prepare to be patient. On the bright side, the guards are generally kind, and many have reported that their guards were enthusiastic about showing them around the valleys once there. One of ours invited us to his home, and loaded us up with tea, pomegranates, biscuits, and walnuts!
On your way to the valley, you’ll have to register at several checkpoints, and pay a 200 Rs per person entry fee “for the welfare of the Kalash People”. Why this entry fee is collected by the Levies we don’t know (… and we doubt any of this money actually goes to the Kalash community, but feel free to prove us wrong), but there’s no way around it.
Once you arrive, you’ll have to register with the police in the valley again, and likely also need to register with the Levies and the army, too. Sigh.
A side note on security in Chitral and the Kalash
Despite being “the best in the world”, the security people had trouble finding us while we were in Chitral. As mentioned, we stayed with a friend, and though he said intelligence came to see him, they never approached us, and we never registered in Chitral. This led to some trouble on our way to Kalash.
At the first checkpoint on the way to Ayun, we were asked for a NOC and security. When we told them we didn’t have any of that—and didn’t need them, either—we were directed to the Ayun police station. Here, we were told we had to travel back to Chitral to register.
After about half an hour of back and forth, we convinced the officer on duty that it was futile for us to go back to Chitral. Being fairly rational for a police officer, he grudgingly agreed, and told the people in Chitral he would arrange security. We later learned that he misheard, and thought Alex said she was an “ambassador” rather than a “designer” (to our great amusement). Bizarre mistake aside, this may have affected our treatment at the police station.
However, depending on your luck, power of persuasion, and the mood of the police, you might not be so lucky. It’s easiest to just register in Chitral, which should be simple with the new policy in place.
What to do in the Kalash Valleys
If you’re here during one of the three festival times of year there will be plenty of feasts for the eyes. Dance, drink, and be amazed at the colorful rituals and clothes on display. The festival times in Kalash Valley are:
- Chilam Joshi – May
- Uchau – Autumn, usually September
- Choimus – Two weeks around the winter solstice
However, if you visit outside of festival time, there’s not that much in the way of official things to do. The valleys are a place to sit and enjoy a bit of nature, and while away the hours chatting to and hanging out with the local Kalashas. Aim to learn a bit about their culture, not check sights off of a bucket list.
Know that if you’re a foreigner coming to Kalash in the hopes of doing a bit of wandering in the mountains, you’re going to encounter some issues. In its almighty wisdom, the security establishment has decided that foreigners are not allowed to go anywhere beyond the main village in any of the valleys. You used to be able to do several day or multi-day hikes, but now all you can do is walk around the village, up the mountains surrounding it, and maybe walk to the next village over. Always with a security escort in tow, mind you. If you are determined to go deeper into the valleys, ask about NOCs when you meet with the police and foreigner registration office… and tell us what you find out!
Mobile networks in the Kalash Valleys
If you need to have phone signal or internet while in Kalash, make sure to get yourself a Telenor sim card. It’s the only network provider operating in the Kalash Valleys.
Where to stay in the Kalash Valleys
This valley has several hotels and guest houses, and is becoming less Kalash and more Muslim by the day. Luckily, there are still several Kalash-run guesthouses where you can get your dose of local culture. Kalash House is a basic but friendly guesthouse in Brun that also offers camping space, and there are two more Kalash-owned guesthouses nearby in case it’s full: Kalash Galaxy and Kalash View
Rumboor only has three guest houses, and the most homely of the lot is Kalash Home Guest House. If you’re driving into Rumboor, it will be on your left at the start of Grom village—you can’t miss it! Run by the amiable Engineer Khan, the food is delicious, the family friendly, and the location great. Rooms are 1000 – 2000 Rs depending on the season, food is 300 – 500 Rs per meal (for two), and you can buy homemade wine for 1,000 Rs per 1.5 liters if Engineer isn’t in the mood to drink with you.
If it’s full, you can try Kalash Indigenous Guesthouse, also in Rumboor.
More remote and with little in the way of facilities, we only know of Irfan Guesthouse in Guru village from the Pakistan Traveller Guidebook.
Responsible tourism in the Kalash Valleys
The Kalash Valleys are naturally and culturally beautiful, but beauty can easily be eroded by the onset of mass tourism. To do your part to preserve the beauty of the area, and ensure your tourism has a positive effect, please keep the following things in mind:
- Stay in a hotel/guesthouse run by a Kalasha person or family, rather than one run by one of the many outsiders that have moved into the area to profit off the tourism to the valleys. Little of the tourism money to the valleys actually ends up in Kalasha pockets, so this is how you can ensure it does!
- Ask before taking photos. There’s no doubt that the Kalasha people, particularly the women, are stunning. However, many women are averse to being photographed (outside of festivals), and we’ve heard tensions are growing between the Kalash and outsiders, partially because of the way domestic tourists arrive and start snapping photos of women and children without asking or showing any kind of consideration. Instead of creeping on the women, befriend them, talk for a while, then ask for a photo.
- Enjoy the natural produce, not packaged snacks. There are plenty of native fruits, vegetables, and nuts growing around the valleys. Snack on those, rather than contributing to the sorry state of plastic waste afflicting the valleys. And, of course, collect your trash, don’t throw it on the ground.
- Drink the local wine and tara responsibly. It’s poor form to show up as a guest in someone’s area, then get utterly shitfaced, loud, and destructive on their alcohol. If you can’t handle your drink, limit your consumption. Means more for those of us who can control ourselves!
Looking for more practical Pakistan travel information? Don’t miss our quick Pakistan travel guide!
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