A complete guide to visiting the Kalash Valley and how to get there from Chitral. Includes information on where to stay in the different Kalash Valleys, information about Kalash culture, and how to get to the Kalash Valley.
The Kalash Valleys are home to the famous Kalash people, a unique people said to be descendants of the armies of Alexander the Great (although debates rave on the validity of this claim). 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 Muslims, make their own wine, and have a plethora of other unique traditions and festivals.
Below you can find a guide to the Kalash Valley, including info on Kalash culture, which of the Kalash Valleys to visit, how to get to the valleys from Chitral, and much more.
Which Kalash Valley to visit
Before you go to the Kalash Valley, you must decide which of the three valleys you want to visit:
- Bumburet – The most developed Kalash Valley in terms of facilities, and most popular with domestic tourists.
- Rumboor – Small villages in Rumboor are less developed, and more popular with foreign tourists. Unlike Bumburet, Rumboor is still predominantly Kalash.
- Birir – The least developed Kalash Valley, 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.
As stated above, the Kalash are not Muslim. The culture and traditions predate Islam by some years, and the Kalash people can best be described as animist, although some scholars believe their religion can be linked to ancient Hinduism.
Unfortunately, the Kalash culture is diminishing. Many non-Kalash have started living in the Kalash Valleys, and roughly 50% of Kalash people have converted to Islam for one reason or another. We spoke to several young Kalash girls who had one friend whose parents recently converted to Islam (automatically making her daughter Muslim too). The girls were still friends, but the parents weren’t happy with this, as many Muslims don’t agree with Kalash culture and traditions.
Luckily, many of the Kalash people work hard to keep their culture alive. Women still wear their traditional dress, and there are many Kalash festivals celebrating and showcasing Kalash culture. If you plan on visiting one of these festivals, make sure to read about responsible tourism in the Kalash Valley below.
How to get from Chitral to the Kalash Valleys
Regardless of which Kalash 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 minibusses 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.
What to do in the Kalash Valleys
If you’re visiting the Kalash Valleys during one of the festivals, 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 Kalasha people. 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. 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 to the mountains surrounding it, and maybe walk to the next village over. 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 is 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, the most comprehensive guidebook for Pakistan available.
Get a copy of the Pakistan Traveler Guidebook here for more information on traveling in the Kalash Valley and other parts of Pakistan!
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. Little of the tourism money that flows to the valleys end 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). We’ve also 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 products, 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. It means more for those of us who can control ourselves!
So there you have it, a complete guide to the Kalash Valley with everything you need to know. Below we included information regarding police registration and security, but hopefully, this doesn’t apply anymore due to the recent simplification of the registration process.
Police registration for foreigners in Chitral and Kalash
Note: Police registration in Chitral has recently been simplified, and the below shouldn’t apply anymore. However, in Pakistan nothing is certain, so we’re leaving the information just in case. When you travel to Chitral, 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.
There’s a chance you will be assigned a guard for the duration of your stay in the Kalash Valley. This shouldn’t be the case anymore, but this is Pakistan, after all.
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. Other times 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. We also had to pay a 200 Rs per person entry fee. Supposedly this fee was for “for the welfare of the Kalash People”. Why the Levies collect this entry fee, we don’t know. We doubt any of this money actually goes to the Kalash community.
Once you arrive, you’ll have to register with the police in the valley again. It’s likely also need to register with the Levies and the army, too. Sigh.
Looking for more practical Pakistan travel information? Don’t miss our quick Pakistan travel guide!
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