A guide to visiting the Kalash Valley

A complete guide to visiting the Kalash Valley. Includes information on where to stay in the different Kalash Valleys, information about Kalash culture, and how to get to the Kalash Valley. Updated in November 2019 to reflect the new pricing and security situation.

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 Kalasha 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.

Kalasha woman with blue eyes in traditional outfit

The stunning wife (sorry, I forgot how to spell your name!) of our guesthouse owner

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.

I 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 Bumburet.

 

 View from a shared taxi on the road to Kalash Valleys

The road into the Kalash Valleys

Kalash culture

As stated above, the Kalash are not Muslim. Their 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.

I 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 Valley

Chitral is the starting point for getting to the Kalasha Valleys. Regardless of which valley you want to 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.

 Chitral central bus stand with cars to Ayun

The central bus stand. Cars to Ayun can be spotted in the back on the left side, sitting close to the road.

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.

To enter the Kalash Valley, foreigners have to pay 600 Rs per person “for the welfare of the Kalash People”. Why the Levies collect this entry fee, I don’t know. I doubt any of this money actually goes to the Kalash community.

 

 Kalasha woman drying out walnuts to store for winter

Drying out homegrown walnuts to store for winter

What to do in the Kalash Valley

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.

Kalasha girls in traditional outfit playing games

Playing games with some boisterous Kalasha girls

It used to be that your movements were restricted if you visited the Kalasha Valleys. However, new tourism policies have been implemented, and you are now more free to wander around and you probably won’t get a police escort. You can hike around any one of the valleys, visit small villages, or even hike from one valley to the other. Ask at your guesthouse or homestay for more information.,

 

View of Rumboor Valley in Kalash, Pakistan

Wandering along the road through Rumboor

Mobile networks in the Kalash Valley

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.

 

Flowers and views of Rumboor Valley

Can’t complain about the view from the porch of Kalash Home Guest House in Rumboor!

Where to stay in the Kalash Valley

Bumburet

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

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 2000 – 3000 Rs per person, depending on the season. Food is usually included in the price, 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.

Birir

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!

Foreign visitor posing with a Kalasha girl

A colorful combination with one of the Kalasha girls I befriended

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!

 

Police registration for foreigners in Chitral and Kalash

Police registration in Chitral has recently been simplified, and we have been told that foreigners aren’t assigned a guard when visiting the Kalasha Valleys anymore. 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.

There are several police checkpoints on the way to the valley, and you might have to register when you arrive in the Kalasha Valley.

Want to travel to the Kalash Valleys in Pakistan, home to the colorful and culturally wild Kalasha people? Here's a guide to visiting the Kalash Valleys from Chitral, including tips on where to stay, how to get to Kalash by public transport, and advice about responsible travel in the Kalash Valleys.

 

So there you have it, a complete guide to the Kalash Valley with everything you need to know. Let us know in the comments if anything has changed.

Looking for more practical Pakistan travel information? Check out our guide with things to know before going to Pakistan

 

Yay transparency! There are some affiliate links in this post. If you buy something using our links, we’ll make a small bit of money at no extra cost to you. We use this money to cover the costs of running the blog.

Sebastiaan

Just another Dutchie. Extrovert with introverted tendencies. Some say I'm lazy, I say I'm masterfully inactive.

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15 thoughts on “A guide to visiting the Kalash Valley

    Tim says:

    I ended up in Kalash a little over a week after you guys, but I hadn’t read this blog yet and knew very little of the area, so I’ll share a few of my experiences.

    While a sign at my hotel in Chitral informed me I had to register with the police, my initial inclination was not to attract more attention than necessary. While leaving my hotel in the morning for Kalash, however, the hotel owner accosted me and told me I had to register to be able to enter Kalash. Not wanting to get refused entry (again), I went straight to the office. The process itself was simple if slow (it can be surprisingly hard to find a pen in an office meant for signing forms). Because I meant to go to Kalash straight from there, I got assigned a guard then as well. He was very nice and arranged almost all my transportation me, including the jeep to Mastuj the next day.

    I knew nothing of the area, but all the locals strongly recommended Bumburet as the most beautiful, so that’s what I went for. It worked out well enough for me, but I’m very glad I was there out of season. I can’t imagine enjoying an area with only 7000 locals, but almost 30 hotels in high season. A local guide I met indicated he preferred the other valleys as well for being less commercialized. He also told me you definitely need, but can certainly get NOCs (supposed to be easy with a local contact doing it for you) for hikes to the other two valleys. I have his contact details if you want more information.

    I’d also been recommended (not by a local) that the ride to Kalash was only 1.5 hours (no.) and thus doable as a day trip. While this ended up working out well enough for me, I would say it’s worth at least spending the night there, unless you have your own transportation.

    As for my transportation, my guard brought me to the central bus stand and found a shared car for Bumburet. It definitely was a car (not jeep) and and most certainly meant for Bumburet. I can’t be 100% certain, because before even reaching Ayun the brakes failed and we braked with the help of a large rock instead. It also meant I didn’t pay and don’t know how much it would’ve been.

    We hitchhiked to Ayun (I think) and my guard told me he could only find a “special” (private) taxi for 1000. Actually, 6000. No, 600. Now it’s 500. And then three more guys poured into our private taxi and in the end I paid 400. I didn’t ask too many questions.

    While I tend to eschew guides, it seemed useful this time to make the most of my few hours there. It did work out well and it allowed me to actually meet some of his traditional Kalash family. The graveyard was interesting as well. I spent about 4 hours there and by that time (5-5:30p) there would be no shared taxis. The guide said he could find me a special taxi for 1500-2000, waved away one that wanted 2500 due to the late hour, and then his brother drove by in his own jeep. It was smooth and free sailing from there. The way down might’ve actually been close to 1.5 hours too (still no though.).

    Sebastiaan says:

    Thanks for this super detail response. Will definitely be useful to our readers.

    We tend to take local recommendations with a grain of salt. Pakistani tourist and foreign tourists have very different tastes. We were told Bumburet many times too, but are glad we didn’t go there.

    Shubham Mansingka says:

    Great post. Even though as an Indian, I may never be able to go to these areas – yet the information and culture is immense.

    Lina Bhatti says:

    This is such fetishization of the Kalashi people and such orientalist views on Muslims as well as inhabitants.

    Lucas says:

    Hi Sebastiaan! Thanks for the super helpful post! I’ve booked my flight to Lahore in early August and am planning to fly up to Chitral from Peshawar in time for catching the Uchao festival in Kalash. (As far as I know it happens around August 21-22 this year). As I’d ideally want to spend at least a night in one of the Kalash valleys, I am a little concerned regarding find a place to sleep on short notice during the festival time. Do you have any thoughts on that, or have any contact who may be able to advise on that? Cheers!

    Alex says:

    Hey Lucas, I think I saw your question in the Backpacking Pakistan group already. But, like someone else said, I think Bumboret, rather than Rumboor, is your best bet for finding hotels last minute since there are more options there. However, as a foreigner, if you show up in Rumboor looking really lost and helpless and ask around as much as possible, chances are you’ll find SOMEWHERE to stay. Bring a sleeping bag and you can always find a spare spot. Pakistan usually provides when push comes to shove.

    Saira says:

    thanks Alex, your shared experience would be super helpful. As I’m planning to visit in August ’18.
    Though I’m a Pakistani but settled overseas, trying to explore the beauty of my country. & hey Lucas we’ll be there for the festival on Aug 21-22. See ya there 🙂

    Ejaz says:

    Hi Lucas and Saira,

    I am local and I can find/ guide you there. I am not doing this for money and it is free just to help more foreigners to come visit us. Cheers.

    munyeer says:

    is it safe to bring your family and stay at bumburet?

    Alex says:

    I’ve not been to Bumburet, but from what I’ve heard I’d say it’s a good—and safe—place for a family vacation. Kalash as a whole is relatively safe.

    Irshad says:

    Hi Guys, thank you all for great information. this will help us while planning our Kalash tour.

    Aaqib says:

    Hi Ejaz,

    We are planning a company trip to Chitral and Kalash valleys, in late April, Can you help us plan it. You can contact me on [email protected]

    pakistanfront.pk says:

    nice post

    Adam says:

    We went in October this year. Registration/having a guard is since beginning of this year not anymore required, and the “entrance fee” is 600 (!) PKR per person nowadays. But you can freely explore the area and hike up the river towards an afghani settlement. Also, staying at Engineer Khan in Rumbur costed us 4000 for two including 3 very basic meals in the low season. Something to keep in mind.

    Yes, I’ve heard you can now move much more freely in the valley… that’s good news! Thanks for sharing the new price of Engineer Khan’s guesthouse – I’ve also heard it’s gone up in recent months…

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