A valley that has long fed the natives on its thriving tourism industry suffers the consequences of ignorance
By Zulfiqar Ali Kalhoro
The landscape of Kalash is breathtaking, to say the least. It encompasses verdant valleys, running river waters, meandering roads and wooden hamlets.
Kalash is located in three isolated mountain valleys: Bumboret (Kalash: Mumret), Rumbur (Rukmu), and Birir (Biriu) where both Muslims and non-Muslims live together. The non-Muslims are known as Kalasha — ‘the wearers of black robes’. Their dwellings are made of wood and tucked in the mountains.
Tourists from all over the world have always been fascinated by the serenity and the variegated culture of Kalash, especially during the traditional festival days when the place is so crowded that it is hard to find a room in any hotel in the locality. However, in the past few months, the place has seen a dramatic decrease in both domestic and international tourists. “The law and order situation in Swat and other parts of the NWFP is to blame,” says Ijaz Ahmed, owner of a foreign tourist inn.
During my stay at one of the hotels in Bumburet valley, I found that most hotel owners were sitting idle and cursing the militancy and extremism that have played havoc with their livelihoods.
A lot of people are not acquainted with the geography of Kalash. They assume that it falls somewhere close to the turbulent Swat region. Their ignorance is another reason why both domestic and international tourists are shying away from Kalash, says Taj Muhammad, owner of a restaurant in Brun village.
Interestingly, the scare has also led some gift shop owners in the valley to pack up. Souvenirs are a tourist’s delight. Kalashi ornaments made in Bumbret — namely ‘kopis’ and ‘susut’ — have always attracted foreigners as well as visitors from other parts of the country. But, again, the declining trend of tourism in the region has caused such souvenir shops to close down.
A friend of Taj Muhammad also recently closed shop in Kalash and moved to Peshawar. “I for one would like to wait till the Uchal festival (starting Aug 22) is over. If there is a good public turn-out at the festival, there is every chance that the tourists would be visiting the valley, too.”
I noticed four souvenir shops in the Karakal village in Bumburet that were owned by the Kalash women. These women also maintained that militancy and extremism in Swat and other parts of the NWFP had affected business as a direct result of the thinning presence of tourists.
The situation is no different in the other two valleys. The business of people living in these valleys has also come to a standstill. A few tourists come and stay in hotels.
Tourism is an important source of livelihood in the Bumburet valley. “If tourism is not revived and life in Swat and other parts of the NWFP does not return to normalcy, we may have to close our hotel in Brun,” says the owner of Benazir Hotel. “We may have to shift our business to Gilgit or Hunza (where the tourism is still a thriving industry.”
There are people who visit Bumburet for education or religious purposes. Saeed Khan shared some very interesting information about how the Kalash people had been caught between two predominant faiths in the region. “About ten to twelve people convert to Islam annually,” he declared. “A lot of them convert to Christianity.”
Saeed also spoke of this Greek man who had helped establish a museum in Brun and was also involved in welfare projects in the village, “In the guise of a philanthropist, he has been converting the Kalasha to Christianity.”