The Joshi Spring Festival: A Kalash Ritual

The Joshi Festival is held at the end of the long winter to celebrate the arrival of spring. Locals dress up in new clothes made during the winter and pray for the safety of livestock going out to pasture in the summer after the festival. The festival also serves as a place where young men and women can meet.

It has been a while since I last attended the Joshi festival. In the past few years, Pakistan’s frontier has been experiencing overtourism, with tourists from not only Europe and the United States but also Thailand, Malaysia, and other Southeast Asian countries now flocking to the area. In contrast, the Kalash Valley is dominated by Western tourists.

I was surprised to see the changes in the Chilam Joshi Festival via photos which recent Pakistani tourists upload on social media—for those who knew Kalash in the past, it may be an unfortunate sight to behold. I would like to share with you some of the rituals of the Joshi Festival that I experienced in the spring of 2024. The names, spellings, etc., were provided by the local people who guided me, and may differ from those found in official literature on the matter: I am merely presenting them as I saw and heard them in the field.

 To the Kalash Valley

Although the suspension bridge across the Kunar River has been replaced by a concrete bridge, the traditional Ayun “villagescape” remains. Continuing on the road, there is a place where you can see the highest peak of Hindu Kush, Tirich Mir (7,708m), and if you keep going, you will drive along the river off-road with some overhanging cliffs. Then, starting from a suspension bridge, the road leads to the Bumburet valley on the left and the Rumbur valley on the right.

The road to Kalash valley

The Joshi festival of Kalash includes several rituals.

Picking Bisha Flowers (Pushen Parik)

Children go into the mountains to pick bisha flowers for temple decorations and, in the case of the Bumburet valley, for the Chirik Pipi ceremony. The bisha is a member of the bean family Piptanthus Nepalensis, and blooms earlier than other flowers. For the Kalash people, it is considered the flower that heralds the arrival of spring.

Girl heading home after picking bisha flowers

Temple Decorations (Pushi Behak)

Decorating a house or temple with bisha flowers is called pushi behak. In the Rumbur Valley, people were gathering flowers until evening, and at around 8:00 p.m., children gathered together until the start of the decorating ceremony. Around 9:00 p.m., someone banged a drum and the children all began to dance. After about 30 minutes of dancing, the children moved to their sleeping places. Early in the morning around 3:00 a.m., children carrying bisha flowers amd walnut branches started walking to the Temple of Jestak Han. At the entrance of the temple, last year’s flowers were removed and everyone decorated the temple with new flowers and walnut branches. After the outside was finished, they went inside to the altars of the four clans of the village, situated in the corner of the temple. One child went up as a representative, took down the old flowers, and decorated the altars with new ones. Then they went out to the square and danced for about half an hour.

Children heading to the Temple with bisha flowers and walnut branches
Women adorn the outer walls of the Temple of Jestak Han. Jestak is the goddess of family life, family, and marriage; the residence in which this goddess lives is called Jestak Han.
Inside the Temple of Jestak Han. When last year’s flowers are taken down, the altars of the village’s four clans are revealed
Altars covered with new bisha flowers and walnut branches

Baby Purification Ceremony (Gul Parik) in the Rumbur Valley

Gul Parik in the Rumbur Valley is performed on babies born during the period between festivals. For the Gul Parik ceremony performed during the Joshi festival, this includes babies born between the Chaumos festival in December and the Joshi festival in May. The mother and baby are considered “impure” before this ceremony, and Gul Parik purifies them both, while also acting as a prayer for the health of the baby.

The man who performs the ceremony purifies himself and the place where he bakes the ceremonial bread. He makes the sacred walnut bread from special flour that has been purified and prepared for this ceremony, using similarly purified tools. At least five pieces of bread are baked for the men and five for the women (each with a different flour), and about twenty pieces are baked, including those to be served.

Purified flour, walnuts and rock salt prepared for baking sacred bread for women and men
Man crushing walnuts and rock salt
Sacred Walnut Bread

After the sacred walnut bread is baked, the mother and baby appear in the temple and the ceremony begins.

Gul Parik, Baby Purification Ceremony

It was an amazing experience to be in such a divine space and to witness the unique “world” of Kalash prayer.

Milk Ceremony (Chirik Pipi)

The Chirik Pipi in the Bumburet valley in the morning,  girls gather with milk containers and bisha flowers collected the day before. When the ceremony begins, all the children and ladies go to the sacred livestock shed. According to the villagers, this is sacred goat’s milk that has been stored since May 1st. It is then given out to the women. Normally, the Chirik Pipi song (flower song) is sung here, but I did not get the chance to hear it. There are not one but several livestock sheds, and we visited two of them. Afterwards, we witnessed a beautiful scene of villagers dancing with the mountains in the background.

Kalash people gather to sing and dance before the ceremony
Children gathered with milk containers in hand
Distribution of milk from purified livestock. Chirik Pipi Ceremony
Women coming out of a livestock shed decorated with bisha flowers after receiving milk
Women dancing after the ceremony

Baby Purification Ceremony (Gul Parik) in Bumburet Valley

The Gul Parik in Bumburet is a different style of ceremony from that in Rumbur. All babies and mothers born since last year’s Joshi festival are purified, and prayers are made for the health of the babies. (There are actually several purification ceremonies—this is the final stage of the purification.)

A basket of walnuts and dried mulberries is delivered from the house where the baby is born to the village center. When signaled, the women of the village and the mothers and babies who are to undergo the ritual move to the area near the livestock shed. Then, a man from the village who has been assigned to perform the ritual throws milk at the gathered women and babies to purify them.

After the ceremony, the women gather again in the center of village, where baskets of walnuts and mulberries are distributed to everyone, including the tourists! Then, everyone returns to their homes to prepare for the “small Joshi (festival)” of Bumburet to be held on the same day.

Carry a basket of walnuts and dried mulberries. In some villages, it may be cheese
Mother and baby on their way to the purification ceremony
The man (chir histau) on the roof purifies the women and their babies with milk. This ritual is called Chirhistic
Walnuts and mulberries being distributed. The dog in the photo stayed with them throughout the ceremony. It seems that the people of Kalash and their dogs are very closely connected

 Joshi Festival in the Rumbur Valley

After a series of ceremonies, the small Joshi festival (Satak Joshi) and the big Joshi festival (Gonna Joshi) are held. The festival is held in a covered venue and attracts a large number of tourists.

The small Joshi consists of repeated drumming, singing, and dancing, including Cha (a fast tempo song), Dushak (a slow tempo song), and the more complex Dalaija-i-lak, while the big Joshi includes a ceremonial performance at the end.

Kalash songs consist of drumming and singing, with limited melodic repetition. The lyrics are said to vary from ritualistic, to those touching on the mythology and history of Kalash, to those about love, and so on. The basic purpose of this music is to pray for a good harvest of milk and for the Kalash people to reaffirm their common identity.

At the end of the Joshi Festival, the special songs “Gandori” and “Daginai” are performed.

”Gandori” Both women and men hold walnut branches in their hands and wait for the moment to throw them

Daginai is a song that concludes the Joshi. It is a tragic love song, sung in a Cha melody. During the song, people dance in a chain connected by a string or cloth (originally woven from willow branches). It is said that if this chain breaks, it will bring misfortune, so everyone desperately grips the string. At the end, the sound of the drums suddenly stops, and all throw this cloth at once, ending the Joshi.

”Daginai” a dance connected by strings

Lyrics of “Daginai.” (From article of “Kalash Symphony ‘Joshi’,” by Reiko Kojima, published by National Museum of Ethnology Japan in 1991)

 

Daginai, o’er the great valley
Some moons before the fest of Uchal, to the mountain pasture I took
O Daginai, O Daginai
With white-hilt blade, my bare stomach pierc’d
O Daginai

 

The background of this song is a tragic love story that is familiar to all Kalash people.

 

Once upon a time, a man fell in love with his wife’s sister.

Overwhelmed by jealousy, the wife killed her sister using snake poison, all while her husband was out on the pasture.

By the time he returned, the snake’s poison had already turned his lover yellow as a bisha flower; no life remained in her body.

In the throes of his sorrow, he sang the song “Daginai” and threw himself belly-first upon a blade, ending his life.

The man and his love were placed in separate coffins to rest, but when the next morning came, they were found together, sleeping peacefully beside each other.

Stunned by this, the village people separated them, returning them to their proper places. The next day, however, the couple’s bodies were found reunited in the same coffin once again.

So strong was their love, that not even death could part them.

 

Young people in Kalash today

The Joshi Festival is also significant because it acts as a meeting place for men and women. Traditionally, after the Joshi Festival, people go to their summer pastures, meaning the Uchaw Festival in late August (which is held after they return) is where the romance really happens. During the Uchaw Festival, the same stage as the Joshi is used, but this time only young men and women dance at night—in the hopes of finding a partner.

”Gandori”

A gentleman who has been attending the Kalash Spring Festival for more than 25 years told me that although the Kalash costumes and the lifestyle of the young people have changed, the rituals are still the same as they were 25 years ago.

 

Photo & Text: Mariko SAWADA

Reference :”Kalash Symphony ‘Joshi’,” by Reiko Kojima, published by National Museum of Ethnology Japan in 1991)

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Re-discovering Afghanistan: Band-e Amir

Band-e Amir is a group of lakes located 75 km west of Bamiyan at an altitude of approximately 3,000 meters. Band-e Amir is so beautiful that it is often referred to as the ”Pearl of the Desert,” and is the most picturesque site in Afghanistan, which has many spectacular views.

The road from Bamiyan to Band-e Amir crosses the beautiful valleys and passes of Shahidan. In summer, the road offers spectacular views of the green meadows, which feature beautiful alpine vegetation and pastures. The road before the lake is now paved, making it much easier to access.

Watchtower of the Ghurid dynasty

Departing from Bamiyan, shortly after passing the checkpoint for the Kotal Aqrabat Pass, a watchtower dating back to the Islamic period can be seen in front of you. The watchtowers, dating back to the Ghurid dynasty in the 12th century, remain along the roads around Bamiyan.

Near Shahidan Pass

As you ascend the Shahidan pass, you will see the snow-capped mountains of the Hindu Kush, smooth green meadows, and grazing livestock.

Near Shahidan Pass

Healthy goats and sheep blessed with abundant water and grass!

Ruins of medieval buildings Qala-i-Shahidahn

Ruins of a medieval castle (fortress) in the village of Shahidan. It is a proof that people have been passing through the area as part of the “Silk Road” for a long time. There is also a small bazaar.

Girls running to school

There was also a school, the Hazara girls were just heading to class.

A boy carrying grass for fuel

From Shahidan, drive along a scenic road through Shebartu and Qarghanatu, and finally enter the road to Band-e Amir. A large gate has recently been built. From here, the road is unpaved.

Band-e Zulfiqar

Driving slowly along the dirt road, you will see a beautiful lake in front of you. This is the first view of Band-e Amir. This is part of Band-e Zulfiqar. You will be surprised at how beautiful the color blue can be as it appears in the midst of the desolate landscape.

The ticket office is just ahead, and further along the road, the viewpoint of the main lake, Band-e Haibat, appears.

Band-e Haibat

Band-e Haibat has a first and second parking lot (and a third on weekends…), accommodations, chaikhana, and even an amusement park of sorts. Since the new Taliban regime, the number of tourists from urban areas (especially Pashtuns) who never used to come to this area has increased, and the area has become so crowded that if you can choose the day of your visit, you should avoid the weekend.

Band-e Haibat

For domestic tourists, boat rides are one of the must-do activities when visiting Bande Amir.

Band-e Haibat

This is the 12-meter-high natural dam at Band-e Haibat. The wall (a natural dam) separating the lakes of Band-e Amir is composed of a calcium carbonate called travertine. Mineral-rich water seeping through faults and fissures in the rocky terrain has deposited layers of travertine that have been solidified over time, creating this natural dam.

Band-e Haibat fish

This is a fish from Band-e Haibat, though we’re not sure of the species. Band-e Haibat is the deepest of the six lakes, about 150 meters deep, according to a survey by a New Zealand diving team.

Water overflowing from Band-e Haibat

There are a total of six lakes in Band-e Amir. Of these, Band-e Qambar is almost dry.

Band-e Zulfiqar   (Lake of the sword of Ali)

Band-e Haibat  (Lake of grandiose)

Band-e Gholaman (Lake of the slaves)

Band-e Qambar (Lake of Caliph Ali’s slave)

Band-e Panir  (Lake of cheese)

Band-e Pudina  (Lake of wild mint)

here is a shrine on the banks of Band-e Haibat that is considered sacred as the place where Hazrat Ali spent the night, and people have been making pilgrimages to the lake for a long time. In the past few years, the area has been transformed from a pilgrimage site to a major tourist destination.

Natural dam between Band-e Haibat and Band-e Panir

Natural dam (travertine deposits) between Band-e Haibat (left), Band-e Paneer (right), and Band-e Pudina (top center right).

Band-e Paneer, Band-e Pudina

This photo shows Band-e Paneer and Band-e Pudina about 10 years ago. Now the topography seems to have changed a bit. Also, facilities for tourists have been built.

Walkway between lakes

A boardwalk built between Band-e Paneer and Band-e Pudina. It continues to Band-e Zulfiqar

Band-e Pair

Picnic huts built around Bande Paneer. For domestic tourists, having a picnic in Band-e Amir is like a dream come true.

The truly beautiful Band-e Amir has become a major tourist attraction—one that is very crowded on weekends. However, we are very concerned about the water pollution caused by the garbage left by domestic tourists and the washing the leftover food.

By the way, on the way to Band-e Amir, you may encounter some very beautiful sights, such as the local Hazara people on the move.

A Hazara family traveling on donkeys. The red color stands out in the desolate landscape.
Transporting grass for fuel

We hope you enjoyed this showcase of the spectacular Band-e Amir and the Hazara people who live there. Afghanistan is always undergoing great changes, but we hope that all the ethnic groups living in Afghanistan can live in peace.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

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Category : - Bamiyan & around > ◆Afghanistan
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Butkara I – Gandhara Site of the Swat Valley

Butkara I is an archaeological site in the Swat Valley, which was one of the centers of Gandhara. It is known for its main stupa, which dates back to the 3rd century B.C. to King Ashoka of the Maurya Empire, and for the 272 votive stupas that surround it. Butkara I has not only a group of stupas, but also a monastery and other buildings—though that part has not yet been excavated, and houses have already been built on top of it.

The site was excavated between 1956 and 1962 by the Italian Archaeological Mission and the Department of Archaeology of the Government of Pakistan. The site dates back to the 3rd century B.C. during the Maurya Empire and is believed to have been in use until around the 11th century A.D.

The main stupa, with its circular Sanchi-shaped base, was enlarged five times over the centuries, with the oldest part, a 3rd century B.C. Maurya Empire stupa. Part of the excavation site reveals the process of its expansion.

Around the main stupa, there is a path that devotees walked along to the right. The visitors must have worshipped not only the stupa but also the reliefs carved on the drum.

The paths around the stupa are covered with paving stones, and some of them still have glass decorations.

This seated Buddha relief was excavated from a layer containing coins of Azes II of the Indo-Scythians, dated 35-12 B.C., so the relief is considered to date to the late 1st century B.C. or early posterior AD. Conservative archaeologists believe it dates to the 1st or 2nd century AD, since the Buddha image is believed to have appeared later. The origin of the Buddha image has always been one of the major themes of Gandhara art. The date of the Buddha image’s appearance continues to be debated.

Let’s take a look at the votive stupa surrounding the main stupa. This votive stupa is a small stupa-shaped structure built around the main stupa. It is thought to have been donated by the royalty and nobility of the time. Votive stupas were also objects of worship at that time.

This is part of the relief on the square base of the votive stupa. This figure may be a depiction of the Great Departure from the life of the Buddha, in which the beloved horse Kanthaka is licking Siddhartha’s feet and farewells him. This votive stupa may have been decorated with motifs favored by the donor.

Relief of grapes on a votive stupa

The head of a tiger depicted in relief. In the lower right is a delicately carved Corinthian capital.

Tigers are believed to have become extinct in Pakistan around 1900. At that time, Bengal tigers must have roamed the rich Swat forests.

Relief of a person holding a bowl in a memorial service.

Relief of a votive stupa, Triratna (the Three Jewels). It depicts the three chakras which represent the Dharma, the Buddha, and the Sangha, as objects of worship.

The motif is not known due to the large number of missing parts. The material used for the sculpture is generally green phyllite.

Here are some of the Butkara I artifacts on display at the Swat Museum. I picked out some items that are unique to Swat.

Artifacts from Butkara I: A panel showing a scene from the life of Buddha: Siddhartha Going to School. This scene in Gandhara depicts him going to school riding on a sheep. Sometimes he rides directly on the sheep, and sometimes he rides in a sheep-led cart. So far, no theories seem to explain the reason for this.

Artifact from Butkara I: A female figure of an aristocrat of the time. She is wearing a very gorgeous hair ornament, showing the Swat customs of the time.

Artifact from Butkara I: Likewise, a statue that seems to represent an aristocratic woman of the time. The costume and decoration of the woman holding a lotus flower in one hand is beautifully depicted.

Artifact from Butkara I: This relief used to be at the site but was moved to the Swat Museum. In the scene of Siddhartha’s supposed “Engagement,” the prince Siddhartha stands in the center, the rightmost figure is a shy Yashodhara, and beside him is the priest that introduces Yashodhara. To the left of Siddhartha is a kneeling Mara and around her are Mara’s three daughters. Mara is depicted as a symbol of worldliness and a preventer of Siddhartha’s enlightenment.

Corinthian capital. It depicts a woman, possibly the donor, with acanthus leaves.

The Swat Museum has rooms for exhibiting artifacts from Barikot, the Saidu Sharif Stupa, and Butkara I. Please take your time to visit the museum.

↓↓ Butkara – Gandhara site of Pakistan

Butkara I – Although now surrounded by residential areas, a record of a visit by the Chinese monk Song Yun in AD 520 describes the very ornate Butkara Stupa complex.

 

Image & text: Mariko SAWADA

References: The Life of Buddha, by Isao Kurita, etc.

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Category : = Video Clip KPK > - Swat > ◆Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
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Re-discovering Afghanistan : The Kyrgyz Buzkashi, Wakhan Corridor

Buzkashi being held on the shores of Lake Chaqmaqtin, Wakhan corridor, in summer. It is practised among the Kyrgyz peoples of the Wakhan corridor at weddings as well as during Eid, the Islamic festival of sacrifice.

>Re-discovering Afghanistan: Wakhan Corridor, and the Kyrgyz in the Afghan Pamir

 

Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan, in which two groups of horse riders compete for a goat. In Persian, it means exactly what it sounds like: goat = buz , pulling= kashi. I saw buz kashi on the last day of my three-days stay in a Kyrgyz camp. That was the day when the men I had seen in the camp mounted their horses and, suddenly for the first time, began to looked cool to me. To be honest, up until that point I had felt that while the women were working from the morning milking and making Qurut, the men weren’t doing much to help …

↑↑The Kyrgyz buzkashi being held amidst the spectacular scenery of the Wakhan corridor.

From 1996 to 2001, when the former Taliban (not the current Taliban regime) was in control, many entertainment activities were banned as ‘immoral’ and buzkashi was also banned. Buzkashi has since been revived and is now a major national event, with tournaments organised in each state. While in big cities buzkashi is sometimes held in stadiums in costumes with sponsors’ logos, in rural areas buzkashi is purely a traditional event for people to enjoy.

People heading to  wedding .

A sheep being dismembered for a wedding celebration meal.

Kyrgyz girls carrying sheep meat.

A man and his child who came to celebrate and participate in the buzkashi.

Everyone praying and offering food before the Buzkashi. Milk tea and fried bread were served.

Children at play until the buzkashi starts.

A Kyrgyz boy who wants to try buzkashi.

After prayers and food offerings, the buzkashi finally begins.

A goat with its head cut off. The goat used was not the one killed on the day, but a stuffed goat that was prepared in the village for buzkashi.

The goat is thrown down to the earth and the contest begins.

It requires strength and skill to pull this goat up from the ground with one hand and ride while holding it. During all this, the whip is held in the mouth.

Competing for the goat.

Family watching the game over a cup of tea.

Participants also take a break, to have some milk tea.

After a break, they return to thebuzkashi.

Kyrgyz buzkashi, performed amidst the spectacular mountain scenery of the Wakhan corridor.

 

Image & Text : Mariko SAWADA

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“Alter Rock”, Thalpan – Petroglyphs along the Indus River

The Altar Rock at Thalpan is located on the sandy north bank of the Indus River. The rock is carved with motifs, mainly animal rather than Buddhist motifs. This is a fascinating example of Petroglyphs from the ancient Silk Road.

Since ancient times, Thalpan has had many visitors who come and go through this area.  It was the nomads who first chose this site to carve. The rock face in front of the Alter Rock may have been used as a veritable ‘altar’, with various animals and slaughter scenes depicted.
These Petroglyphs with non-Buddhist motifs are thought to date from the mid-1st millennium BC.

overall view of Alter Rock

One of the Petroglyphs that stands out on this Altar Rock is this image of a Warrior with Sacrifice. It appears to be a scene of a man slaughtering an  animal (many sources call it a goat, but as an animal lover, it looks like an ibex to me). The figure of a Central Asian-style man holding a large knife is very distinctive.

The man’s dress is thought to be that of an equestrian nomad of the time, and it has been suggested that he may be from the Parthia, a dynasty that flourished on the Iranian plateau from the 3rd century BC to the 3rd century AD.

This animal sacrifice (or slaughter) Petroglyphs motif suggests that the influence of Central Asian peoples was stronger than the influence of Buddhism, which forbids the killing of animals.

This is a designed horse or unicorn with its forelegs bent at 45 degrees.

This pose, called “Knielauf,” was used in ancient Greece to depict a flying condition and was also popular in Achaemenid Persian art. The horse’s mane and tail are braided, giving them an appearance of bows.

Is it a designed ibex? The circular eyes are also an Iranian expression.

This shows a deer-like creature with antler and a predator with two tails chasing it. As a wildlife observer in Pakistan, it looks like a snow leopard attacking an ibex on a cliff to me. What is interesting, is that there is a head of a snake, at the end of the jagged line that also looks like a cliff.

One theory is that it shows an ibex in trouble, with a snake in front, a snow leopard behind, plus a hunter and his dogs, and nowhere to go.”

Such wavy designs are said to be a common feature of the art of the Altai region in southern Siberia.

The presence of Petroglyphs with Iranian elements at Altar Rock is not surprising, as Gandhara and Taxila were already satraps of the Achaemenid period. It is surprising that there was interaction between the Altai region of southern Siberia and this Indus region in the north, across one of the most mountainous regions in the world.

Petroglyphs from Thalpan Zyarat depict motifs from the Okunev culture of southern Siberia.

A large Buddha figure with a halo is seated with four smaller seated Buddha figures, also all with halos.

Each Buddha is in Dhayana Mudra sign and their garments cover their shoulders, with gracefully drawn parallel robe crests. Such garment crests are similar to designs found in the Gupta empire art, which flourished in India between AD 320 – 550.

A creature, possibly an ibex, is depicted on the same rock, and its movement and direction suggest that the ibex was carved first, and then the Buddha image was carved on top of it.

The west panel is also covered with Petroglyphs.

The Alter Rocks are the masterpieces of the Indus River Petroglyphs.

As we posted in previous blogs, it is such a shame that these rock carvings will be lost forever due to the construction of the dam.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA

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Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Indus river bank > ◇ Rock carvings / Petroglyph
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Hunza, “Shangri-la” surrounded by apricot blossoms

In late March, the Hunza Valley is blanketed in pale pink apricot blossoms. The fields are green with wheat sprouts. After the independence of India and Pakistan in 1947, the Hunza was ruled by a dynasty until 1974. The valley is inhabited by the people of Brusho, who speak Brushaski.

Hunza is touted as the “Shangri-la” and is known as the “Village of Longevity.” This beauty and the life of this village supported by fruit trees, may be the “secret of longevity” that it is famous for.

Burushaski, the language spoken by the people of Brusho, is an “isolated language” that has not been found to be associated with any other language. It is said that they are the descendants of language groups that existed in this area before the arrival of the Indo-Aryan people. Burushashki-speakers also live in the Hunza Valley, the Nagar Valley across the Hunza River, the Yasin Valley leading to the Wakhan Corridor, and the Ishkoman Valley.

This is a view of the center of Baltit village. In the past, large buildings were limited to the surrounding of the Baltit Fort, which was the castle of the feudal lord, and the Darbar Hotel, but now large buildings (hotels) are becoming more prominent.

Rakaposhi peak (7,788m) seen from Baltit Village. It is in a mountain in the Nagar Valley on the opposite bank of the Hunza River and is a famous peak that can be viewed from everywhere in Hunza.

Also Diran Peak (7,266m) as seen from Baltit Village.

I walked between Altit Village and Duiker Hill, where the flowering apricots bloom.

The apricots in full bloom. You can see just how important the apricot trees are in the lives of the villagers, the fruit, its seeds and the oil taken from the seeds.

Altit Village was covered with many apricot trees. You can meet the beautiful villagers while walking around the village. The people of Hunza  are white in appearance and many of them have light hair.

I met such lovely children this day.

For lunch that day, we had local Hunza cuisine prepared at  Amin’s house in Baltit Village.

Photographer Toshiki Nakanishi had just come to Hunza for a phototour, where he was taking pictures of the local cuisine as it was being made.

Here they were preparing Dowdo soup, a dish representative of Hunza.

They made such a delicious cheese chapatti (called Burus Sapik in Burushaski). Hunza cheese, mint, tomato, green onion, onion and fruit oil wrapped in wheat chapatti. It is very healthy, and it is recommended for vegetarians who come to Pakistan and have trouble finding things to eat.

Today’s lunch. Local cuisine with plenty of fruit oil and Hunza’s local wine are so wonderful.

 

Photo & text: Mariko SAWADA
Visit: March 2023, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Climbing Shatung Peak, a 5,000-meter summit on Deosai Plateau

We finally fulfilled our long-cherished dream to climb Shatung Peak in the Deosai Plateau. That became possible only inn summer 2023, while in summer 2020 the tour was cancelled due to Covid -19 pandemic, when international flights were put to a halt. Overcoming the aftermath of pandemic and a tough route, we were able to reach the summit. We are tremendously grateful to our climbing guides and porters from Satpara village for their gracious support.

360-degree panoramic view from the summit. Feel like a high altitude climber!

From Chilas, we drove up to the Deosai Plateau through the Astor Valley. On the way, we were astonished by the view of  Nanga Parbat (8,126m), the 9th highest peak on the planet. On the Deosai Plateau, we camped by the beautiful Sheosar Lake, from where this majestic peak was visible. The lake is a very beautiful peaceful place, but sadly many local tourists were enjoining loud music until late at night. The next morning we entered an area with no other visitors in sight and found the original Deosai Plateau.

The first part of the climb was a relatively easy route, with patches of buttercups and primroses. Little did we know that a difficult scree slope was awaiting.

The mountain en route is dotted with lakes in a very beautiful valley. The snowy mountain in front is Shatung Peak, and we are aiming exactly there!

We walked through a patch of primrose to the camp. It was easy up to this point.

We arrived at Camp 1 on the scree slope. Now where shall we pitch our tents?

Sleeping on the snow is generally much more comfortable than sleeping on scree. Finally, we will challenge the summit early tomorrow morning!

The route from Camp 1 to the summit is this slope, covered with a mass of smaller loose stones. The climb is steep and strenuous.

The view is spectacular when you stop and look back.

Beyond the mountains is Kashmir on the Indian side. Srinagar is also very close. The famous peaks of the Indian Himalaya, Nun peak and Kun Peak were also visible.

The world’s 9th highest peak, Nanga Parbat 8,126m, is on the left.

The steep climb up the scree slope is almost over. The ridge is getting closer.

Once on the ridge, all that remained was to climb up the snowy ridge. The sun was getting high in the sky.

We successfully climbed Shatung Peak (5,260m) with 5 core team members, guides, and porters! Nanga Parbat is in the background!

From the summit, we could see K2 and the Baltoro Mountains. From summit we could see all five of the 8,000 peaks in Pakistan: Nanga Parbat (8,126m), K2 (8,611m), Broad Peak (8,051m), Gasherbrum I (8,068m), and Gasherbrum II (8,034m). The weather was fine, with no wind. Forgetting about the steep scree slope that awaited us, we stayed at the summit for about an hour and enjoyed this blissful moment.

 

Image & text : Tomoaki TSUTSUMI

Tour conducted in July 2023, Deosai National Park, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Category : - Nanga Parbat > ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Deosai National Park > ◇ Mountain of Pakistan
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Re-discovering Afghanistan: Wakhan Corridor, and the Kyrgyz in the Afghan Pamir

Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan is the “last frontier” for travelers who love unexplored areas. Unpaved rough road, bumby and dusty, has been completed to Lake Chaqmaqtin. Now it became possible to drive to Little Pamir, the home of the Kyrgyz people. The four-day trek has become to take a four-hour 4WD trip. See the lifestyle of the Kyrgyz people living on the plateau with your own eyes – as it is rapidly changing,  some old traditions and charming rustic lifestyle may get diluted and disappear in modernity.

Wakhan Corridor

The Wakhan corridor is a long and narrow territory, in a way a corridor in the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan, China, and Pakistan. It is a mountainous plateau where the source of the Amu Darya river originates, and in summer, plentiful water and meadows appear and are called “Pamir”. This idyllic pastoral landscape has a lot of historical significance.
This corridor-like borderline was created in 1873, when the border between Afghanistan and the Russian Empire was drawn along the Panj and Pamir rivers. Twenty years later, in 1893 the border (the Durand Line) between Afghanistan and the British Indian Empire (now Pakistan) was drawn. It was the buffer zone for the “Great Game” between Russian and British empires at that time.

The landcape around Lake Chaqmaqtin
Bozai Gumbaz, old Kyrgyz tomb situated at the confluence of the Wakhjir River ( the source of the Amu Darya) and the Wakhan River.

In the Wakhan corridor, Wakhi people live from Ishkashim to Sarhad at altitude 2,500 – 3,300 meters, while Kyrgyz people live in the “Pamir” above 4,000 meters above sea level.

The area around Lake Chaqmaqtin is called “Little Pamir” and the plateau along the Pamir River from the Tajikistan border to Lake Zorkul is called “Big Pamir”. Both are mountainous plateaus. In the Little Pamirs, used to the seasonal nomadic element in their traditional lifestyle, Kyrgyz live to south of the lake in the summer, and move north of the lake in the winter.

Kyrgyz family with Lake in the background

 

Kyrgyz people in Wakhan Corridor

The Kyrgyz are Turkic people living in Central Asia. There have long been small groups of Kyrgyz who came to the Afghan Pamirs in search of summer grazing lands, but many Kyrgyz moved to the Afghan Pamirs during the Russian Revolution of 1917.They then created a lifestyle of seasonal small migrations in this largely isolated region. Later, when China was founded in 1949 and the communist government of Afghanistan was established in 1978, there were cross-border ethnic migrations, and it is said that about 1,300~1,400 Kyrgyz people are currently living in Afghan Pamir. Recently, people who feared the Taliban temporarily moved to the Tajikistan border after the establishment of the new Taliban regime in 2021, but they have returned after hearing that their lives and livestock would be protected.

According to the shura, a village authority in Andamin settlement, Little Pamir has 28 settlements. There used to be 500 people living in Little Pamir and about 800 people in Big Pamir, but about 3 years ago, people moved from Big Pamir to Little Pamir and now there are 1,150 people living in Little Pamir. This move might have happened partially due to the completion of the new road in 2020.

Kyrgyz people living around Lake Chaqmaqtin

Life on the plateau: harsh environment

On the way from Ishkashim to Sarhad, we met a Kyrgyz man who asked for help. According to the man, his wife, who had given birth in Pamir, was not feeling well and the clinic told him to go to a hospital in Ishkashim. “I have no money”, he said.
Some Kyrgyz people get things in exchange for sheep and other livestock with merchants visiting the Pamirs and have no cash. They need money to “get in the car and go to the hospital.” At this time, we could only give money and pray for the safety of this person’s wife.

In the village, we also met parents who lost their children and a man who lost his wife. And there were very few old people. We realized that they live in a harsh environment.

Kyrgyz Boy

The Kyrgyz people of the Afghan Pamirs are not self-sufficient. They raise livestock, produce dairy products, and obtain what they need from merchants who come to the Pamirs (Wakhi people from the Wakhan corridor, and Pashtoon people from the south). They exchange or sell their livestock and dairy products to obtain goods and cash for their daily needs. In many cases, the exchange of sheep is concluded with a promise to receive this year’s lambs next year.

Goats and sheep raised by the Kyrgyz people
Kyrgyz yak. Compared to the yaks of Pakistan, the Kyrgyz yaks are noticeably bigger
Making a dairy product called Qurut

Before the new Taliban regime (2021), there was trade with Chapruson, Pakistan. Every year 500 yaks and Qurut (a type of dried cottage cheese) made during the summer were sold. Now they sell sheep and goats to traders coming from Kabul and other part of Afghanistan and say they are looking forward to resuming trade with Chapruson.

Kyrgyz Women’s Summer Life

Kyrgyz women take care of the offspring of livestock born in the spring and early summer, milking them and making dairy products for a living. In the morning, the milking begins around 8 to 8:30 am. After that, the women wash dishes in the river, bake Naan bread, and make Qurut (cottage cheese which they will dry later for sale). Bargaining with merchants from the Wakhan corridor and southern Afghanistan is also part of the fun. The women like to buy fancy fabrics and wear new clothes for every important occasion. The merchants seem to have a good grasp of what suits their tastes. In comparison, men in Kyrgyzstan wear mainly “second-hand clothes” and look very plain.

milking a yak

Beauty, the life of the Kyrgyz

On our trip to Little Pamir, we spent four days in a settlement where a small group of Kyrgyz people live. Not only did we visit the yurts, but the children and families of the Kyrgyz came to visit our camp, interest in what we have and what we eat. Some of the children were so curious that they stayed at our camp from morning till night, while others could only come with their parents.

They milked yaks in the morning, washed clothes, made Qurut cottage cheese, baked Naan bread, and visited friends in their spare time.

Woman washing her hair while her older relative is making Qurut from fresh milk
Young Kyrgyz lady washing her hair
In the yurt where the Kyrgyz live
Girls washing dishes
Children visiting our campsite

A merchant who has been coming to Pamir for more than 20 years said: “There are people who became poor after the road was built.” and “I saw the guy who became poor because they sold a lot of yak and bought cars, which later broke down”.The construction of the road has probably attracted more traders than before, and the number of cash transactions has increased. While some people have become poor, some Kyrgyz families with cars and livestock seem to have become rich. The disparity is clearly on the rise.

Kyrgyz girl holding a baby goat

The Kyrgyz people’s way of life in the wilderness of Wakhan is absolutely fascinating. These nomads of the Afghan Pamirs have a lot of resilience and the history of coexisting and interacting with other ethnicities.

 

Photo & Text : Mariko SAWADA

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Afghanistan, Wakhan Corridor.

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Category : ◆Afghanistan > - Wakhan Corridor
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Hungry Tigress Jataka- Rock Carving of Chilas

“This blog is documenting the precious Silk Road heritage site, the ‘Indus rock carvings’, which will be lost forever in a few years when two dams on the Indus River are completed”

 

Have you ever heard of the Hungry Tigress Jataka「捨身飼虎」?  In Japan, the story of the Hungry Tigress Jataka is depicted on the side of the Tamamushi Zushi「玉虫厨子」, a national treasure in the collection of ancient Horyuji Temple(法隆寺), even before Kyoto was built – when Buddhism was freshly adoped by the Japanese elite.

There are rock engravings along the Indus River in Chilas where the Hungry Tigress Jataka can still be seen, despite certain degree of deterioration the engravings underwent.

 

About Hungry Tigress Jataka (Vyaghri-Jataka) 

Long ago, there was a king in India who had three brothers, every of them a prince. One day, the king and the three princes went to play in a bamboo forest. There they met a mother tiger with seven cubs. The animals were starving, emaciated and on the verge of starvation.
The three princes felt deep compassion, but two of them left, saying that they could not save the animals. The third prince said, “Bodhisattvas offer themselves out of compassion to save others. I will offer myself to save the life of a starving tiger “. The prince gave himself up and the tiger ate him. The story goes that the prince who saved the lives of the tiger was the Buddha himself in one of his previous lives.

More information on Hungry Tigress Jataka and the Tamamushi Zushi at Horyu-ji Temple can be found on the websites of the respective temples.

The following is a sketch of this rock engraving, although it is quite faded and difficult to make out.

Source : The Indus – Cradle and Crossroads of Civilizations (Pakistan-German Archeological Research)

This sketch of the rock engraving shows a lying prince, a tiger cub about to eat the prince, the father king and two brother princes watching from safe distance behind a rock.

Decipherment of the Brahmi script beside this image has also proved that it is Hungry Tigress Jataka (Vyaghri-Jataka).

The entire surface of the rock on which the Hungry Tigress Jataka is depicted. A large stupa is depicted in the centre. There is a hemispherical Anda on a square base, with Harmika, symbolic umbrellas and banners, which are characteristic of the Gandhara style. It is thought that Buddhism was at its peak influence in the Upper Indus around the 5th century.

Unfortunately, this precious rock engraving will also be lost when the dam is completed. “Unfortunately” is not the right word that can be used to describe it, perhaps. The destruction of the rock engravings began with the construction of the Karakoram Highway in the 1960s, and the rock engravings have been destroyed with every expansion of the road. Some were even lost when they were painted over by people who did not like the Buddhist motif for a time.

Painted rock engravings along the Karakoram Highway. The central figure of a snow leopard chasing an ibex was washed out in December 2020.

Again, the time was limited, but we worked on washing the rock engravings that had been painted.

This is the current state of the rock engraving. From right to left, Manjushri, Bejewelled Buddha with a devotee holding an incense burner or lamp and stupa. A trefoil-shaped arch surrounds the Buddha’s entire body, is in Kashmir style.

The picture below shows how this looked before the paint was applied.

Source:The Indus – Cradle and Crossroads of Civilizations (Pakistan-German Archeological Research)

We will continue to wash off the paint from these rock engraving panels.Please come and witness this wonderful Buddhist heritage before it is submerged in the dam.

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Site : Chilas, Gilgit-Baltitstan

*About the article: the article is based on an old book. I wonder if other views and explanations exist. I would be very happy if you could let me know so that I can study it.

Reference :”Huma records on Karakoram Highway”, ” The Indus, cradle and crossroads  of civilizations”

*Contact us, Indus Caravan for more information or to make arrangements for visiting Rock carving along the Indus river.

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Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - the Karakoram Highway > - Indus river bank > ◇ Rock carvings / Petroglyph
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Souvenir from Hunza

Surrounded by the 7,000m-class high peaks of Karakorum, this Hunza village is famous for the amazing pink apricot flowers that bloom all over the valley.

The main street of Karimabad, the center of Hunza, which is lined with stalls selling local products. It’s not very big, but it’s a place where you can go casually and enjoy a stroll while sightseeing.

Bazaar at Karimabad

First of all, I will introduce dried fruits and nuts, which are the specialties of Hunza.

In Hunza, where apricots and other fruits thrive, the seeds are removed immediately after they are harvested. The fruits are then preserved by being dried in the sun, then sold in the market. The dried apricots are browner in color and have a firmer texture than common ones you might see in other places, but this is just proof that there are no additives in them. The more you chew the dried fruit, the more the gorgeous apricot flavor fills your mouth, and the taste becomes addictive.

The fresh nuts that are the most famous are walnuts, almonds, and apricot seeds. Apricot seeds look a lot like almonds at first glance. But you can enjoy that unique scent of the apricot that is familiar with almond tofu (the name is also confusing but it is because the two nuts are so similar). Although it has a slightly bitter taste, it is said to have the effect of boosting the immune system.

In addition, I also recommend you try the cherries, mulberries, and dried pears, as they are hard to find anywhere else.

Dried fruits sold at a souvenir shop

At the bazaar, souvenirs of wooden products are also conspicuous. Apricot trees and walnut trees are also suitable for woodwork, so there are ornaments, accessory cases, and tableware made from these woods.

A spoon made of apricot and walnut wood. Each piece is handmade by an artist every day.

Intricately carved tissue box

Handicrafts with traditional Hunza embroidery are also popular souvenirs. Bright embroidery is applied to wool bags, slippers and hats.

Pouches
Slipper

In addition, northern Pakistan around Hunza is the origin of many natural gemstones. Specialty stores sell colorful natural stones such as crystal, aquamarine, topaz, garnet and black tourmaline; and small rough stones can be obtained at relatively low prices.

Searching for your favorite stone or a birthstone will also make a special souvenir.

Aquamarine stone

When you are wanting to take a quick break while exploring the bazaar, I recommend stopping by Cafe De Hunza.

Here, you can enjoy the famous walnut cake made with plenty of locally produced walnuts.

The cake goes very well with coffee. You can also take the cake home.

A famous cake filled to the max with caramel-wrapped walnuts

Cafe De Hunza also sold apricot oil for souvenirs.

It has a nourishing effect for sore throat, and it is a versatile oil that can also be used for skin care, as it has a very smooth application.

Apricot seed oil

Dried fruits, woodwork, nuts, oil and apricots are used in everything by the locals. For the people of Hunza, apricots are essential and a very important part of their lives.

There are many things that I haven’t introduced yet, but when you visit Hunza, why don’t you take a walk around the bazaar and look for the Apricot Blossom Spring Valley souvenirs that are unique to this beautiful place?

 

Photo &Text : Madoka Nishioka

Visit : March 2023, Karimabad, Hunza, Gilgit-Baltistan

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Category : ◆ Gilgit-Baltistan > - Hunza Valley
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