Travelling To Chitral: The Land Of Fairies On Earth

By Saadia Sabir

Seeking a holiday in the land of fairies? Consider Chitral. Bordering Afghanistan, Dir, and Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral is one of the fascinating places in the Hindu Kush range for tourists. The wonderful valley with the world’s best apples is a dream destination. What makes Chitral unique is it’s harsh, barren steep mountains, lush green valleys, and the intersection of three main (and many subcultures).

Image source: visitpakistanonline

Chitral is located at a distance of 365 kilometers from Peshawar city in the KPK province. The average height of the mountains is 4000 feet and there are 40 peaks, with an altitude of 20,000 ft.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

The ideal time for tourists to visit Chitral is from April to September. Spring is a little colder, with frequent rainfalls. You might need to take a sweater and/or a jacket with you if you are planning to visit in spring (April to May).

Image source: Paki Holic

Summers (June – September) in Chitral are generally pleasant. Central Chitral can get hotter during the day. Late summer evenings can get chilly and cold. The pleasant weather is not the only reason to attract tourists during summer.

Image source: The Nation

Chitral gets beautiful Autumn, which gives an eye-catching view. The colors of trees vary from yellow and red to golden. After September, winter starts and the weather gets extremely cold.

Image source: topsy.one

HOW TO GET THERE?

BY AIR

Chitral airport is connected only to Islamabad and Peshawar. The most convenient way to get there is to take a flight from either of these cities. PIA operates twice a week and the flight time is 45 minutes. However, the flights to Chitral often get canceled because of bad weather.

Image source: Flickr

BY ROAD

Bus

The most economical options are the flying coaches and coasters and the fare is around Rs. 1000 -1200 per person. The route passes through Dir and crosses Lawari Pass. The journey involves mesmerizing views by sight and turns that might give you a dose of an adrenaline rush.

Private 2OD’s

Another comparatively comfortable travel option is to rent a 2OD Car from Islamabad or Peshawar to Dir, and then book a Jeep or Rafour from Dir to Chitral. It’s convenient as well as economical.

Both via road options will take you through the Lawari pass/tunnel (3118m), the breathtakingly beautiful, but one of the most dangerous routes. Work is in progress at the Lawari Tunnel. It remains open for traffic 12 hours a day. The crossing time is from 10:30 AM to 01:30 PM (3 hours) and 08:00 PM to 05:00 AM (9 hours) daily. The road from Dir-Chitral remains blocked from late November to March, because of the heavy snow at Lowari Pass. Travel by road is not encouraged during winters, as sometimes due to traffic, vehicles get stuck overnight at Lowari tunnel.

Image source: Leave me here

WHAT TO DO IN CHITRAL?

Chitral is administratively divided into Upper and Lower Chitral. The district has famous valleys, such as Ayun, Madaglasht, Kalash, Birmoghlasht, Booni, Mastuj, Garamchashma and Karimabad. Each of them is beautiful and has breathtaking views.

Booni – Image source: Weather – Forcast.com

CHITRAL MUSEUM:

Situated in the city of Chitral, the Museum exhibits the profound cultural heritage and provides a great insight into the history of Chitral.

Image source: Tourism

It displays the local and traditional jewelry, weapons, embroidery, ceramics, musical instruments, household objects, hunting tools and furniture. To get glimpses of Chitrali culture, the museum would be the best place to start with. The items in the Museum represent the culture of Chitral Valley during the 19thand early 20th century. The display items include jewelry include copper and silver bangles, necklaces, headwear, earring, finger rings and should ornament. Local embroidery especially the Chitrali cap ( Kaphol), embroidered waistcoats and shirts, purses and bed covers are also displayed in the museum. The museum also shows cases the hunting
objects like guns, pistol, gunpowder, and swords. The museum also has a collection of local musical instruments like sitar, drum, rubab, and tambourine.

The Chitral polo ground is next to the museum. It would be icing on the cake if you happen to visit the museum on polo match days. Particularly when the Shandur polo festival is being held.

Image source: TrekEarth

Kalasha Dur Museum
Another museum that people should not miss visiting in Chitral is the Kalasha Dur (House of Kalash People) of the Bumburet Valley. The building was built by a Greek NGO and is now administered by the Directorate of Archaeology and Museums, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The museum presents the ethnological collection
of the region. The items on display are the musical instruments, household utensils, traditional handmade dresses, statues. There are 1300 items displayed in the museum, many of which are
gifted by the local people of the area.

SHAHI MASJID (SHAHI MOSQUE)

Shahi Masjid of Chitral was built in 1924 A.D by the then Mehtar Shujaul Mulk, and is one of the architectural grandeur of the region. Permission is needed to visit the mosque. The man-made landmark, the Mughal architectural design, the beautiful garden and the greatness of the place are all worth visiting. You can stop to admire the stunning architecture, learn about its history and take lots of pictures. The pinkish walls and white dome make it the most distinctive building in the region.

Image source: Pakistan Tours Guide

CHITRAL GOL NATIONAL PARK:

 It is one of the National Parks of Pakistan and is situated 2 hours from Chitral. The road to the Park is quite risky, but the adventure is worthwhile. The lush green mountain bases, streams, and thick forests lead to the middle of the snow-capped mountains. There are a few glaciers, which are the source of running water in the middle of the meadow. The breathtaking view, the clean air, and the quiet surrounding makes you close to nature and provides a picture of heaven on Earth. This is a great camping site and you can enjoy a barbecue with your family and/or friends. It is a place you must not miss while visiting Chitral.

Image Source: Hammad Iqbal photography

 Barmoghlasht:

A beautiful landscape, situated at 14.5 km from central Chitral, is a place worth visiting. The area has a fort (now in a dilapidated condition), built when Chitral was a princely state. It is the main attraction of the area, apart from its greenery and wild herbs. The climate is very pleasant, and the fact that it is a part of the Chitral Gol National Park makes it a tourist site.

Given the height of the region, Travel groups take this place a perfect spot for trekking and paragliding session.

 Image source: pktravel.pk

 KALASH VALLEY:

One of the main reasons for the tourist attraction towards Chitral is the unique culture of the blue-eyed and blond-haired descendants of the army of Alexander the Great, the Kalash people.

Image source: Facebook

Kalash Valley is 40 km from Chitral, and is connected by a Jeep driveable road. Birir, Rumbur, and Bamburat are three valleys of Kalash. 3000 Kalash people live in the valley of Birir, Mumrate (usually called Bumburet) and Rambur in the south of Chitral.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Kalash people are famous for their unique cultural traditions. The women wear a black robe and an embroidered long cap, decorated with cowrie shells, ornaments, and beads. The Kalash people love music and dancing, particularly on occasions of their religious festivals, like Joshi Chilimjusht, celebrated usually in mid-May, Phool (late September) and Chowas (late December).

Image source: Facebook

Image Source: Saadia Sabir

The people of Kalash have a rich culture, and they take pride in their identity. These people are different from the remaining tribes, cultures, and communities of Pakistan due to their distinct culture, religious practices, and festivals. The Kalash people worship a pantheon of gods and goddesses.

Image Source: www.croozi.com

The valleys are lush green and attract tourists from all over the world, who not only come to enjoy the scenic beauty, but also the cultural diversity. The region is extremely fertile, that makes agriculture intensive. People still use the old method of farming and most of the work is done manually. Wheat, maize, grapes, walnuts, potatoes, apples and apricots are among the main agricultural products of the area.

Kalash valley is one of the most amazing, beautiful and historical places you could find on the face of the earth. You can visit their holy places and graves, explore the area; enjoy the scenic beauty and the
delicious food. The people are familiar with having tourists around. You can talk to the elders, women, and children to learn about their culture and daily lives but please ensure not to make them uncomfortable or invade the privacy of their homes. Although very liberal the Kalash people take their privacy very seriously.
.

Image source: Dawn

SHANDUR PASS:

The world’s famous Shandur Pass is approximately 3,738 meters above sea level and lies midway between Chitral and Gilgit. It is the highest polo ground of the world, also called the “Roof of the World”. The Shandur Lake adds more beauty and color to the area.

Image Credits: Abrar Cheema retrieved from Exploring Chitral’s Facebook page

This place is for people who would like some adventure. The passage is famous for the Shandoor polo festival. The polo tournament is held every year, between the polo teams of Gilgit and Chitral in mid or late July. The king of games, at the highest polo ground of the world, with a scenic crystal clear lake by its side, snow-covered mountains, alpine flowers, and green carpet grass provide a view out of this world and an experience worth the long road travel. It is a great place for you if you want to experience breathtaking scenery with a unique freestyle polo match and for camping on the highest polo ground of the world.

GARAM CHASHMA:        

Garam Chashma (Warm Spring), as the name indicates, got its name because of the famous hot spring in the area. The water is believed to be a natural medication to cure the skin disorders and maladies. It is located at a distance of 3 hours from the main district Chitral and can be approached by jeep. Apart from the spring, the region’s clean environment, trout fish, and greenery attract visitors.

Image source: Croozi

Garam Chashma is a tourist’s favorite, for its rock climbing spots and training camps.

BOONI:

 75 kilometers towards the north of Chitral lies this heaven on earth, called Booni. Booni is famous for the fruit-laden trees of apples, apricots, pears, cherries, and walnuts. Booni is also an educational center for upper Chitral with single-sex and co-ed schools and colleges. It is also a hub for different governmental and non-governmental offices.

Image Source: Traverse Pakistan

You can also go mountain climbing in Booni at Buni Zom Mountain. Booni offers a great sight in all seasons, however mostly in early spring during the Qaqlasht Festival, tourists rush to the valley.

 Paragliding at Qaqlasht Festival – Image source: Native Pakistan

Bashkar Gol Chatt  Lake:

One of the most unexplored places in Chitral by the tourists is the Bashkar Gol Chatt. Situated in the upper part of Chitral, 23 km from the village Sor Laspur is the hidden gem, the turquoise lake called the Bashkar Gol Chatt Lake. It is estimated to be 3-4 times bigger than the Saif ul Muluk Lake, and since it remains largely unexplored, the natural beauty of the area is something not to be missed. People seeking adventure with natural beauty would love this place. It takes an 11-hour one-way trek to reach the lake. Porters are available from the village Sor Laspur. Tourists can really enjoy the stream on the way to the lake can do fishing in its turquoise water.

Image Source: Photography by Vagabond

 Borogil Valley:

Would you like to experience the Milky Way in its full glory? Then Borogil is a place for you, Borogil is at the Pakistan-Afghanistan Border, near the Wakhan Corridor. The valley presents a unique terrain of green plains with snow-capped mountains, and the weather frequently changes. It is a jeep route from Mastuj and the roads are very dangerous. The valley offers a great many lakes. Karomber is the site for most trekkers and people interested in adventure. It is a great place for climbers and mountaineers and is considered as one of the most diverse treks.

Karomber Lake, Image Source:  Mobeen Ansari retrieved from Dawn

Terichmir:  “The Kingdom of Fairies”

Terichmir, the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush range, rising 7,707 meters above sea level. It is a site for adventure lovers, mountaineers, and climbers. The route is risky with frequent snow storms. The crown of the Hindu Kush is recommended for people equipped with proper mountaineering equipment and with professional guidance.

Image Source: http://www.batutaschool.org/

FESTIVALS ATTRACTING TOURISTS

JASHEN-E-QAQLAST

If you are visiting Chitral in April, you would not want to miss the famous festival held at the high plateau, on a mountain called Qaqlast near Booni. It is held on the flat terrain, located 75 km from central Chitral. Different matches are held and teams from all over Chitral take part. The festival is believed to be a 2000-year-old tradition of welcoming spring. This tradition was lost after the princely state came to an end in 1969. The festival was revived by UNESCO in 2003 and is celebrated every year ever since. This festival features traditional sports and culture and attracts tourists internationally.

image source: ChitralExpress 

JOSHI FESTIVAL

Chitral also offers a late spring attraction for people planning to visit the region in mid-May. The four-day Joshi Festival celebrated by the Kalash people is attended by tourists from around the world. Kalash women and men dance to the beat of drums to welcome summer.

Image source: Hunza Explorers Treks & Tours

SHANDOOR POLO FESTIVAL

The famous freestyle Shandoor polo festival, which takes place in Mid or late July is one of the main reasons that tourists rush to Chitral during summers. The place, unique in itself, invites tourists from around the world to experience the freestyle polo every year.

Image source: Hunza Explorers

Local Food

Local food of Chitral is unique and mostly involves bread and soups with a few variations.

Tikki or Brat is a baked main bread course of Chitral. The common form is Chai Tikki, thick bread baked over coal. The crust of the bread is hard and the taste is unique. Chai tikki is salty, often served with tea. It is usually eaten at breakfast or in the afternoon.

Image source: Traditional Food of GBC

Other variations include:

Pushur Tikki is tikki bread baked with a mincemeat filling, a type of meat pie.

Phhenak Tikki is filled with cottage cheese.

Pandir Tikki is filled with matured cheese.

Shaakh Mujhzi is a vegetarian version of tikki, with spinach filling.

Khesta Shapik:

Bread made from a liquid batter, which has been allowed to ferment and is cooked on a pan, locally known as Taw (tawa). It is usually made in winters and requires baking expertise.

Phulka The standard South Asian Chapatti but the term in Chitral “Chapoti” is used for a thick bread. 

 Rishiki

Thin pancakes made from a batter, consisting of whole wheat flour, water, and eggs. Unlike other areas, the Chitrali pancake “Rishiki” is savory, and is usually served with tea.

Image Source: Hassan Abbas Murad

Kalli

A noodle soup made with minced beef and hand cut whole wheat noodles.

Image source: Summaya Usmani

 Kawirogh

A light soup made with dried wild capers and meat. Kawirogh is usually savory in taste and has a very strong, unique smell. It is very popular in the summer, as it is supposed to have a cooling and blood thinning effect.

Ghalmandi

A dish of layered flatbread, with a filling of cottage cheese, coriander covered in melted butter and walnut oil.

Image Source: Exploring Chitral

 Cheeraa Shapik

Cheeraa Shapik is similar to ghalmandi, but with a white sauce, replacing the cottage cheese.

They are the local form of cheese naan, with the melted butter that adds a different flavor to it.

WHERE TO STAY:

Accommodation in Chitral was another big concern coming our way during the trip to the district. There are chains of PTDC Hotels in Chitral that guarantee a comfortable stay, to add value to your visit. You can find a PTDC Hotel in Chitral town, Booni, Mastuj, Bamburet (Kalash Valley) and Birmoghlast.

Image source: goghoom

If you are visiting with family and looking for a budget class hotel, PTDC is the option for you. They offer a comfortable stay at a reasonable price. The hotels are secure and clean, and their staff is very friendly. The charges are around 3600 PKR for a single room. PTDC hotels in all the regions are in close vicinity to markets, hospitals, and tourist sites. They offer room services, hot and cold water laundry services, and delicious Chinese and Pakistani food.

Apart from the famous PTDC motels, the other places where you can stay are:

 Hindu Kush Heights:

Set in a hilly landscape surrounded by mighty mountains, the Hindu Kush Heights near the Mastuj Fort Cottage in the town of Chitral, provides a beautiful view. A little costly than PTDC hotels, Hindu Kush Heights has maintained a high standard. If you are looking for a cozy stay with delicious food, Hindu Kush heights are for you. Apart from the delicious food, the local design and craftsmanship are the main attractions for tourists. They have free WiFi available for the guests.

Image source: TripAdvisor

River View Hotel

Pamir Riverside Inn Hotel, Chitral near Shahi Qilla Chitral Fort is another good place to stay.

Tourists like the place because of the services and the view it provides, being close to the Kunar River. They have a free WiFi facility and they charge Rs. 8,000-10,000 for VIP rooms.

Terichmir View Hotel

Situated along the Shahi Mosque Road, Terichmir Hotel provides a friendly environment with comfort.

The rooms are well furnished and the location is in proximity to Kalash Valley. The rent ranges from Rs. 4000-8000, and they also offer laundry services.

Image Source: Goghoom 

Economical Accommodation Choices:

If you looking for an economical place to stay (under 1000 PKR), the following names and contacts will be helpful in booking rooms:

All these hotel options are available in the main city Chitral. The contact details have been provided for you:

Ali Baba Hotel: 0943414257

Al-Farooq: 03015919313

Dreamland: 0943412806

Tips:

  • The people of Chitral are called Khow and they are very friendly, and generally very hospitable.
  • If you know no one there, the following two sentences would be enough for you to make good friends in Chitral.

– Kicha asus? (How are you?)

– Jam asum ( I am fine)

  • Do not forget to bring some warm clothes, a pair of joggers, extra pair of socks/leg warmers, sunscreen, and a camera to capture moments of your trip.

“Take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints”

Saadia Sabir

Saadia Sabir is a graduate in Gender Studies from Fatima Jinnah Women University and works as Lead Consultant with Worldwide Education of the Dallas Foundation. She is a Near East and South Asian (NESA) Exchange alumna and studied Women’s studies at St Catherine University Minnesota. She is a rock-climber, hiker, reader, and a believer-cum-practitioner of gender equality.