Kalash customs

The Kalash people have very distinct customs from the neighboring communitie.

There’s a popular misconception among neighboring Muslims that the Kalash are kafirs, or non-believers, and like most prejudices it’s a misconception born of ignorance. The Kalash follow a strict code of customs and have a myriad religious quirks, something that has brought them notoriety among anthropologists, writers (the Kalash are the mythical tribe depicted in Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King) and, most recently, travelers. Promiscuity is frowned upon and incest taboos dictate marriage must occur outside the valleys. The cost of fulfilling this cultural requirement is high. With an already depleted population, villagers often have little choice – either marry out, or invite insiders, Muslims, to marry in.

But perhaps the most remarkable custom is that of the Bashali, a wooden hut in each village where, every month, the women retreat for the duration of their period. If anybody touches or comes into contact with the women inside during this time, custom requires they must wash themselves immediately to avoid contamination. These houses don’t just represent a monthly break from work commitments for the women, but are a fundamental part of Kalash religious beliefs and demonstrate that everything, from location, behavior, gender and objects, is separated into the spheres of pure (Onjesta) and impure (Pragata).

While it’s a difficult concept to grasp, it’s an important one (particularly for women travelers) if you want to avoid giving offence during your stay. For example, not only must travelers keep a respectful distance from the Bashali, but women are advised to leave with all the sanitary protection they came with – used or not.

The pollution theory also explains why men are permitted to look after the goats in the higher pastures while domestic chores remain strictly the women’s realm on the valleys below. Even the family home is divided into these zones, so if you are staying as a guest it is probably best to stick to the communal areas such as the kitchen or the garden, or remain in your room.