Chitral ,a village tucked away in the Hindukush Mountains, offers a great escape from city life in Islamabad and it is only an hour flight away! Planes from Islamabad leave only twice a week, so we scheduled our visit over a long weekend.
We departed from Islamabad airport in a small turboprop plane at 10:50 am. Soon we enjoyed our spectacular views from the cabin window, gliding between the mountains of the Hindu Kush on the way to the small town of Chitral.
After arriving at the small airport, a driver took us to our hotel Hindukush Heights. Hindukush Heights lies just outside the main village, affording great views over the Chitral valley and the tiny airstrip.
The common areas, and lounges interspersed between the rooms are stylish and comfortable.
A little side note: there are steep stairs down to the guest rooms, which is not ideal for handicapped people.
Tipping in Pakistan can become quite a hassle. It is not always evident who to tip, how much and when. Luckily the hotel has solved this issue by adding a 10% service charge over room and dining service.
We had not booked lunch at Hindukush Heights, so our driver took us to eat at Friendship Fokker Restaurant instead. What a nice surprise to find this restaurant in such a tiny mountain village!
Friendship Fokker serves a wide variety of Western and Pakistani dishes and the interior is modern and inviting. We opted to sit in the garden instead where you can see a retired F27 plane that former pilot and Hindukush manager and owner; Mr Siraj ul- Mulk, had parked there himself.
At sunset, we went on a brief excursion through the Chitral valley to see Pakistan’s national animal; The Markhor. We got a distant view of six Markhors coming down to the river to drink, but unfortunately they were too far a way for good pictures.
After spotting the Markhors we returned to our hotel for dinner.
The fresh and tasty Buffet style dinner included vegetables from the hotel’s own garden!
In the afternoon we took a half day trip to the Chitral Gol National Park; home to many fine animals such as the Tibetan Wolf and Red Fox.
Bird watchers will be happy to learn that there are plethora of birds to spot in the park, including the Bearded Vulture, Himalayan Vulture and Golden Eagle.
It takes about two hours to get to the top of Chitral Gol National Park, and two hours to get down, and the roads are extremely bumpy and narrow.
The ride up in a jeep was quite an adventure, definitely not advised for the faint hearted or those with physical ailments! But in my opinion the splendid view over the Chitral Valley and Tirich Mir mountain was quite worth the discomfort of the ride.
On our way back to the hotel, the driver kindly stopped for us at the Chitral Fort which used to be the residence of the guards of Mehtar of Chitral. It was built in 1774 and restored in 1911 by His Highness Sir Shuja ul-Mulk.
We arrived after closing time, but the proprietor allowed us to take a few pictures outside.
We were fortunate to meet Mr Siraj ul- Mulk, the hotel’s owner for a drink before dinner. I asked him how he came up with this idea to build such a splendid hotel in such a remote village.
Mr ul- Mulk explained to us that he grew up in Chitral. After he amassed his fortune he decided to return to his hometown. He started to build the hotel in 1992 without knowing the full details of the project, coming from a place called ‘madness’ and a desire to give back to the community.
‘Don’t think about the details of the plan or how it is going to work. Just start with your heart’s passion and the rest will follow,’ Mr Siraj explained.
He built his hotel smartly with natural materials from the area; stone, wood and gravel, and the hotel uses gravity pull spring water. ‘The water in your shower is clean enough to drink,’ said Mr Siraj proudly.
Here are a few images of the lovely Hindukush Heights hotel:
I remarked that Hindukush runs like clockwork and Mr Siraj nodded happily. Many of the staff members there had been with him for over 20 years. ‘They are stakeholder’s in the hotel’s success,’ he explained.
Today Hindukush heights sends one female child of each staff member to best school in the area for education. It helps staff members to buy their land as well.
A staff member interrupted our conversation. Josephine had arrived.
‘Come meet her,’ said Mr Siraj, ‘She’s a wolf!’
Josephine (a puppy of about 6 months) was waiting right outside the yard for her dinner. She scampered away shyly when we arrived.
Someone brought the puppy along with her two siblings to Hindukush Heights after their mother had died. Sadly only Josephine survived.
During the day the little pup runs off into the mountains being the wolf that she is. At night she returns for dinner and to play with Mr Siraj’s Rhodesian Ridgeback.
Before visiting Chitral I learned about the Kalash valley and its people. I was excited to see what an almost extinct culture looks like.
We knew road to the Kalash valley was ‘questionable’, but I was still amazed to see just how bad it was during our five hour trip there and back. Despite the poor road conditions we enjoyed our day trip to Valley.
On the way there we passed Chitral’s marble mining factory (chitral marble is well known throughout Pakistan) and Ayun hotel which boasts a s scenic garden and views over the mountains.
Here are a few images on the way into the valley…
As we approached Bumburet village (the first and largest of three villages in the Kalash Valley) we were sad to learn that a great flood in 2015 had destroyed many of the guesthouses that had hoped to attract more tourism to the valley.
During our visit on a Sunday most of the shops and restaurants were closed due to COVID. We did however manage to visit the very informative Kalasha Dur Museum.
Entry tickets to the museum are 600 rupees per person. The fee is 300 rupees extra if you want to take pictures inside the museum. For more information check this page: https://www.kparchaeology.com/front_cms/museum/museum_info/35.
We also visited the graveyard where you can see open coffins and human bones above ground. The Kalash believe that the soul is excited to leave the body and be reunited with other souls, so they don’t burry coffins. The Kalash people celebrate death rather than mourn it, as it marks the signal of new life on the other side!
Note: These days however the Kalash no longer bury their dead above the ground.
We wandered around the town, and found our way into the main square and alleys between the traditional houses.
I spotted some Kalash girls in their traditional garments and noticed that many of them had fair hair and blue eyes. No surprise, as this cultural minority is said to be descended from Alexander the Great!
I did not ask to take pictures of the girls, because generally they don’t like it and besides there are many images of the Kalash on the internet.
On the way back to our hotel, our driver explained that the Kalash people manage to survive in the mountains by mostly selling cheese, goats and other agricultural products, and they rely a bit on tourism as well.
Our plane departed on Monday at 12:40, and we returned to Islamabad an hour later refreshed and happy after our weekend getway in Chitral.
Extra info: Hindukush Heights can arrange all your transportation, and guides for day trips in the area. Check out their website here.
For more Travel Inspirations in Pakistan check out the post: Northern Pakistan Itinerary- Skardu to Gilgit in 8 days
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