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Himalaya

Day 8: The Kalash Valleys

Michael Palin - HimalayaWe climb a hill above the village through glades of juniper and mulberry. Halfway up, I catch the sharp, sweet smell of something rotten. Ahead of me are small piles of wood and glass and I realize we're picking our way through a graveyard. Saifullah seems unconcerned as he points out decomposing coffins on top of the ground. That's the Kalash way of death, he says. The bodies are never buried and the tops of the coffins are often left open to let the souls escape. I fear souls must have escaped quite recently.

At the top of the hill the modern world intrudes again in the shape of a long, open-sided building that looks like a bus shelter. This is another government perk, provided for the village as a permanent arena for the music and dancing for which the Kalash are renowned. Every year there is a music festival here that pulls in the tourists, many of whom come to see something unheard of in Pakistan: women dancing together in public. The emancipation of Kalash women has brought them the unwelcome attention of men from outside, seeking a sexual freedom denied to them in the rest of Pakistan.

Supper is very jolly. Saifullah's cooked some locally caught trout for us and produces a bottle of his home-brew, grape juice from last summer, which is still fermenting and tastes like fortified sherry.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 8: The Kalash Valleys
  • Country/sea: Pakistan
  • Place: Rumbur
  • Book page no: 27

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