The towering Hindu Kush mountains stand over the tranquil Chitral Valley, the perfect backdrop to this culturally unique district. The most secluded region in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Chitral is home to some of Pakistan’s most famous tourist places.
The rich culture of Chital is like nothing else. It won’t take you long to sink into the warm and comforting feeling of the locals’ simple way of life and their generous hospitality. The valley abounds with historic and cultural curiosities just waiting to be discovered; explore the town of Chitral and visit the Chitral Fort, the Shahi Masjid (Royal Mosque), and trace the region’s history at the Chitral Museum as you explore its artifacts for yourself, from jewelry to hunting tools. It’s not hard to imagine the stories of Chitral’s past here.
No true picture of the region can be formed without journeying to one of the top places to visit in Pakistan, the Kalash valleys. Explore the Kalash valleys of Bumburet, Birir, and Rumber and get to know the unique and charming Kalash tribes, who live separately to the rest of Pakistan and speak their own ancient language. Here, traditions remain unaffected by the western world and the locals live a life that feels a million miles from the rest of civilization.
Shaped by the Hindu Kush mountains the valley sits in, Chitral’s landscape is dramatic and endlessly captivating. The rocky mountain slopes give way to the Chitral River that rushes past its rocky banks and lush green fields. The mountain peaks, some dusted with white snow, tower over Chitral’s little towns and villages, huge glaciers sit ready to captivate all who visit, and the endangered wild Markhor goats navigate the rocky mountainsides with ease, their impossibly long cork-screw horns pointed to the sky.
EOne of the most famous tourist places in Pakistan is the Kalash valleys – Bumburet, Birir and Rumber. Here, the Kalash tribes reside, known for their unique culture and their Kalasha language. They live differently from the rest of their home country. The valleys’ remote location means that the Kalash tribes are cut off from society and live away from outside influences. Their vibrantly embroidered attire and distinct music, not to mention the many festivals they host, make the Kalash Valleys a wonderful, lively place to explore. Whether you visit Kalash museums to get a deeper understanding of their rich culture, join in one of their festivals or simply wander around and get to know the locals, visiting the Kalash valleys is a truly unique and wondrous experience.
Polo is a very popular sport in northern Pakistan. It’s been played since ancient times here, so it makes sense that some of the country’s polo grounds are well worth a visit. If you visit Chitral town, why not stop by the Chitral polo ground and catch a lively game for yourself? Visitors can also make the journey to Shandur polo ground. Located the between Chitral and Ghizer, it’s here that the annual Shandur Polo Festival takes place, where teams from Chitral and Gilgit compete in ‘the king of games and game of kings’.
In the north west of the Chitral district is the Garam Chasma Valley. Most known for its natural hot spring, the valley is incredibly beautiful, with mountain peaks capped with snow and the Garam Chasma River running through the valley floor. Wander orchards full of apples, cherries, apricots, grapes and strawberries, which blossom in spring and blanket the valley in colour. In summer, drink in the luscious green of the valley and, in autumn, enjoy the red, orange and yellow hues as the leaves change colour.
The Chitral Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology is found in the town of Chitral. It was founded with the aim of preserving the culture of the Chitral region, which is perfectly reflected in its exhibits. There’s a whole array of fascinating artefacts to be found here, all offering a glimpse into the the region’s history and its peoples’ way of life. From jewellery to weapons to musical instruments, the museum houses a range of curiosities from 19th and 20th century, including a model house that shines a lot on the home lives of Chitral people of the past. There’s also a gallery that displays artefacts from the Kalash Valleys, offering an insight into the unique ethnoreligious Kalash group.
Another highlight in the town of Chitral is the Chitral Fort or Shahi Qila. The rusty orange building, decorated with artillery guns, sits on the bank of the Chitral River under giant plane trees. It’s believed to have been constructed in 1774 during the reign of Mohtaram Shah Katur II and restored again in 1911 by the then-ruler Shuja ul Mulk. Though it’s now in a slightly dilapidated state, the fort is still a historic gem. It’s currently home to the ceremonial Mehtar but is open for tourists to enjoy this remnant of Chitral’s past. If you visit the fort, you’ll likely also see the nearby royal mosque, Shahi Masjid. Built by the ruler of Chitral in 1924, the mosque is a stunning building of impressive white marble and intricate architecture.
Chitral Gol National Park is a nature reserve that encompasses and protects some of Chitral’s wide range of fauna and flora. As well as incredible views of the mountain landscape, adorned with glaciers, flowing streams and countless trees, you’ll get to experience some incredible wildlife on a trip to the national park. If you’re lucky, you might spot the Himalayan brown bear, the iconic markhor (mountain goat), numerous birds and even the endangered snow leopard. Recently the Himalayan lynx, an ever-elusiveve alpha predator, has also been caught on film in Chitral.
Sitting in the north of Chitral’s Broghil Valley is Karomber Lake. This magnificent high altitude lake is one of the highest biologically active lakes in the world and the clearest lake in Pakistan. Nestled in the embrace of mountain slopes, the lake’s water is breathtakingly blue. Take a walk around its grassy bank, breathe in the delicious mountain air and let yourself get lost in the view of the sunlight dancing on the water’s surface.
At an elevation of 7,708m above sea level, Trichmir is the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush range. The name Trichmir comes from Trich, meaning darkness, and Mir, meaning king in Wakhi/Khwar, so translated the mountain is known as the King of Darkness. The peak of this majestic mountain can be seen from Chitral on a clear day. For adventurers, Trichmir offers up some tempting activities, but its just as rewarding to admire the towering snow-covered mountain from afar.
The best ways to reach Chitral are either by air from Islamabad or by road from Islamabad, Peshawar or Gilgit. Whilst flying from Islamabad is the quickest way to get to Chitral, driving is a truly breathtaking experience, offering up-close views of northern Pakistan’s mountainous landscapes. If you choose to embark on the journey by land, you can either take a bus or hire a car and drive at your own pace. From Islamabad, the best route takes you along the N-45 and beneath Lowari Pass along the 10.4 km Lowari Tunnel, which remains open all year round. From Gilgit city, the 14 hour drive through the Ghizer district of Gilgit-Baltistan takes you through the scenic Phundar Valley, with its freshwater streams, and over the Shandur Pass. Keep in mind that this road does close during the winter due to heavy snow. If you’re lacking time or would just rather forgo the long drive, Chitral is also accessible via plane. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) run daily flights from Islamabad. These flights offer up a beautiful birds-eye view as you go. However, flights may be cancelled or delayed due to the unpredictable weather of northern Pakistan.
The most important of Kalash’s festivals, Chilam Joshi is celebrated for four days in spring across the three Kalash valleys, beginning in Rumbur valley, then moving on to the Biri and Bumburt valleys. Kalashi people offer prays for the safety of their herds and for a prosperous year of agriculture and dance in circles to the beat of a drum. The festival attire worn by locals is mesmerising, with the women of Kalash wearing handwoven black clothing decorated with multicoloured beads and embroidered headwear.
Kalash’s summer festival, Uchal is celebrated in August. The Kalasha pay homage to their gods and celebrate the harvest season. Buttermilk, corn and cheese are enjoyed and residents of all three valleys – Rumbur, Birir and Bumburet – join together in a procession towards a high plateau outside the village of Balangkuru. Here, they pray and spend the whole night dancing. Afterwards, the celebration moves to other places across the three valleys and continues for several days.
Another of the three main Kalash festivals, Choimus begins on the winter solstice. This festival lasts a whole 10 days, celebrating the demi-god Balomain. It’s believed Balomain’s spirit visits the valleys during the festival and collects the locals’ prayers to take back to the fabled Kalash land of Tsiam. Choimus symbolizes the prosperity of the valleys and their people in the coming year. On the dawn of the new year, the Kalasha perform rituals of purification. They join together on a torchlit procession to Charsue, the main dancing place, where they light a bonfire and dance around it through the night. The Kalash elders also gather at the hilltop to witness the first sunrise of the new year. As an act of sacrifice, a goat is slaughtered and offered to the goddess Jastak before its blood is sprinkled at the Jastarkhan temple.
Each July, the high altitude Shandur Pass plays host to one of Pakistan’s biggest festivals: the Shandur Polo Festival. Tribes from the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral regions meet to compete on the polo ground. At 3,700m high, the Shandur polo ground is thought to be the highest in the world. With the beat of drums and cheers of the crowd as the soundtrack, spectators get to enjoy the freestyle polo, considered to be polo in its purest form. As well as the polo games themselves, the festival includes folk music, dance, camping and outdoor activities like horse riding, fishing, hiking and mountaineering.
Phoo Festival is one of the many festivals celebrated across Kalash valley. This festival is celebrated only in Birir to welcome autumn season. Shepherds head back to valleys below from high altitude meadows with cattle after spending a long summer there. Hence, Phoo festival commemorates the safe return of shepherds as well as the bountiful harvest of grapes and walnuts. This weeklong merriment continues with harvest of grapes on one particular day. Wine is a commonly consumed staple in Kalash culture, locals grow grapes in protected areas from which wine is being produced. On the 14th day, people drink and dance to the beats of drum and the merriment continues till dawn. The event ends with prayers for healthier winters
Ghalmandi is a hearty dish consisting of flatbreads layered with a tasty filling of cottage cheese, coriander and chives. Melted butter and walnut oil are poured over the filled bread, making it an indulgent and comforting dish.
A kind of meat pie, Phushur Tikki is made of baked bread that’s stuffed with a minced meat filling, deliciously seasoned with herbs and spices. As an alternative, the bread is also sometimes filled with vegetables and cottage cheese.
Rondijhzu is a favourite dry meat dish served throughout Chitral Valley. Goat or lamb meat is seasoned with salt only, then barbecued on an open fire.
Shroshrp is a type of Halva, a delightfully sweet confectionary. Made from germinated wheat grain flour, this naturally sweet treat is usually mixed with apricot nut oil or walnut oil before it’s ready to be devoured.
Chitral’s climate is relatively cool so hearty soups form the backbone of Chitrali cuisine. The area boasts a bounty of tasty soups. One type is Kalli. Very similar to Laghman, a central Asian soup, Kalli is made with fresh tagliatelle that’s cooked in a savoury minced meat broth. Lajhaik is another favourite soup dish in Chitral. Lamb, beef or duck meat are stewed on low heat for many hours before whole wheat or barley grains are added to create a thick and hearty bowl of goodness. Khhamalogh is similarly hearty but this time made with the heads of sheep or goats. Spring onions and local herbs are added to the meat, then the soup is cooked for many hours untill the meat is temptingly tender.
Enjoyed across the entire north of Pakistan, Rishiki is a type of pancake/crepe. Thin pancakes are made from whole wheat flour, eggs and water and served with a variety of toppings, either savoury or sweet. Sweet Rishiki is often finished with a traditional helping of honey and cottage cheese.
● Time Zone: Pakistan Standard Time.
● Language: Khuwar is the main language of the Chitral valley. In the Kalash valleys, Kalashamondr is spoken. Urdu is also widely spoken and understood.
● Religion: Muslim. The majority of the local population are Sunni Muslims, with some of the population being Ismaili Muslims. The majority of the Kalash tribe follow animism.
The best time to visit Chitral Valley is from May to October. Chitral winters can be extremely cold, with unpredictable weather. Summer days, on the other hand, are often very warm but the evenings bring with them an alluring breeze. Spring and autumn months are particularly beautiful here. In spring, the trees bloom and the air is full with the scents of apple, apricot and cherry blossoms. In autumn, the leaves fall from the trees and freshly grown fruits are ready to be devoured, including grapes, apples, peaches, pears, pomegranates and a whole array of nuts.
The Chitral district is in the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in the extreme north of Pakistan, along the border with Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan.
Yes, Chitral is safe for tourists. Pakistan has become more stable than it once was and many governments across the world, including the British government, have now issued safe travel advisories. Weather-wise, winter can present some harsh conditions on the roads to Chitral as the weather is unpredictable but the spring, summer and autumn seasons are perfect for visiting tourists.
You can reach Chitral by road from Islamabad, Peshawar and Gilgit or by air from Islamabad. Though the drives are significantly longer than the Pakistan International Airlines flight from Islamabad, the journey by land offers up an adrenaline-packed adventure and mesmerising views of northern Pakistan’s mountainous landscapes.
There’s a wide range of famous tourist places to visit in Chitral Valley. Chitral tourism boasts a lot of culturally historic gems, including Chitral Fort, the Shahi Masjid mosque, and the Chitral museum, where visitors can learn about the region’s history. There are also countless natural wonders to enjoy, like the famed Kalash valleys and their unique Kalash tribes, Trichmir, the highest mountain in the Hindu Kush range, and the Chitral Gol National Park.
The cost of staying in Chitral will vary depending on where you choose to stay and what activities you choose to do. Browse our hand-picked Chitral tour packages to get an idea in the area.
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Chitral is less frequented by tourists and the locals that live here are relatively unaffected by the western world, enjoying a simple way of life. Aside from the warm hospitality of charming locals, Chitral is blessed with one of the most beautiful landscapes in Pakistan.