Winter-sleep in Chitral?

Submitted by Saifullah on Wed, 2008-07-09 13:43.

Yes, winter in Chitral is yet another story! I think it is worth giving it a closer look.

Winter can last upto six or even seven months, of which four or five mean total closure from the rest of the world. Chitral is a valley enclosed between several high mountain ranges, and the two passes leading to it are covered with snow that is impossible to clean away. After the first heavy snowfall we can forget about leaving Chitral, or getting fresh new supplies. Of course, there are ways of escaping but these remain an adventure.

On the one side, there is a flight, operating only when the sky is deep blue, and the winds are favorable. If you want to take that small plane,be sure to reserve months in advance:the waiting list is long and increases day by day!For most of the Chitralis this flight is out of question: too expensive.

The other possibility is the road through Afghanistan. This is the alternative for those who like risks and are not scared by rough treatment. It is a long and very tiring journey, humiliating at times. But most of the men in Chitral think of leaving before it is too late.

From October people start going south: poor men will go alone, well-off ones will take their families along. Why leaving you will ask? Well, to earn a few rupies of course. Those men will return in spring when the field works are starting again.

And also because the harsh weather is not a source of pleasures... The schools also shut their doors for two and half months. So, those who end up trapped in Chitral after the first snow will oftenly chose to stay there. And...


Winter, we start thinking of it at the end of spring. During the summer months some villagers move with cows, sheep and goats towards the high pastures in order to get the animals to graze fresh vegetation. While these are preoccupied with filling their stomachs the owners don't lose a moment: they gather wood, tall grasses and other greens, aimed at supplying their own store rooms. The heavy-loaded villager descending from the heights is a common sight from June onwards. This navetting will end only when the fierce weather will compell everyone home.

Women will start drying their seasonal fruits and vegetables on their roofs; these dried items will be served proudly in the dark times to come. Usually home harvested wheat is enough for the whole year: packed in huge metal boxes it keeps fresh for months. Beside this, thousand trucks are being seen riding to all parts of Chitral to fill the "godams", the government store rooms: wheat has to be sold at the same price in all parts of the country. Rice is another matter: that has to be purchased beforehand, and the price never stops increasing.

 Traffic jam caused by the numerous wheat trucks invading Chitral in autumn

The preparation for winter does not limit itself to the farmers; the shopkeepers busy themselves in a similar manner. According to the money they have they will fill their store rooms too. Winter for them is a wonderful opportunity to increase their income, or at least not to lose anything. As days are passing and resources are becoming scarce, they will sell their treasures at a high price. Only people in need will succomb!

And...what happens when winter is there?

Well, trying to keep warm is a demanding business in itself. But even more when it has to be parcimonious. It is out of question to make huge warming fires that would consume all the wood in one week! Using gas or electricity heaters is not viable either. Even if you could afford them, these wouldn't be that reliable. Gas becomes near to impossible to get in the middle of winter (cilinders are being brought by road from down country), and electricity lines will be destroyed with the first snow fall...If the damages are serious, it is often possible not to see our lamps burn for months... So wood is the main occupation for the men, who have to chop them and guard against overuse. Yes, light is yet another issue. Candles,kerosene lanterns, home made oil lamps and gas-lights are usually in use. But useless to say: nights are long ...


The traditional Chitrali home in winter is composed of one room only: the kitchen. But it is also a bedroom and a guestroom. The inhabitants gather around a low table under which red coals are giving off their heat. The whole is covered with blankets, and everybody disappears under this source of warmth. It is usually quite pleasant to sit there and chat carelessly while outside cold is raging. The problem is to leave that place!

When the sun shines everyone rushes outside: women gather up and busy themselves with handicrafts, while men chose for card games, or the famous board game! Gossips go around at a good pace, and one can be quite surprised at his return in spring to hear the whole of Chitral speaking about the same topic. If that topic happens to be related to you... it could be quite disagreable...

Food? Well winter is definitely not the time of enjoying good and filling meals. The usual black salty tea, with a piece of bread will be the norm for most. Sometimes a family will consider slaughtering an animal, a thin goat or sheep, which will be divided among 30 or 40 people, depending on the size of the family, and neighbours of course dropping in innocently at that time.

If snow has come another common worry will be shared among the villagers: clearing the roofs of their mud houses. And repair. And filling gaps. And strengthening walls. And digging chanels to allow melt water to flow away... Works are plenty.

Surely with a deep sigh of relief we welcome spring. But if you want to enjoy beautiful sceneries covered in white, and desire to taste a winter in the mountains, we are ready to swap places for some months!

Compare this scenery with the one on top of the page of Kosht in the snow.

Compare this scenery with the one on top of the page of Kosht in the snow.

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