In the knot of valleys that twist northwards to the Hindu Kush mountain range, Chitral is cultural anomaly. Unlike the regions further to the south, Chitral speaks Khowar, a local tongue related to Farsi. In the north of the valley, people are mostly Ismaili Muslims – a legacy perhaps of their proximity to Ismaili-dominated Gilgit-Baltistan. Towards the south of the valley lie the Kalasha people, an indigenous community of non-Muslims whose culture is said to be related to ancient Hinduism. All of this is watched over by the iconic Trich Mir, the highest point of the Hindu Kush Range at 7,708m. What this peak lacks in beauty and ranking (it’s “only” the 33rd highest mountain in the world), it makes up for in reputation – Tirich Mir is a kind of majestic feature of the entire region, visible from almost everywhere in the central valley.
Chitralis are at pains to distinguish themselves from the Pashto-speaking Pathans further south; no doubt an effort to distance their society from the perils of war and terrorism which have ravaged other parts of Khyber-Pukhtoonkhwa province. The dramatic Hindu Kush range forms a virtual wall separating this region from Afghanistan (although you’re never really far from the border); the arduous Lowari and Shandur Passes to the south and east provide the only real linkages to the rest of Pakistan. All of this means that only a steadily increasing trickle of tourists make their way to this landlocked cultural “island” every year.