‘In a zoo’: Pakistan’s Kalash battle tourism deluge

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In a remote valley in Pakistan dozens of Kalash minority women dance to celebrate spring’s arrival. (AFP)
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The community warns an influx of domestic tourists is threatening their unique traditions. (AFP)
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Kalash women celebrate ‘Joshi’, a festival to welcome the arrival of spring. (AFP)
Updated 10 June 2019

‘In a zoo’: Pakistan’s Kalash battle tourism deluge

  • Every year the Kalash greet the new season with animal sacrifices, baptisms, and weddings at a festival known as “Joshi”
  • As celebrations kick off, tourists with phones jostle to get close to Kalash women

BUMBURATE, Pakistan: In a remote valley in Pakistan dozens of Kalash minority women dance to celebrate spring’s arrival — but as a gaggle of men scramble to catch them on camera, the community warns an influx of domestic tourists is threatening their unique traditions.
Every year the Kalash — a group of less than 4,000 people confined to a handful of villages in the north — greet the new season with animal sacrifices, baptisms, and weddings at a festival known as “Joshi.”
As celebrations kick off, tourists with phones jostle to get close to Kalash women, whose vibrant clothing and headdresses contrast starkly with the more modest attire worn by many in the conservative Islamic republic.
“Some people are using their cameras as if they were in a zoo,” said local tourist guide Iqbal Shah.

Known for their pale skin and light-colored eyes, the Kalash have long claimed ancestral links to Alexander the Great’s army — who conquered the region in the fourth century BC.
They worship many gods, drinking alcohol is a tradition and marriages of choice are the norm — unlike in the rest of Pakistan where unions are often arranged.
However, the community is far from a liberal beacon. Members of the community often wed in their teens, with women poorly educated and expected to perform traditional roles in the home.
Stories about the Kalash are nonetheless frequently fabricated, and this has been amplified in recent years by the proliferation of smartphones and social media.

One video viewed 1.3 million times on YouTube, proclaims the Kalash “openly have sex” with partners of their choosing “in the presence of their husbands.”
Another calls them “beautiful infidels,” saying “anyone can go and marry any girl there.”
“How could that be true?” asks Luke Rehmat, a Kalash journalist.
“People are systematically trying to defame the community. They are fabricating stories... when a tourist comes with such a mindset, he will try to experience [it].”
In the main Kalash village of Bumburate a hotel manager estimates that about 70 percent of Pakistani tourists visiting his establishment are young men, who often inquire about where to “find girls.”
According to tourists who spoke to AFP — most of whom were men traveling in groups — their primary interest in exploring the Kalash Valley was to learn about a new culture.
“We want to be part of this festival but it doesn’t mean that we want to mix up with girls,” says tourist Sikander Nawaz Khan Niazi from Lahore.
But friction has been increasing in recent years.
In Bumburate, posters now call on visitors to seek permission from villagers before photographing and signs warn tourists not to harass women.
“If they don’t respect us, we don’t need tourists,” says Yasir Kalash, the vice president of the local hotel association.
“If they respect... our culture and traditions, we must welcome [them].”
Regulating tourism is a cumbersome but vital task for the Kalash, with money from the industry increasingly providing an important source of revenue for the community.
The Kalash — who once inhabited a vast territory stretching from the Himalayas in Kashmir to northern Afghanistan — are now one of the smallest religious minorities in Pakistan, according to Akram Hussain, the director of a local museum.
A recent survey put their number at just 3,872, living in three remote valleys.
“We are going to die if we are not supported,” says Hussain.
Kalash traditions, Hussain argues, can be expensive. Weddings and funerals require families to kill dozens of animals for the festivities, driving them into debt, forcing them to sell off land and leave their ancestral homes.
Cases of forced conversions to Islam of Kalash women have also been reported, while the increase in tourism has pushed some in the community to shun traditions like Joshi, according to several residents who spoke to AFP.
Others have begun wearing veils to hide their faces from the prying eyes of outsiders.
“We don’t wear veils as it is not our custom, but some wear them because people take pictures of them from all sides and it makes them feel ashamed,” says Musarrat Ali, a high school student.
The ongoing erosion of the culture at the hands of outside forces is tragic, says Sayed Gul, an archaeologist from Bumburate.
“They don’t want to participate just because of these cameras and this insensitivity,” says Gul.
“If these things are continuously happening ... maybe in a few years, there are only tourists, there are no more Kalashis to participate and dance in the festivals.”


World’s shortest man dies in Nepal at 27

In this file photo taken on September 24, 2010 Nepalese teenager Khagendra Thapa Magar poses for a picture with Miss Nepal Sadichha Shrestha (C) and first runner-up Sahana Bajracharya (R) and second runner-up Samyukta Timilsina (L) in Kathmandu. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2020

World’s shortest man dies in Nepal at 27

  • Magar became an official face of Nepal’s tourism campaign, which featured him as the smallest man in a country that is home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest

KATMANDU: The world’s shortest man who could walk, as verified by Guinness World Records, died Friday at a hospital in Nepal, his family said.
Khagendra Thapa Magar, who measured 67.08 centimeters (2 feet 2.41 inches), died of pneumonia at a hospital in Pokhara, 200 kilometers from Katmandu, where he lived with his parents.
“He has been in and out of hospital because of pneumonia. But this time his heart was also affected. He passed away today,” Mahesh Thapa Magar, his brother, told AFP.
Magar was first declared the world’s shortest man in 2010 after his 18th birthday, photographed holding a certificate only a bit smaller than him.
However he eventually lost the title after Nepal’s Chandra Bahadur Dangi, who measured 54.6 centimeters, was discovered and named the world’s shortest mobile man.
Magar regained the title after Dangi’s death in 2015.
“He was so tiny when he was born that he could fit in the palm of your hand, and it was very hard to bathe him because he was so small,” said his father, Roop Bahadur, according to Guinness World Records.
As the world’s shortest man the 27-year-old traveled to more than a dozen countries and made television appearances in Europe and the United States.
“We’re terribly sad to hear the news from Nepal that Khagendra is no longer with us,” said Craig Glenday, Guinness World Records editor-in-chief.
“Life can be challenging when you weigh just 6 kilograms and you don’t fit into a world built for the average person. But Khagendra certainly didn’t let his small size stop him from getting the most out of life” he said.
Magar became an official face of Nepal’s tourism campaign, which featured him as the smallest man in a country that is home to the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest.
During his stint he met other short people around the world, including the shortest woman, Jyoti Amge, from India.
In a video released by Guinness World Records, Magar is seen playing a guitar with his brother, riding a bike and sitting at his family’s shop.
The world’s shortest non-mobile man remains Junrey Balawing of the Philippines, who measures only 59.93 centimeters but is unable to walk or stand unaided, according to Guinness World Records.
The record for shortest living mobile man is now retained by Edward “Nino” Hernandez of Colombia, a reggaeton DJ who stands 70.21 centimeters tall, Guinness said.