The Kalash worship the many gods of Kafiristan like Balomain, the heroic demi-god of the Kalash whom the Choimus Festival celebrates. Balomain’s spirit is said to pass through the valley counting the people of the Kalash Valley and collecting their prayers returning them to Tsiam, the mythical land of the Kalash.
What Happens at the Choimus Festival?
Much dancing in giant circles around bonfires and chanting in mesmerizing repetitions – with just a drum beat accompanying the voices. The girls wear intricate costumes with dresses made of cowery shells, coins and beads with intricate hair braiding and head wear. The heavy headdress weighing several pounds is presented to the girl by her uncle. Other jewellery includes necklaces made from apricot kernels, a traditional gift during Choimus. Women often paint their faces with ink (replacing earlier customs of facial tattooing). Single woman are expected to find themselves a husband during these festivals.
Just before the main festival, seasonal foods are offered to the ancestral spirits and a kotik, light for the ancestors, is lit. After this ritual the food, considered impure, is offered to the elderly women to be eaten.
During the festival, purity is paramount and celibacy is enforced throughout the days of the event so all the people will be in pure mind when Balomain visit the valley. All the people must be cleansed in a ritual bathing the week before the festival begins. During the men’s purification ceremony, they must not sit down at all during the day and at night the blood of a sacrificed goat is sprinkled on their faces. Special bread is eaten cooked away from the main village which is prepared by men only during the purification ceremony. Other bread called jaou or choimus breadis prepared for the festival which is stuffed with crushed walnuts and goat’s cheese.
Special dance halls exist for the purpose of dancing at festivals. They are decorated with ornate carved wooden pillars and goat-like figurines. The music and dance is a performance of set songs: the Cha or clapping song is the simplest song with a lilting dance, sung by the elders, with an energetic round dance and the women cry like goats. The drajahilak songs are long and slow, sometimes one song can last up to 2 hours and it is a kind of solo and chorus using improvisation and variation techniques. The Dushak combines the styles of Cha and Drajahilak, presenting both traditional songs and new compositions.The dancing involves side stepping, fast and rhythmical.
During the festival prayers, a procession is made to a high plateau outside of the village in Balanguru where the long night of dancing begins. The festivals continues for many more day moving on to different locations within the valleys.
Where to see the Choimus Festival
Bumburante is the largest and most accessible place for a tourist to view the festivities, and there are several Muslim run hotels in the town.
Day 01: Islamabad
Arrival at the airport in Islamabad, our guide and driver will meet you here, after meeting with our staff transfer to the hotel
Day 02: Islamabad – Chitral
Departure for Chitral via Lawari Pass (3118m), our today’s journey will be 10 hours’ drive, today we will cross some small cites and pasthon villages like Lower Dir, upper Dir etc, arrive in Chitral and transfer to the hotel
Day 03: Chitral – Bumburat (Kalash)
Departure for Kalash valley, the 3 hours’ drive to Kalash village will be through the most interesting narrow jeep track, arrive and transfer to the hotel
Day 04: Bumburat/Rumbor (Kalash)
Enjoy the Uchal festival in Bumburat and Rumbor village in Kalash valley
Day 05: Bumburat/Rumbor (Kalash)
Another day to enjoy the Uchal festival in Bumburat and Rumbor village in Kalash valley, in the evening drive to Chitral town.
Day 06: Chitral – Islamabad
Drive back to Islamabad, arrive and transfer to the hotel
Day 07: Fly to destination
Explore the twin city and in the evening drive to the airport and fly to destination