||Mountains line each side of the Chitral Valley © D. Tresilian
Chitral borders the Kalash Valleys of Birir, Bumburet and Rumbur, full of dense vegetation and giant walnut and fruit trees draped in vines overhanging fast-flowing streams, and home to the Kalash people, often said to be descended from the legions of Alexander the Great.
The Kalashas’ distinctive culture and beliefs, together with their fair hair and blue eyes, differentiates them from communities in neighbouring Chitral, rendering them mysterious to generations of visitors and travellers. While some 2,500 to 3,000 foreign tourists visit the Northern Pakistan mountainous region of Chitral and the Kalash Valleys annually, this number could be considerably increased and the benefits of tourism better distributed among local communities, where poverty remains a significant problem.
The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme, UNESCO’s partner in Pakistan together with the Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism (CAMAT), has many years experience working in the region, particularly on poverty alleviation and reducing rural-urban migration and the break-up of mountain communities. The UNESCO / Aga Khan Project is furthering the work of the Aga Khan Programme in the region, identifying areas and activities for tourism, training local guides and cooks and setting up community-run guesthouses, as well as promoting the area on the Web and through brochures.
A major component of the project is strengthening the Chitral Association for Mountain Area Tourism, allowing it to fulfil its potential as an information centre both for community groups wanting to set up tourist activities and for tourists themselves. A Code of Best Practices for tourism development is being drawn up, serving as a reference tool for future activities.