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Chitral, a district of the KPK province in Pakistan, to the indigenous people is Chetrar while in ancient times it was called Qashqar or Kashqar.
Historians, anthropologists, authors, travelogue writers and others have described Chitral as the most romantic, captivating and enchanting place tugged into the mighty Hindukush mountains in the extreme north-west of Pakistan with the indigenous Khowar-speaking people proud of their centuries-old unique culture and traditions.
Chitral is bordered in the east with Gilgit-Baltistan, south-east Swat valley, north and north-east by China and the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan, and in the west by the Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan. In the south of Chitral is situated the Upper Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkha province.
When one enters Chitral through any of the two main routes – Lowari Pass or Lowari Tunnel and Shandur Psss – the landscape inspires the visitor. Chitral is gifted with extremely mysterious and steep harsh mountains, lush green valleys, beautiful meadows and huge glaciers. Chitral is divided into small valleys numbering about 35. The most important and worth seeing of these sub-valleys are the Kalash valleys, Garam Chashma, Shishi Koh, Mastuj, Laspur, Yarkhun, Tor Khow and Mor Khow. The highest peak in this range of the Hindukush is Terichmir, which lies at a height of 25,263 feet, just 36 miles away in the north-east of Chitral town. It is also called the palace of fairies. No mountain in the region is less than 4,000 feet and over 40 peaks have an altitude of 20,000 feet.
Chitral lies at an elevation of 4,900 feet from the sea level. The total area of Chitral is 14,850 square kilometers and this area is situated between 35 & 37 N latitude and 71 & 22 and 74 E longitude.
In 1998, the population of Chitral was 318,689, and according to latest estimate it has crossed the mark of 500,000 now (2014).
The weather of Chitral is extremely harsh and cold in the winter and pleasant in the summer. The best season to visit the valley is from May to September. Temperatures in summer range between 25 and 40 degrees Celsius while in the winters it plunge below minus.
There are a number of famous places in Chitral such as Drosh, Ayun, Madaklasht, Arandu, Birir, Rumbur and Bumburate; Garam Chashma, Reshun, Booni. The Kalash valleys are the repository of one of the unique cultures and mysterious histories of the world. This culture is certainly the residuary of the pre-historic age.
For the last about two decades, Shandur, the world’s highest polo ground, has become famous all around the world for the annual polo festival. Shandur is located on the mountainous area between Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan and its is about 100 kilometres from Chitral town and 40 kilometres from Mastuj in Upper Chitral.
The people of Chitral are called Khow who have a great ethnic diversity. In the past, till the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Chitral used to be an independent princely state. When Pakistan came into being, the state of Chitral was the first to declare accession to the new country. In the year 1969, Chitral was merged into the Malakand division of the then NWFP as a settled district. Chitral lies at the junction of old Chinese Empire, Indian Empire, the ex-Russian Empire and the former Afghan kingdom. It caught the eyes of the British Empire when after feeling the sense of Russian danger, the British government of India sought new friends in mountainous range and the tribal belt. Then Major John Bidulph visited the country in 1876 and reported to the government of India about the utility of Chitral. So friendship between the British and Chitral started which resulted in the famous Chitral incident of 1895.
From ancient times, Chitral was an important point on the trade routes from northern Afghanistan (ancient Bactria) and the Tarim Basin to the plains of Gandhara (in northern Pakistan), and the region near Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan. Chitral nevertheless remained an independent state for centuries with its own culture and language. In the late nineteenth century it became part of British India. It was a princely state in 1947, which acceded to Pakistan in that year. The rule of the Mehtar came to an end in 1954 and power was henceforth exercised by the political agent posted at Chitral. The state was merged into Pakistan in July 1969. The recorded history of Chitral is divided into six epochs as follows:
The Achemeanian Empire of Persia was extended to these regions during 400 BC. Its more than two thousand years since this empire receded but its supremacy was so strongly established that many Persian cultural traits are still in practice in Northern Areas as well as few parts of Chitral. In some valleys surrounding Chitral such as Wakhan, Shaghnan, and upper parts of Chitral people speak Persian language. Even Khowar, which is the native language of the local people (Khow), contains much borrowing from Persian.
Zoroastrianism, an Old Persian religion, has also left behind some of its traces in this area. Traditions also tell about leaving of dead bodies unburied in caves in the wilderness or in the hollow of trees. Such practices were specific in this religion. A festival on 21st March (Nouroz) the first day in Persian calendar still prevails in Chitral. It is celebrated in few valleys every year. (Israr, Chitral a historical sketch).
The Kushan dynasty established its rule in this area in 200 AD. In the second century Kanishka the most powerful emperor of Kushan dynasty had extended his rule all over Northern India, probably as far as south Vindyas and all over the remote region up to Khotan beyond the Pamir pass.
The Chinese extended their influence in the 4th century AD and remained in power until the 8th century. The rock inscription of Pakhtoridini near Maroi refers to Chinese rule. Another inscription in Barenis refers to the Kushans. According to Sir Aurel Stien, the inscription says that Jivarman ordered to make the pertinent drawing of a stupa. Such rock carvings have created confusion for writers like Buddulph and many others to believe that Chitral formed part of the last Hindu Shahi ruler of Kabul. It’s also believed that the northern parts had embraced Islam by the end of 9th century when Arabs defeated Bahman, chief of the country. By the time of withdrawal of Arabs many people had accepted Islam. (Souvenir, 2nd Hindukush Cultural Conference, p.19-21)
In the 11th century AD southern Chitral was invaded by the Kalash from Afghanistan, who occupied the country as far to the North as Barenis village, while the upper parts were under another chief Sumalik. Some Kalash chiefs such as Nagar Shah and Bala Sing ruled southern Chitral from 11th to 13th centuries A.D.
In the beginning of 11th century Shah Nadir Rais occupied southern Chitral and defeated the Kalash. Shah Nadir Rais extended his dominion from Gilgit to the present southern boundaries of Chitral. Rais family ruled over Chitral for about three hundred years when
Katura family succeeded them.
During the Rais rule in Chitral its boundaries extended from Narsut in the extreme south of the state to Gilgit in the east. The rulers had an effective council of chiefs of the local tribes to run the affairs of the country. The ruler of this family also worked for the dissemination of the teachings of Islam in the state.
There were no regular state forces to defend the state frontiers so the local headmen and chiefs called all the persons of their tribes to fight for the state under the collective defense system. The Mehtar (ruler) had friendly relations with the rulers of surrounding countries. (Baig, Hindu Kush study series vol. two)
The Katur succeeded the Rais dynasty in 1595. Muhtaram Shah I was the founder of Kature rule in Chitral, whose descendants ruled over Chitral until 1969 when the State was merged as a district of NWFP.
During the rule of Amirul Mulk in 1895, Umra Khan the chief of Jandool crossed the Lawari pass and invaded lower Chitral. As a result, there was fierce fighting in which the Mehtar of Chitral and British officers were besieged in Chitral fort for 42 days. Troops from Gilgit and Nowshera came to the rescue of the besieged fort and the British rule was extended over entire Chitral in April 1895. Shuja ul Mulk emerged as the ruler after the war who ruled for 42 years until 1936.
During the Pakistan movement there was a campaign in Chitral in favor of independence. The people backed All India Muslim League with the then Mehtar Muzafarul Mulk also openly backing the Pakistan movement. In May 1947, Muzafarul Mulk informed the Viceroy about his intention to join the new state of Pakistan. The accession instrument was signed on November 7, 1947.