Pakistan: gypsies, panthers and kalashnikovs

May 16, 2020    Joan Riera

Pakistan is a country of extremes and Last Places likes that. We don't like simple destinations and Pakistan is full of difficulties. We could say that it is a very African Asia ... Nomadic gypsy tribes move freely through the Punjab, in the forests of Chitral the last snow panthers prowl, and the border with Afghanistan is a slob territory ... There the State does not exist and the law is governed by tribal leaders and their kalashnikovs.

This Asian Far West is explored from Peshawar, an ancient city that is part of the traveler's imagination. The Taliban put it on the map as a dangerous place, territory of burkas and medieval laws. And yes, it is the closest thing to untamed Afghanistan outside of Afghanistan. The hotels are still armored and there is a tense calm in the bustling streets of the center. It is precisely that flavor, that anything can happen, that attracts us like an impenetrable forest - you know how to enter but not how to exit.

Continuing to search for the last places with an ethnographic and natural flavor, the Last Places team decided to explore the remote north of Pakistan. The country has been closed to the world for decades and this has allowed some mountain tribes to continue living on the margins of the dominant society. Two of the most fascinating peoples in the Himalayas region are the Kalash and Brokpa. The first ones inhabit the mountain valleys between Chitral and the Afghan border. They are considered the descendants of Alexander the Great for their Caucasian features, white complexion, and blue eyes. They practice an Animistic religion and worship wild mountain animals like the mouflon.

On the other side of the country, close to the Indian border, two thousand Brokpa live. They speak a language similar to Kalash but most have converted to Islam under pressure from the local government. While access to Kalash villages is relatively easy in jeep accompanied by an armed police officer, Brokpa territory remains a prohibited area. It is for this reason that Last Places has started operating in Chechethang, a mountainous region in Pakistani Kashmir where the last Brokpa people without contact with the outer world live.

Photos by:
Iván Faure
Yamuna Flaherty