The region contains a warm-summer humid continental climate during the middle of the year, while its winters are cold with heavy snowfall and deadly, crisp, mind-numbing cold spells.
Overview - Chitral Travel Guide
Chitral is a district located in the north-western region of Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan to the north and west, Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan to the east, and Punjab and Balochistan to the south. Its capital city is also known as Chitral, which was once the capital of Chitral Princely State – a state in alliance with the British India, before it was incorporated into West Pakistan on August 14, 1947, when Pakistan came into existence. Chitral is famous for its stunning natural beauty, including the Hindu Kush mountain range that glorifies the mountainous northern district, and the Chitral River, which flows in stunning emerald hues through the valley. This river is also sometimes known as the Kunar River.
The city Chitral lies at about 4,900 feet above sea level, which equals to 1,490 meters. It is known for its strategic location as it lies at the crossroads of several ancient trade routes.
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Chitral offers a range of accommodation options for tourists, including hotels, guesthouses, and campsites. The better hotels in Chitral offer comfortable rooms and modern amenities, while the guesthouses are meant more for budget travelers. Some of the most popular hotels include Villa Ayun, Terich Mir Hotel, and Pamir Riverside Inn.
Ethnicities & Culture
Chitral is also now home to a diverse mix of ethnic groups, including Kho, Kalash, and Gujjar communities. Each of these communities has its own unique culture, traditions, and customs.
The Kalash community is one of the most well-known communities in Chitral and is known for its colorful dresses, unique festivals, and rich folklore. The Kho people are another important ethnic group in Chitral, known for their hospitality and traditional way of life. They have their own language and are skilled in traditional crafts such as weaving, embroidery, and woodcarving. The Gujjar community is a nomadic community that moves with their herds of cattle from one place to another. They are known for their expertise in dairy farming and cheese-making.
The region contains a warm-summer humid continental climate during the middle of the year, while its winters are cold with heavy snowfall and deadly, crisp, mind-numbing cold spells. Avalanches and landslides are common in the winters due to snow and rain on narrow, rough roads acting as two-lane passes, but technically wide enough to let one vehicle pass only. The best time to visit Chitral is in the spring or autumn season to witness magnificent, colorful displays of nature.
Wheat, barley, corn (maize), and rice are commonly grown and cultivated in the area, and walnuts, grapes, apricots, and mulberries are also easily found here. Chiral offers a unique cuisine reflecting the district’s cultural diversity. Popular local dishes include Chapli Kebab made from minced meat and ghalmandi, which is a spicy chicken curry.
Location & Commute
Chitral is located approximately 400 kilometers from the main city of Islamabad. The district is easily accessible by air and by road. The Chitral airport is located in the city center and offers daily flights to Islamabad and Peshawar, subject to weather conditions, whereas the road journey from Islamabad to Chitral takes around 10 hours via the Lowari Pass and offers stunning views of the mountains and valleys along the way. Local buses are also commonly available, like the Hindukush Express, which dedicatedly offer rides from Islamabad to Chitral.
Chitral’s terrain is dominated by vast mountain ranges, boasting stunning snowy peaks, tall green trees, and plains surrounded by hills. Most of the district is home to the Hindukush Mountain range, which is divided by the Chitral River into two sub-ranges: the northern Hindukush and the Hindu Raj. Tirich Mir, the 33rd highest mountain peak in the world, is part of the northern Hindukush and can be seen from Chitral city.
Chitral, being an old region, carries a lot of interesting history that dates back to ancient times.
The region was ruled by several different empires over the centuries, including the Maurya Empire, the Kushan Empire, and the Mughal Empire. In the 19th century, Chitral became an independent kingdom, with its own ruler known as the Mehtar. The Mehtars ruled Chitral until the region was occupied by the British in 1895.
During the British period, Chitral was administered as a princely state, with the Mehtar as its nominal ruler. The region remained under British rule until Pakistan gained independence in 1947, after which Chitral became a part of Pakistan.
Read on further to know more about Chitral’s popular tourist destinations in Chitral and if you are interested in joining the next group tour to Chitral, contact us here!
Popular Places to Visit in Chitral
Chitral is home to a number of historical sites and landmarks, including the Chitral Fort and the Gol National Park. The region’s natural beauty continues to attract tourists from around the world, making it an important part of Pakistan’s tourism industry.
Chitral Fort (Shahi Qila)
Chitral Fort, which was built in the 14th century and has since been restored and converted into a museum. It is located on the banks of the Chitral River and offers stunning views of the valley. The Chitral Fort is believed to have been built in 1774, where the museum houses several artifacts from the Mehtar period, including weapons, manuscripts, and furniture.
It is now declared as the personal property of the last ruler of Chitral and is occupied by the current ceremonial Mehtar of Chitral, Fateh-ul-Mulk Ali Nasir.
Gol National Park
The Chitral Gol National Park is one of the largest national parks in northern Pakistan, with an area spread across 7,750 hectares at an elevation of 4,000-5,000 meters above sea level. The road to the Gol National Park from Chitral city is long and narrow, with dangerous drops on one side and steep hairpin bends along the way. However dangerous, the route is beautiful with open views of the valley from an elevated vantage point, surrounded by the towering Hindukush.
The journey to the park is done on a 4×4 transmission jeep due to off-roading necessities and takes around 2 hours to get to the top from the main city.
The Chitral Gol National Park offers some of the most stunning views in the region, including a glimpse of the mighty Tirich Mir peak, which is the highest peak of the Hindukush range at 7,708 meters. It is also the habitat of many species of wild flora and fauna including wild cedar trees. The Siberian Ibex, Markhor, snow leopards, wolves, and other goats seek refuge here.
One of the most popular tourist sites in Chitral is the Kalash Valley, which is home to the unique Kalash community. The Kalash people have their own language, culture, and traditions that are different from the rest of Pakistan. They celebrate several festivals throughout the year, including the Chilam Joshi festival, which marks the arrival of spring.
Kalash has a unique culture, religion, dressing, food, and way of living which is the most interesting experience for tourists in the region. The Kalash region is divided into three valleys: Bamburat, Birir, and Rumbur.
To know more about this indigenous tribe, check out the Kalash destination guide here.
The Shandur Pass is located at an altitude of 3,734 meters or 12,200 feet above sea level and is an old and historic crossing point between Chitral and Ghizer. The pass is famous for the annual Shandur Polo Festival, which is held in July every year for three days at the highest pinnacle of Shandur where the pass becomes almost flat, like the roof of the world. The festival attracts tourists from all over the world who come to witness the exciting polo matches between the teams from Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan.
The Shandur top can only be crossed between late April and early November, after which the area gets snowed in. Its accessibility is often hindered by harsh weather and the lack of a road network in its remoteness.
The Garam Chashma (hot springs) are located in the Garam Chashma valley in Chitral, which is known for its scenic beauty. The hot springs bubbling in the Lotkoh River are believed to have healing properties and are a popular spot for tourists who come here to relax and rejuvenate.
The spring water here emerges from underground sulfur deposits, which brings the water’s temperature to rise above the boiling point.
Garam Chashma is located in the northwest of Chitral city at a distance of about 48 kilometers by road on a jeep.
Ayun is a town famous for attracting tourists in Chitral for its mesmerizing beauty and mountain views. Located 12 kilometers south of Chitral city, Ayun Valley stands at the confluence of the Chitral River and Bumburet River and is the gateway to the Kalash Valley from Chitral city. The water from the Bumburet River is used to generate electricity for the residents of Ayun, and for irrigation and drinking.
Written by: Hira Sami
The architectural beauty of Chitral, the Shahi Masjid was built by the previous Mehtar of Chitral, Shuja ul Mulk in 1924 A.D. Shuja ul Mulk was the Mehtar of Chitral from 1895 to 1936, who ordered the Shahi Mosque to be built with pure white marble with engravings embedded, representing the Chitrali aristocracy.
Some things to remember
- Chitral is part of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan and is close to the border of Afghanistan. For this purpose, security needs to be a priority for all tourists, especially foreign visitors.
- Chitral was under siege by the Taliban militants for a number of years in the past and is still recovering from the aftereffects of the hit its tourism industry had taken due to the militancy in the region. The area, however, is clear of all threats now and is safe to travel to.
- Due to the impact of the militancy, many Chitralis are still not quite used to seeing tourists and visitors from the urban city centers, and hence, might unknowingly ogle a bit at the tourists. It is, for the most part, harmless.
- The residents of the region are conservative and you will find very few local women roaming about the streets. It is advised to keep your attire modest and respectfully in line with the local culture during your visit.
- Most cellphone networks are available in the main city. However, the signals will fall short once you travel to the destinations mentioned above.
- Do not forget to try the Chapli kebabs if you can stomach minced beef fried in cow or lamb fat – they are heavenly!
In conclusion, Chitral is one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the north of Pakistan. It has a lot to offer, a lot of which has not been listed above. The district, being at the foot of the Hindukush Range, is a wondrous blessing for mountain lovers, and the terrains around it are perfect for hikers and trekkers. With its breathtaking landscapes and historical heritage, Chitral is easily a must-visit destination in Pakistan for anyone planning to visit the country soon.
Written by: Hira Sami