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.
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.
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 from 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 and 71 22 and 74 E. In 1998, tyhe population of Chitral was 318,689, and according to latest estimate, it has reached the mark of 500,000. A good majority of the people of Chitral remain out of the valley, mostly in big cities of Pakistan and abroad.
WEATHER: The weather in Chitral is extremely harsh and cold in winter and pleasant in the summer. The best season to visit the valley is from May to September. Temperatures in summer range between 25 to 40 degrees Celsius while in the winters it plunge below minus.
FAMOUS PLACES: There are certain famous places and valleys in Chitral like Garam Chashma valley, Booni, Golen valley, Yarkhun valley, Madaklasht valley, Arandu, Birir, Rumbur and Bumburate. The latter three valleys are the Kalash valleys which 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. To the local people it is Chetrar, while for the ancient people and others it is Qashqar or Kashqar. 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.
PEOPLE: 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.
HISTORY: 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 has 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 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 Rojawai, 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 and Mehtar Muzafarul Mulk openly declared his backing to the Pakistan movement. In May 1947 H.H. Muzafarul Mulk informed the Viceroy about his intention to join the new state of Pakistan. The accession instrument was signed on November 7, 1947.
The ruling family of Chitral traces its decent from Baba Ayub, a disciple of the saint Kamal Shah Shamsuddin Tabrizi, who settled in the village of Lon and Gokher. According to family tradition, Ayub was a son of Fareidun Hussein, tenth son of Shah Abu’l Ghazi Sultan Husain Baiqara Bahadur Khan, Padshah of Khorasan. However, Persian, Central Asian or Mughal sources are silent on such a connection. Baba Ayub is said to have arrived in Chitral from Khorasan, married the daughter of the ruler, a supposed descendant of Alexander the Great. The grandson of this marriage founded the present dynasty. Accordingly, the family actually owes their fortunes to Sangan Ali, sometimes Minister to Shah Rais, ruler of Chitral during the sixteenth century. His sons seized power following his death in 1570, establishing a new ruling dynasty over the state.
The period between Sangan ‘Ali’s accession to power and modern times is clouded by fratricidal warfare, contests for power with the former Raisiya dynasty, the Kushwaqte family and endless disputes with neighbouring rulers. So much so that it is nearly impossible to date the reigns or lives of many of the rulers. Only during the middle of the nineteenth century, when permanent Dogra rule was established in Kashmir, European travellers, administrators and scholars began to enter the area and take an interest in its history, and gradually the history of the country, its people, languages and culture, began to emerge from the mists of time. However, this task is far from complete and it will be many years before Chitral yields up all its mysteries and secrets.
Shah Afzal II, who ruled from the beginning of the nineteenth century until its middle, fought against the Afghans in support of his allies, the rulers of Badakhshan. He also fought against the Dogras and against his Kushwaqte kinsmen, but later switched sides and concluded treaty relations with the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir. Thereafter becoming a protectorate of Kashmir in return for an annual subsidy to pay for troops and the supervision of the Afghan border. Aman ul-Mulk, Afzal’s younger son, succeeded his brother in 1857. After a brief dispute with Kashmir, in which he laid siege to the garrison at Gilgit and briefly held the Puniyal valley, he accepted a new treaty with the Maharaja in 1877. After a relatively long reign, he died peacefully in 1892. Aman’s younger son, Afzal ul-Mulk, proclaimed himself ruler during the absence of his elder brother. He then proceeded to eliminate several of his brothers, potential contenders to his throne. This initiated a war of succession which lasted three years. Afzal ul-Mulk was killed by his uncle, Sher Afzal, the stormy petrel of Chitral and a long-time thorn in his father’s side. He held Chitral for under a month, then fled into Afghan territory. Nizam ul-Mulk, Afzal ul-Mulk’s eldest brother and the rightful heir, then succeeded in December of the same year.
At about that time, Chitral came under the British sphere of influence following the Durand Agreement, which delineated the border between Afghanistan and the Indian Empire. Nizam ul-Mulk’s possessions in Kafiristan and the Kunar Valley were recognised as Afghan territory and ceded to the Amir. Within a year, Nizam was himself murdered by yet another ambitious younger brother, Amir ul-Mulk. The approach of a strong military force composed of British and Kashmiri troops prompted Amir to flee with to his patron, the Khan of Jandul. The British had decided to support the interests of Shuja ul-Mulk, the youngest legitimate son of Aman ul-Mulk, and the only one untainted by the recent spate of murder and intrigue. After entering Chitral and installing the young Mehtar, British and Kashmiri forces endured the famous defence against a seven-week siege by Sher Afzal and the Khan of Jandul. The British then captured Sher Afzal and Amir ul-Mulk, deporting them both to Madras. Although Shuja ul-Mulk was now firmly established as ruler, the Kashmiris annexed Yasin, Kush, Ghizr and Ishkoman. Kashmiri suzerainty over Chitral ended in 1911, Chitral became a salute state in direct relations with the British.
Mastuj, also removed from the Mehtar’s jurisdiction in 1895, was restored to him within two years. Shuja reigned for forty-one years, during which Chitral enjoyed an unprecedented period of internal peace. He was probably the first ruler to journey outside Chitral, visiting various parts of India and meeting a number of fellow rulers. He supported the British during the Third Afghan War in 1919, during which four of his sons and the Chitral State Forces served in several actions guarding the border against invasion. Nasir ul-Mulk, succeeded his father in 1936. He was the first ruler of his line to receive a modern education, becoming a noted poet and scholar in his own right. He took a deep interest in military, political and diplomatic affairs, and spent much of his time on improving the administration.
Dying without a surviving male heir in 1943, his successor was his younger brother, Muzaffar ul-Mulk. Also a man with a military disposition, his reign witnessed the tumultuous events surrounding the transfer of power in 1947. His prompt action in sending in his own Body Guard to Gilgit was instrumental in securing the territory for Pakistan. The unexpected early death of Muzaffar ul-Mulk saw the succession pass to his relatively inexperienced eldest son, Saif ur-Rahman, in 1948. Due to certain tensions he was exiled from Chitral by the Government of Pakistan for six years. They appointed a board of administration composed of Chitrali and Pakistani officials to govern the state in his absence. He died tragically in a plane crash while returning to resume charge of Chitral in 1954.
Saif ul-Mulk succeeded his father at the tender age of four. He reigned under a Council of Regency for the next twelve years, during which Pakistani authority gradually increased over the state. Although installed as a constitutional ruler when he came of age in 1966, he did not enjoy his new status very long. Chitral was absorbed and fully integrated into the Republic of Pakistan by Prime Minister Bhutto in 1971. In order to reduce the popular Mehtar’s influence, he, like so many other princes in neighbouring India, was “invited” to represent his country abroad. He served in various diplomatic posts and retired from the service as Consul-General in Hong Kong in 1989.
TENURES OF MEHTARS: Mehtars of Chitral  1712 – 1745, Sangalli 1745 – Unknown date, Mohammad Beg Unknown date – 1775, Unknown ruler 1775 – 1790, Faramarz Shah of Yasin 1790 – 1795, Shah Afzal I1795 – 1798, Shah Fazal 1798 – Unknown date, Shah Khairullah Khuswaqte Unknown date – 1818, Mohtaram Shah II (1st time) 1818 – 1820s, Nawaz Khan 1820s – 1833, Aman ul-Mulk I 1833 – 1837, Mohtaram Shah II (2nd time) 1837 – 1853, Shah Afzal II 1853 – 1857, Mohtaram Shah III 1857 – 30th August 1892, Aman ul-Mulk II 30 August 1892 – 1 December 1892, Afzal ul-Mulk1 December 1892 – 12Â December 1892, Shir Afzal Khan 12 December 1892 – 1 January 1895, Nizam ul-Mulk1 January 1895 – 2 September 1895, Amir ul-Mulk 1 May 1895 – 13 October 1936, Shuja ul-Mulk 13 October 1936 – 29 June 1943, Mohammad Nasir ul-Mulk 29 June 1943 – 7 January 1949, Mohammad Muzaffar ul-Mulk 7 January 1949 – 14 October 1953, Saif ur-Rahman 14 October 1953 – 28 July 1969, Mohammad Saif ul-Mulk Nasir 28 July 1969 State of Chitral dissolved.