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Introducing Chilas

Most visitors are here to look at the petroglyphs or to cross the Babusar Pass. There are few other reasons to stop. Foreign women especially may feel unwelcome.

Even after Kashmiri-British rule was imposed a century ago, the Indus Valley west of Chilas was a hornet’s nest of tiny republics; there was one in almost every side valley, each loosely guided by a jirga (council of tribal elders) but effectively leaderless, all at war with one another and feuding internally. Though administratively lumped with Gilgit, Chilas and its neighbours are temperamentally more like Indus Kohistan, probably owing to a similarly hostile environment and the same Sunni Muslim orthodoxy (their ancestors were forcibly converted centuries ago by Pashtun crusaders, whereas hardly anyone north of Gilgit is Sunni).

The large Chilas Fort was first garrisoned to protect British supply lines over the Babusar Pass, and beefed up after local tribes nearly overran it in 1893. Now a police post, it has put a lid on Chilas, though not on the Darel and Tangir Valleys to the west.

Chilasis are Shina speakers, with some Pashtun settlers speaking Pashto. Urdu and some English are also spoken.