In search of an elusive creature
How a cryptozoologist from Spain spent his time trying to locate the mythical Barmanou in the north-western region of Pakistan
A few years ago, I received a mail from a friend with interest in cryptozoology, asking me to accompany him to the Northern areas in search of Barmanu, a mythical creature since I had recently written about another one. Despite many promises, I could not bring myself to go.
In December 2013, I got a chance to visit Bhamborate valley along with Shoaib Jadoon, the dynamic Deputy Commissioner of Chitral, with a view to meet the Kalash people and look into their problems, finding a solution to improve the flow of tourists in the region.
The people of Kafiristan excited the curiosity of a young cavalry officer Captain Robertson during the Second Afghan War (1879-80). He met them again at Chitral in 1888 when he visited this mountainous region with Colonel Algernon Durand. He wrote in his memoirs, The Making of a Frontier “a fine representative set of savages who had come to escort him [Robertson] into Kafirstan.”
Determined to unravel the mystery of this strange race, Captain Robertson (later Sir Geroge Scott Robertson) visited the Kalash valleys in 1889, not as an emissary of the Raj but as a doctor in order to tone down the hideous jealousies amongst the Kafirs which were raised on seeing English presents laid down in Mehter’s court in Chitral. Robertson recorded his observations in his book The Kafirs of the Hindukush regarding all aspects of the Kafir’s life, history, origin, culture, customs, tribal feuds, and religious ceremonies at a time when the amalgamation of these people with the dominant Muslim neighbours was minimal.
However his book did pick up a controversy regarding the origin of this race from Alexander’s lost legion to Xerxes banishing Greek slaves to Bactria, the remote eastern end of the Persian Empire, after the sacking of Athens around 490 BC.
More than a century after Robertson’s first visit to Kalash, I found the “murderous savages” of Kafiristan extremely poor, docile yet friendly and tolerant towards tourists on whose influx depends much of their local economy.
That day in Bhamborate valley, I visited among other places the multipurpose Kalash Museum set up with aid from the Greek government in 2004, a wonderful job in preserving a fast-fading culture. A part of the museum building is also used as a school for the Kalash children and is run by the local community.
I was then guided by Shoaib Jadoon to the burial ground of the Kafirs, the Shenitan according to Robertson “where the tribal dead repose in huge coffin-boxes placed in the hillside — near but not too close for such places are impure for the higher ecclesiastics of the Kaffir faith.”
Weather-worn coffins of the dead were haphazardly placed, many of them broken due to vandalism while others were falling to pieces from age. Khalid, the Wakil Sahab from Chitral, led us to an unusual grave. The tombstone tells us that the occupant, whose mortal remains lay in Bhamborate, was a zoologist by profession and a Spanish Kafir rather than a Kalash.
It was interesting to find out what led this extraordinary man to the remote corner of the world and ultimately to his death in the land of Kafirs.