The journey started at 4am from Islamabad on 28th July 2018 with the cloudy sky and light rain. Participants were comfortably settled in the Coaster and the twelve-hour journey began. With a quick stop for breakfast, we made our way towards upper Dir where we stopped for Lunch in a beautiful river side hotel. We started making our way towards the Lowari Tunnel which took more time than anticipated. This patch of road is under construction and due to frequent rains, the road was muddy, slushy as well as slippery. By the time we reached the tunnel, it had already closed down and would open in another 1.5 hours. While the initial plan was to drive straight to Booni and spend the night there, the plan was changed to spend the night in Chitral instead. The tunnel re-opened at 6pm and we started moving again and reached Chitral at 9pm. Here, we stayed at the Pamir River Side hotel where the participants enjoyed the fresh breeze in the hotel gardens. Next morning, at 7am, the luggage was loaded on local vans and we made our way to Booni in order to get the briefing by Agha Khan Rural Support Program.
The AKRSP briefing was arranged at the PTDC in Booni where the LVS participants were welcomed with snacks and tea. Mr. Atta ur Rehman gave a briefing on AKRSP role in Laspur Valley and the various projects which have been initiated and completed by the AKRSP. The session gave the LVS participants a good overview of development projects which are currently happening in Laspur Valley. After the session, LVS participants boarded the vehicles in order to make their way to Laspur Valley. The road from Booni to Laspur is rough and the journey took us around four hours to reach Laspur. After the tiring journey, participants were settled in their rooms with their welcome packs consisting of clean sheets, towels, bags etc. One guest house was allocated for the boys and another guest house was given to the girls. The evening was spent relaxing and recuperating from the journey and ended with an early dinner at 8pm.
The next morning began with breakfast and workshop on Creative-Participatory Action Research Workshop. Participants were introduced to various qualitative methods of research while critically questioning the role and positionality of the researcher. Since LVS lays great stress upon the participatory element of research, local community members were invited to participate from the very first day. The workshop exercise aimed to introduce the participants to the physical landscape of Laspur Valley in order to orient them for the next couple of days. Participants were divided in groups led by a local community member and sent off to conduct Transect walks on water, land and fauna. After the exercise, they returned to the workshop space and prepared presentations. Tea was served at 5pm to freshen up the teams for presentations. The exercise helped orientate the participants and establish a working relationship with their local counterparts.
The next day was dedicated to workshops in order to prepare participants for field work the next day. Starting with a massive breakfast, participants were given the Audio Visual Cultures Workshop and divided in groups to prepare research questionnaires and content. The exercise helped them share ideas around how and what data to collect in the field. After this, the workshop on Built Environment was conducted followed by Lunch. After Lunch, the participants were taken to a hundred-year-old traditional house called ‘Baipash’ in Khowar language. An elder person from the community welcomed us in the house and told the participants about the significance of different features of traditional architecture. Following on from here, the participants were taken to the recently constructed Heritage Museum Laspur, a project by AKRSP, supported by SDC and design and curated by Laajverd. Mr Amirullah Yaftali, who is the owner of the museum gave a detailed tour to the participants and told them about the artifacts and stories associated with them. After the museum, participants visited another traditional house which two hundred years was approximately old. They returned to the workshop space and prepared for field work. Some of the work was critically analyzed by the LVS core team so that participants could improve their approaches and techniques of research before stepping into the field.
The next day, participants were sent to conduct research in Raman, Phargram, Brok and Sor Laspur. In the field participants were warmly welcome by local communities where they enjoyed their hospitality. Participants returned from the field by 5pm and welcomed with Pakoras, Juice and Tea to revive their energies for field work compilation and presentation. The evening was spent in compiling data from the field. This was followed by dinner and participants were sent to rest and recuperate for the next day. The next morning participants arrived and presented the data collected the day before. Some participants made their way to the museum in order to engage in a session of Cultural Heritage Management Workshop. Under the Cultural Heritage Management workshop, three sessions were conducted followed by a local cultural fair. The first session explored ways of making the Heritage Museum Laspur a learning platform for local school children, an exercise introduced by Batool Ali on Museum as a Learning Space. As part of this activity Ayesha Kamal, Somana Riaz and Yumna Ali engaged with local School teachers from Govt Secondary Girls School in order to design learning exercises using museum objects. School teachers were engaged from Government Boys Secondary School as well and were briefed by Daniyal Khyzer, Kamran Rizvi and Sheryar Hassan about the importance of creating the museum as a learning space in order to preserve and conserve the cultural heritage for next generations. This exercise was followed by lunch and individual project tutorials at the workshop space. Participants were advised to work in pairs or individually to produce project proposals. These proposals should respond to the current problems and challenges that the community faces hence the projects must be developed in close consultation with local community members. In the evening, a briefing was given by Somana Riaz for her workshop ‘Gauging Sustainability in Mountain Landscapes’ followed by discussion on what to do in the field next day.
After an early breakfast, the participants were given a Briefing on the Bio-Diversity and Forestry by Mr Shafiqullah from AKRSP. The session was very informative for the LVS participants and they got a chance to learn about the local practices of stewardship of natural landscapes. The information shared in this session filled many gaps in participants research regarding local communal practices of engaging with natural landscapes. The session was followed by a trip to Phargram Village where participants observed the Check Dams constructed by AKRSP to manage water and soil erosion on mountains. Participants moved around the Phargram landscape and met with local community members. Lunch was served in a lush green field after which participants were taken back to the workshop space to collate the data from field and present their findings.
The next morning, participants were sent to carry out research on their individual projects. They returned for lunch and continued their research. In the evening, participants were taken out to view Polo game practice in the local Polo ground in Harchin. Participants thoroughly enjoyed this activity and returned later in the evening for dinner. In the evening, participants were given handouts prepared by Mr Aftab Rana on Sustainable Tourism in order to introduce the participants to this concept and gave them an exercise on preparing a business plan for the locality. Participants conducted the assignment as two groups and discussed with the Core Team as Mr Aftab Rana could not be present.
The next morning participants were sent out for individual project research and prepare presentations for the next day while the Core Team conducted the Cultural Heritage Management sessions. The second session was conducted with local tour operators exploring the possibilities of regulating sustainable and culturally sensitive tourism in the Valley. The third session was conducted with local crafts women exploring crafts practices and techniques in order to improvise products for a global market. Once these sessions were completed, a local cultural fair was also arranged where locals brought traditional food, handicrafts and played local music. The LVS participants got the chance to once again engage with local community, know more about their crafts, food and music. The evening ended with a beautiful traditional music and dance performance.
The next morning participants were taken on a trip to Shandur Pass for recreational walk. They returned for lunch and greeted the local community elders who were invited to view the presentation of LVS participants. There were around 15 local community members who assessed the projects presented by the LVS participants. This became a rich discursive session where LVS participants learnt about the strong and weak points of their research and how to better respond to contexts and fill the gaps. The day ended with a scrumptious dinner with the local community after which participants were advised to pack up their bags for an early morning return journey. At 5am next morning, the team started their journey from Laspur with a stopover in Chitral. Here, a delicious brunch arranged at Chitral Mess hosted by Mrs. Sabiha Saulat and Mr. Saulat Hussain, which the participants thoroughly enjoyed and then began the journey to Islamabad.
LVS team would like to especially thank Mr Aftab Rana, Imtiaz Ahmed, Atta ur Rehman, Mr Shafiqullah from AKRSP for facilitating the briefing sessions. We would like to thank the local community for their warm hospitality especially Asif Yaftali, Noor ul Islam, Faiza Yaftali, Azher, Ahsen Yaftali, Aftab, Sultan Salahuddin, Nadeer Aunty, etc and all the women who prepared food dishes and the community elders who gave their time and shared their knowledge with us at the last session.