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- WAKHIS -

The Wakhis are a people who live in the Northern Areas of Pakistan, Afghan Badakshan, and eastern Tajikistan. They are usually very poor, living in remote, mountainous corners of war-torn, unstable, and destitute countries, surviving by herding sheep, goats and yaks, or by farming small plots of wheat or barley. Almost all Wakhis are Ismaili Muslims, a liberal, pacifist branch of Islam led by the Aga Khan.

Wakhis are also among the friendliest and most hospitable people in the world - in the few months I spent in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, I must have seen the insides of fifteen or twenty of these houses, mostly when the inhabitants were inviting me in for tea or a meal or to stay the night. Wakhi architecture has a unique continuity of design, usually with one central room built around the hearth. The room is laid out in raised platforms at different heights, each for a certain purpose, with five symbolic pillars and a diamond-shaped hole in the roof for smoke and light. The houses below are mostly modelled off those of Shimshal Village in Pakistan, where I spent several weeks hiking around, but the design can be found throughout Pakistan, Tajikistan, and north-eastern Afghanistan.

 

- TRADITIONAL WAKHI HOUSES -

Traditional Wakhi houses are single storied, built of mud and stones. The floor is mud with carpets or animal skins and the door, roof-hole, pillars, and sometimes the platforms are made of wood. In the older houses the outside door is about 1.5 meters tall to preserve heat. Light comes from a skylight (not pictured below, it's bloody hard to draw), the door, the fire, and oil lamps. The hearth at center is usually fed with brush or yak dung. The pillars have a peculiar four-spiral device with a fifth spike, said to represent the the fingers of the hand, and the five holy personalities of Ismailism.

The above is a bad picture, and drawn after the fact, but you get the idea.

Below is a floor-plan.

(I got the following names and explanations from one Yahye Beg, a trekking guide from Shimshal Village. My transcriptions of the names are no doubt incorrect. )

  1. Pastraj: Sleeping. Duvets and blankets are kept rolled up here during the day, and spread out at night.
  2. Kalaraj: Sleeping. Traditionally this area would be used to keep sheep and goats during the winter, but the Shimshalis at least build outside corals now.
  3. Yoch: Space for dancing during marriages and festivals. Traditionally the Wakhis would also kick off their shoes here when sitting down, but now they use an anteroom.
  4. Nikard: Stove and eating space. The female head of the family sits at (A), the male head at (B). Adult family members sit clockwise by seniority (?) around the stove.
  5. Dong: Cooking and sitting place for children.
  6. Sinaraj: More sleeping space.
  7. Jkeesh: Cooking and storage.
  8. Warasar: Storage.
  9. Ganz: Storage.
  10. Kunj: Anteroom to keep wind from blowing directly into the house, now used for shoes.=

The five pillars, marked 1-5 in red, are symbolic. These represent the five holy personalities of Ismailism, being Mohammed, Fatima (Mohammed's daughter and Ali's wife), Ali (Adopted by Mohammed and succeeded Othman as Caliph of Islam), Hassan, and Hussain (Ali's two sons).

This a Wakhi skylight, built of overlapping wood beams. With four wooden squares and the fifth square of light, the same Ismaili symbolism applies.

Roof construction is as below.

  1. Widely spaced boards.
  2. Closely spaced lateral boards.
  3. A thick layer of straw or twigs.
  4. Mud.
  5. Flat stones packed into the mud.
  6. More mud.

 

- SHIMSHALI HOUSES -

According to the Shimshalis these houses aren't traditional or kosher, but they seem to have built an awful lot of them in the same design, usually in more out-of-the-way places where building a large traditional house would be difficult. These drawings are based specifically on a house on a small shelf above the Shimshal valley, at the mouth of the canyon that leads to up to the Sheperd's camp of Gujerab. This house was a bit more primitive.

  1. The carpets are made of sheep/yak hair. Now that a road has finally been hacked through the mountains to Shimshal village, synthetics from India or China show up occasionally.
  2. The stove is has got two holes and a pipe. According to the Shimshalis there is an American NGO in Gilgit that makes these things.
  3. The skylight.
  4. Rolled up sleeping mats. Inside the Shimshal valley, and in Tajikistan, these are usually synthetic, but farther out in the mountains they would be yak or sheep hair.
  5. Back room for storage.

Here is the layout:

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