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Few individuals have made as big a difference to the survival of a threatened culture as Maureen Lines, the founder of the Hindu Kush Conservation Association and its Pakistani sister organisation, the Kalash Environmental Protection Society.

Born in London in 1937, Lines has worked for more than 25 years in three remote valleys of north-west Pakistan that are the home of the Kalash people - the last pagans of the Hindu Kush. Their ancestors, were the inspiration for the fierce tribesmen of Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King. There is some evidence, not least the decidedly Balkan appearance of many Kalash people, that they are the descendants of Alexander the Great's armies.

There are only between 4,000 and 5,000 Kalash left, and they are loath to reveal the details of their ancient religion, with its rites of fertility, multiple gods and mountain-top fairies. Until recently they were sheltered from both conversion and modernity by the remoteness of their valleys on the border with Afghanistan. However, as communications have improved, even in the Chitral area of the North West Frontier Province, the Kalash have become both a tourist draw and a provocation to those who abhor the presence of unbelievers in Pakistan.

Many Pakistani men come from the distant Punjab to see the fabled beauty of the uncovered Kalash women and to buy the wine that the Kalash are allowed to make and drink. Other visitors are less benign. Muslim settlers have poured into the valleys, bringing with them mosques, missionaries and a money economy. Already the Kalash are a minority in the largest of the three valleys.

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