On November 1, Gilgit took independence from Kashmir’s Dogra family rule. Baltistan took liberation in 1948 as a consequence of a bloody war. The province is six times larger than Kashmir, bordering China, KPK, Afghanistan and Kashmir. The region spreads through an area of over 72,971 km and is highly mountainous: K2 (Mount Godwin Austen Peak), and Nanga Parbat. The Pamir mountains face the north and the Hindu Kush face the west. The total population of Gilgit-Baltistan is around 1.8 million as of 2015. The capital is Gilgit. The region is divided into three sections: Baltistan, Diamer and Gilgit. These are further divided into fourteen parts. The main town centers are Gilgit and Skardu.
The world’s longest glaciers reside in Gilgit-Baltistan; the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier.
Islam was introduced in Baltistan in the 14th century by the famous Sufi saints among who are Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani. He came through Kashmir. In Gilgit, Islam came through when the Turkic Tarkhan rulers invaded the area.
Accessibility of Gilgit
Until 1978, access to Gilgit was highly limited. Only the privileged and Pakistani officials could go by air. The locals had to walk and cross the mountains to get to other cities. Gradually, with the assistance of the Chinese Government, Pakistan began the construction of the great Karakoram Highway. As of now, Pakistan has also started operating flights to Skardu and Gilgit on the ATR 420-500. PIA also operates regular flights of Boeing 737 between Skardu and Islamabad. The flights are subject to weather.
The climate greatly varies from region to region, with winter occupying eight to nine months. The mountain region faces a sharp and strong winter whereas the eastern part has the moist zone of the western Himalayas. However, if you go towards the Karakoram and the Hindu Kush, the climate gets very dry. Gilgit and Chilas are hot in the daytime in summer but cold at night. The valleys such as Astore, Khaplu, Yasin, Hunza, and Nagar, are cold even in the summer.
An average of 120 to 240 mm rain falls annually. The irrigation system is obtained from the rivers. The rivers get abundant water from the snow on higher altitudes. The temperature in the summer goes up to 40°C (104 °F). As a result, landslides and avalanches are frequent in the area. The best season to visit Gilgit is Fall and Spring.
Traditional Cuisines of Gilgit-Baltistan
The Traditional cuisine of Gilgit is very organic and simple, it differs greatly from what people in the cities eat. The taste is very diverse and unique. Some of the popular and widely eaten are Chapshoro, Dawdoo, Chamus, Mamtu, Sharbat, Harissa, Molida, Garma, Berikutz, Harissa, Diram, Mull, Gooli, Suppra, and Khamuloot. Chapshoro is among the favorites of tourists as well.
The economy of Gilgit relies on silk route trading. The trade organization of China led the people to teach them the basics of trading from its neighbor, Xinjiang and actively invest. This further led to the launch of the chamber of commerce and the Sust dry port in Gojal, Hunza. The people also work the economy through agriculture and tourism. The latter, however, is becoming a great resource. Products such as wheat, corn, barley, and fruits are traded all over the country. In the year 2009, China and Pakistan signed an energy project agreement to construct a 7000 MG dam at Bunji in Astore.
The province of Gilgit-Baltistan is entirely Muslim; however, it is divided into two major sects: the Shia practicing area and the Sunni practicing area. Most of the people in Skardu are mostly Shia, whereas in Diamir and Astore districts you will have a majority of Sunni. The Ghanche has a population of Noorbakhshi people while the Ghizar has a population of Ismaili people. 85 percent of the population of the entire province constitutes of Shias and Ismailis
Culture of Gilgit
Gilgit-Baltistan is a land of diverse culture, tradition, language and ethnic backgrounds brought in from different sects and religions. An attractive and alluring landmark of Pakistan is known not only for its giant mountains but its history, people and culture as well. The K2 Base Camp, Deosai, Naltar, Fairy Meadows, Bagrot Valley, Skardu and Hushe Valley are places that are most visited and hyped for their unforgettable beauty and uniqueness.
Major cultural events include:
- Shandoor Polo Festival
- Babusar Polo Festival
- Jashn-e-Baharan or the Harvest Time Festival (Navroz).
Traditional dances are Old Man Dance, Cowboy Dance (Payaloo) which is basically people dancing in old-styled dresses, long leather boots with a stick in hand. The Sword Dance is a little different, it’s a show in which participants dance with a sword in their right hand and a shield in their left hand.
The dressing of people includes the traditional shalware, kameez, weskit with a woolen cap attached with a peacock feather attached to it representing integrity in men. The women there also wear shalwar kameez, colorful and iraghi caps on special occasions.
The most played and popular sport in the entire region is Polo, derived from the Balti language, meaning ‘wooden ball’. Every year polo matches are held at the Polo grounds once every year at Shandur and Babusar Top, twice in Gilgit, Skardu, Ghezer and Diamerand in the summer season. People from all over Pakistan visit Gilgit-Baltistan, especially for this affair. The Shandur Polo festival known as ‘the game of kings and king of games’ – has been a famous national event for centuries. It is the most attended and celebrated, bringing people together for fanfare and jubilation. Teams from Gilgit and Chitral participate with full zeal and enthusiasm.
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