Gilgit-Baltistan formerly known as the Northern Areas, is the northernmost political entity within the Pakistan. It borders Pakistan’s Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province to the west, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the north, China to the northeast, Azad Kashmir to the south, and Jammu & Kashmir State of India to the southeast. Gilgit-Baltistan covers an area of 72,971 km² (28,174 mi²) and has an estimated population approaching 1,000,000. Its administrative center is the city of Gilgit (population 216,760).
The territory became a single administrative unit in 1970 under the name Northern Areas and was formed by the amalgamation of the Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat, and the states of Hunza and Nagar. Pakistan considers the territory separate from Kashmir, whereas India and the European Union consider the territory as a part of the larger disputed territory of Kashmir that has been in dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947.
The climate of Gilgit-Baltistan varies from region to region, surrounding mountain ranges creates sharp variations in weather. The eastern part has the moist zone of the western Himalayas, but going toward Karakoram and Hindu Kush the climate dries considerably.
There are towns like Gilgit and Chilas that are very hot during the day in summer, yet cold at night, and valleys like Astore, Khaplu, Yasin, Hunza, and Nagar where the temperatures are cold even in summer.
Polo is the favourite game of the people of Gilgit, Chilas, Astore, Hunza, Nagar and the surrounding areas Every year, many tourists visit to enjoy polo in Gilgit-Baltistan.Other games such as cricket, Tuksori of Nagar, gulli danda, kabbadi, and volleyball are also played.
Beauty of Baltistan
Gilgit Baltistan is, perhaps, the most spectacular region of Pakistan in terms of its geography and scenic beauty. Here world’s three mightiest mountain ranges: the Karakoram, the Handukuch and the Himalayas – meet. The whole of Gilgit Baltistan is like a paradise for mountaineers, trekkers and anglers. The region has a rich cultural heritage and variety of rare fauna and flora. Historically, the area ha remained a flash point of political and military rivalries amongst the Russian, British and Chinese empires. Immediately after the end of British rule in the sub-continent in 1947, the people of this region decided to join Pakistan through a popular local revolt against the government of Maharaja of Kashmir.
Five out of the fourteen mountain peaks with height of over 8000 meters including the K-2 (world’s second heights peak) and some of the largest glaciers outside polar regions are located in Gilgit Baltistan. Acknowledging the vast potential of tourism and its effects on downstream industries, the Government of Pakistan as well as the Gilgit Baltistan Administration are focusing on tourism for creation of employment opportunities, achieving higher economic growth and to introduce to the outside world, “the hidden treasures” of Gilgit Baltistan.
Beautiful landscape, unique cultural heritage and rich biological diversity given the Gilgit Baltistan a competitive advantage in attracting tourists from all over the world.
The number of tourists visiting Gilgit Baltistan has steadily increased over the years, not-withstanding the dip-in figures immediately following 9/11. However, the challenge ahead is not merely to increase the number of tourists visiting Gilgit Baltistan but also to consider how tourism can be better promoted without affecting the natural and cultural heritage of the area, while also improving the quality of life of people to the desired levels
Culture and Heritage
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to a number of diversified cultures, ethnic groups, languages and various backgrounds. It is home to people belonging to all regions of Gilgit-Baltistan as well as from other cities of Pakistan and aboard. This multitude of cultures is because of the strategic location of Gilgit. Being the headquarters of the Gilgit-Baltistan as; most of the key offices are located in Gilgit.
Shina is the basic language spoken by most of the original settlers but the new comers have various backgrounds of languages and cultures. Other key languages spoken in Gilgit are:
Urdu and English are the official languages spoke – while other languages include: Pushto and Punjabi. Because of various cultures the pattern of living, housing, food style and over life style has become a mixture having various colors.
Because of the multicultural and multi lingual aspects: people also have a beautiful mix of lifestyles and attitudes. These range from the typical people tending to preserve the traditions and culture to the modern people somehow influenced by other cultures, media and education. That makes a pluralistic society having a range of people with various backgrounds and living together with peace and tranquility.
Majority of the inhabitants are Muslims belonging to two different communities of interpretations i.e. Sunnies, Shias and Ismailies. A small number of Christians also reside in Gilgit. For religious practices Sunnies go to Masjid, Shias go to Imam Bara and Ismailies attend Jamat Khana.
There are mainly two types of festivals i.e. religious and cultural. Religious festivals include: Eid-e-Ghadir, Edi-ul Fitr and Eid Miladunnabi (the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad-Peace be upon Him). There are some other important events specific to different communities of interpretation which are celebrated with complete peace and fraternity.
Cultural events include:
Shandoor Polo Festival
Babusar Polo Festival
Harvest time festival
These are greatest opportunities for people to get together and share their talents and skills.
Wildlife in Gilgit-Baltistan
The Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan are rich in flora and fauna because of varied climatic conditions and ecosystems. In spite of unscientific management and ruthless hunting in the past, wildlife in the Gilgit-Baltistan still supports rare and endangered species of mammals and birds like Marco Polo sheep, blue sheep, markhor, black bear, brown bear, chakor and ram chakor. Due to the destruction of habitat wildlife population of Gilgit-Baltistan is decreasing rapidly. According to rough estimate of late Raja Bhadur Ali Khan, (Conservator of Forests, Gilgit-Baltistan); in 1970, there were 500 Marco Polo sheep in the Khunjerab National Park, but in 2004 they were only 75, restricted to Kirchinai nallah of the valley. Similarly snow leopard and other valuable species are also decreasing. (Khan, 1970). Until 1947 almost all the important valleys, most of them now included in protected areas, supported a high density of wild animals and hunting was allowed to only a few British and high ranking local officials, rulers and persons with high social status. Further more, the area was hard to access. Hunting for the common poachers was not easy. Traditional muzzle loading guns were commonly used, but were not very effective.
Mammals: The mammalian fauna of Gilgit-Baltistan mainly belongs to Palaearctic region, which may have spread southwards from Central Asia. Fifty-four mammal species are estimated for Gilgit-Baltistan. These species consist of one shrew, 10 bats, 18 carnivores, 6 artiodactyls, 3 lagomorphs, and 16 rodents. There is only one endemic species of mammals, i.e. the woolly flying squirrel, while the Astore markhor (flare-horned markhor) can be considered near-endemic, as its distribution is restricted to a few valleys because of rugged terrain and natural barriers like rivers. The distribution of many small mammal species is very patchy and restricted to certain watersheds due to physical barriers like high mountains and rivers. Virk et al. (2003) quote Z.B. Mirza that the most diverse groups are carnivores and rodents. The rodents have high breeding capacity and are the food base for many carnivores. Species like shrews provide food base to foxes, weasels and stone martens.
Large mammal species richness is higher in Gilgit-Baltistan as compared to other parts of Pakistan. Two areas are considered as a “hot spot” for large mammals diversity. These are the upper Hunza and the triangle between Indus and Astore rivers. Several large mammal species found here are endangered. These includes snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep, Himalayan brown bear, black bear, musk deer, flare horned markhor, Laddakh urial, blue sheep, and Himalayan lynx. Most of these species require large areas to maintain viable populations. Species like markhor and Ladakh urial constitute much of the remaining global populations.
Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) is a beautiful Palaearctic cat, which blends well in rocky terrain in the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan Pakistan. In summer months it ascends to the alpine zone, returning in winter to the oak forest to forage for food, which consists mainly of grass eating animals. Its fur is very soft and luxuriant and thick in winter. It is gray-brown in summer, paling in winter with pure white under parts. Its tail has long fur. It is vulnerable to illegal hunters mainly because of its valuable pelt. Occasionally it is poisoned by nomadic shepherds to prevent goat losses. Himalayan lynx (Felis lynx isabellina) occurs in alpine slopes in the extreme of Northern Areas. It is a powerful and expert climber, generally nocturnal but occasionally hunting by day in remote areas. Its usual food is marmot, pika, hare, snow cock and other birds, but can also overpower large animals like sheep, goat and even markhor.
`Flora: Roses, lilies, pansies, willow, pine and fir trees are found in abundance. Apples, apricots, peaches, plums mulberry, walnuts and grapes are available from June to October and almonds from October to March.
Point of interest in each district
HUNZA /NAGAR DISTRICT
Land of Famous Mountains
Pakistan is home to 108 peaks above 7,000 meters and probably as many peaks above 6,000 m. There is no count of the peaks above 5,000 and 4,000 m. Five of the 14 highest independent peaks in the world (the eight-thousanders) are in Pakistan (four of which lie in the surroundings of Concordia; the confluence of Baltoro Glacier and Godwin Austen Glacier). Most of the highest peaks in Pakistan lie in Karakoram range (which lies almost entirely in the Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan, but some peaks above 7,000 m are included in the Himalayan and Hindukush ranges
Cities Of Gilgit Baltistan
Where to stay
Hotels in the Gilgit-Baltistan keep the tradition of hospitality alive and provide the best care to the visitors not only as tourists but as guests to the area. A range of continental and traditional foods is offered to the guests on reasonable prices and staying in any hotel is affordable for all kinds of visitors.
How to Reach
Arrive in Islamabad. Pakistan International Airlines offers daily flights between Gilgit and Islamabad. The flying time is approximately 50 minutes, and the flight is one of the most scenic flights in the world, as its route passes over Nanga Parbat, and the peak of the mountain is higher than the aircraft’s cruising altitude.
The Karakoram Highway, once a minor Silk Road route, connects Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu, which are the two major hubs for mountaineering expeditions in the Northern Areas. The journey from Islamabad to Gilgit takes approximately 20-24 hours. Landslides on the Karakoram Highway are not uncommon, but bulldozers usually clear the road in a short time. The KKH connects Gilgit to Taxkorgan and Kaxgar in Xinjiang, China, via Sust (the customs and health inspection post on the Pakistan side of the border) and the Khunjerab Pass, the highest paved international border crossing in the world at 4,693 metres (15,397 feet).
What to Eat
The restaurant in Hunza valley offers a sumptuous Chinese cuisine. A Restaurant gives a panoramic Pakistani and Continental cuisine. A kind of Village resturant offers a taste of ancient old recipes, Chicken Tikka, Seekh Kababs, Mutton Tikkas, Grilled Fish with home made tandoori rooti. Enjoy the out door feast under the stars in a traditional atmosphere. A unique cafe is one of its kind. Situated in an airplane, which crash landed on the riverbed and was brought to the present site in the 50’s. It offers a variety of snacks and cabin crew hospitality
What to do
Karakoram Air Safari is the most scenic air journey starting from Islamabad by Pakistan International Airlines.
Mountaineering, Trekking and Hiking: The area is ideal for mountaineering, trekking and hiking. Permission for mountaineering and trekking for restricted zone is issued by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of Pakistan, Pakistan Sports Complex, Kashmir Highway, Aabpara, Islamabad (Telephone: 92-51-9203509). Fishing permits are issued by the Fisheries Department at Gilgit and Skardu.
Fishing: at Satpara Lake (8km) and Kachura Lake 932km) from Skardu abound in trout. Fishing permits are issued by the Fisheries Department.