All About Gilgit Baltistan

Gilgit Baltistan: The Jewel of Pakistan

It is not a wonder that Pakistan is a land of wonders. The much hackneyed phrase owes its validity much to region lying North of Pakistan known as Gilgit Baltistan.Even if one leaves no room for exaggeration , Gilgit Baltistan can be rightly claimed as the jewel in the crown with our homeland Pakistan being the crown and Gilgit Baltistan its jewel. Apart from drawing analogies for the sake of comparison, Gilgit Baltistan is a land able to be claimed the paradise of Pakistan if not the whole world.

If we talk about the geography, GB lies in the north of Pakistan bordering to China and India. This region spans over an area of 72971 km sq. with an estimated population of 180000. The region is divided in ten districts viz. Skardu, Ghanche, Shigar, Ghizer, Astore, Diamer, Gilgit, Hunza, Nagar, Chatimal etc.

Gilgit Baltistan constitutes of two divisions Gilgit division and Baltistan division. Both have a succession of districts. The capital city of GB is Gilgit city whereas the biggest is Skardu city. Islam and Urdu binds the different socio;lingio and ethnic entities together.

Gilgit Baltistan has owned a world renowned recognition as a tourism hotspot in the previous years. This region thrives for eons in the silhouette of three  great mountain ranges. These are the Himalayas the Karakorum and the Hindu Kush.

 Gilgit baltistsa is abode to 5 peaks which are over 8000 meters. Mount Austin Godwin also known as K2 which is only succeeded by Mount Everest in length is located just at a stones throw from skardu city. This region is truly a paradise for the people who have passion for scaling mountains.

The description of Gilgit Baltistan would not be done justice with, sans the emblazonment of glaciers. Gilgit Baltistan homes to some of the very few glaciers in the world outside the North pole.

Gilgit Baltistan also has an exotic array of flora and fauna. These include the Markhore (deer), the ptarmigan and the rarest snow leopard. These fauna add savor and are a cherry on top to the beautiful panorama and scenic swathes and terraces of Gilgit Baltistan.

The region hosts a massive influx of people, tormented by scorching heat. People find their way to the benignity serenity and tranquility of Gilgit Baltistan. The largeness of nature emulsified in benevolence is testimonial to the philosophy that dictates the healing power invested by Allah in nature.

Gilgit Baltistan
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Shandur, Ghizer, Gilgit

The abundance of sublime beauty of Nature entices not visitors only from Pakistan but the world at large. Apart from trekkers and mountaineers a large chunk of tourists hailing from all walks of life visit Gilgit Baltistan to hold the magnificence of mighty mountains lush green plains and frozen lakes in their eyes. One is truly lost for words even after a cursory look of nature in its unsullied form in here.

Early History

Islam was introduced in the region of Gilgit Baltistan by Sufi Muslim preachers who came from Persia and Central Asia in the 14th century. During this era many local rulers ruled the region. Maqpon Dynasty of Skardu and the Rajas of Hunza were the most famous among them. In the following years, Gilgit Baltistan was merged with Chitral and Ladakh by the Maqpons of Skardu. This was done particularly in the era of Ali Sher Khan Anchan who introduced and entertained a number of sports in Gilgit including Polo.

Modern History

As far as the modern history of the region is concerned, it involves the Dogra rule. Zorawar Singh was the Dogra Commander. In November 1839, he initiated a campaign against Baltistan. By the year 1840, he was able to conquer Skardu and successfully capture its ruler named Ahmad Shah. However, in the following year many rulers including, Ali Khan of Rondu, Hiadar Khan of Shigar and Daulat Ali Khan stood against the Dogra dynasty and were able to capture many Dogra commanders. Later on these leaders were imprisoned and  many of them died in prison.

 In 1842,  Baltistan was recaptured by a Dogra Commander named Wasir Lakhpat. Till 1860, the whole region of Gilgit Baltistan was under the Sikhs and then the Dogras. In the First Anglo-Sikh War, Sikhs were defeated. Gilgit Baltistan then became a part of Jammu and Kashmir and remained with it till 1 November, 1947.  Gilgit Baltistan got independence from the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir on 1st November, 1947.

This administrative unit has a complex history before 1935,the Gilgit  Baltistan region was a part of the princely state of Kashmir under a Hindu maharaja as stated above.

In 1935,the Gilgit Baltistan division had been given on lease to the  British.

In 1947 as per the partition plan, the British  attempted to return the Gilgit agency to the maharaja of Kashmir who wished to join India contrary to the wishes of the local population aided by the Gilgit scouts and Muslim officers of the army forced the governor GandaraSingh to surrender and Gilgit Baltistan agency join the Pakistan federation.

On the other hand India claim that Gilgit-Baltistan was part of Jammu and Kashmir and had been illegally occupied by Pakistan  just like Azad Kashmir.

In 1948,the issue went to united nation with calls for plebiscite to resolve  the Kashmir territorial dispute   .Pakistan wanted the pro Pakistan Gilgit Baltistan region to be a part of plebiscite to secure more votes in its favor.Although the plebiscite did not happen and the Kashmir issue remained unresolved.

Gilgit Baltistan territories have never been constitutionally recognized as part of Pakistan. From 1947 to 1949, the Gilgit Agency was governed as part of Azad Kashmir. In 1947, the area was transferred to Federal Pakistan, controlled via the Kashmir Agreement. Hence forth, the area was governed under the Frontier Crimes Regulation directly by the Federation with no constitution, representative governance, due processes or fundamental rights for the citizens. In 1970, Gilgit and Baltistan were merged into a single unit named Northern Areas, to be governed by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas Differential Reforms such as the Northern Areas Council Legal framework Orders 1975 and 1994, the reform package of 2007 failed to transfer actual control from the federation to local legislature. In 1984, the KKH  (Karakorum highway)  connecting China and Pakistan through Gilgit-Baltistan was built, raising its strategic importance of the region and its connectivity with the rest of the countryIn 1999, in Al-Jehad Trust versus the Federation. The Supreme Court ordered the government to grant citizenship and constitutional rights to the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. In 2009, the Gilgit Baltistan Empowerment and self-governance order was passed, the region was named Gilgit-Baltistan. And fundamental rights were introduced.

In May 2018, the Gilgit-Baltistan Government Order was passed pursuant to the recommendations of Sartaj Aziz Commission. This was historic Legislation due to its: 1. Establishment of a comprehensive fundamental rights framework for the citizens of Gilgit-Baltistan 2. Abolition of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council and transference of power to the elected Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly and the Prime Minister of Pakistan 3. Establishment of Judiciary System with High Courts and the Gilgit-Baltistan Supreme Appellate Court 4. Streamlining of financial procedures and 5. Creation of PSC

In November 2018, a Seven-Members Bench of the Supreme Court upon hearing a constitutional petition regarding the legal status of Gilgit-Baltistan gave the government 15 days to conclusively resolve the matter whether the government form a commission headed by Ali Amin Gandapur to consider Provisional Province status for the GB. Although the PM has approved the Provisional Province status for Gilgit-Baltistan, the matter is under debate in Federal Cabinet.

Ethnicity and Language

The present inhabitants of Gilgit are all Muslims, chiefly of the Shia sect, with a few Sunnis and Ismaili. Yashkun and Shin are the significant tribes of the region while some Mughals, Rajas, Pathan, Kashmiris, Gojers, Dums, Karmins, Soniwal and Kashgari likewise reside here. They are again divided into several families called after the names of distinguished ancestors. It is said that the Karmins are the original inhabitants of Gilgit, while the Yashkun, Shins and Ronos came afterwards and conquered the former inhabitants.

The Yashkun are an Aryan race, arrived from Central Asia via, the Hindu Kush. Being stronger, they succeeded in conquering these districts, made the original inhabitants their servants and named them “Kramins” (attendants).

The Shins said to be the descendants of Arabs. They have come via Afghanistan from either Persia or Turkey.It is interesting to note that before embracing Islam the Shins, resembling the Hindus, disliked meat, milk or even made from cow’s milk. Furthermore, if a Shin had taken two wives, one of his own tribe and the other of the Yashkun tribe, the children of the shin would be Shins and those of the latter would be Yashkun.

Besides these, there is another family of the former Muslim rulers called “Ra.” They originally came from Skardu about three centuries ago, and declared to be the descendants of Alexander the Great. The residents considered them to have been born of a fairy, and this cultural notion about them leads the people to think that their rulers were of a superior race hence it was necessary to honor and obey them. 

Language

The main languages spoken in the region include Balti, Shina, Burushaski, Wakhi, Khowar, Domaki, Gojri, Kohistani, Kashmiri, Urdu, English and Pashto.

Shina

Shina is the main language in Gilgit. It is spoken in the Gilgit, Diamer, Ghizer and Astore. Shina speaking people are further found north in the Ishkoman valley and in Hunza, Nagar.

Burushaski

Burushaski is the main language of Hunza valley. It is spoken by the people settled on either side of the middle cause of the Hunza River, on its northern bank (Hunza) as well as on its southern bank (Nagar). There are also Burushaski speaking settlements in Yasin and in Gilgit. It is still an unwritten language.

Khowar

It is the main language of Chitral, however Khowar speakers may be found in Yasin, Ishkoman and Ghizer.

Balti

Balti is the sector largest language in the Baltistan Division. Balti speaking people are settled in Skardu, Shigar, Khaplu,Gultari and Ghanche            .

Domaki

Domaki is the language of the Domas who are also found in Gilgit and in some Shina speaking villages of the lower Hunza valley. They are mainly musicians by profession. Domaki is considered as highly endangered language. As there are, only around 500 people left in Hunza who can speak the language.

Wakhi

More than 3,000 people speak in Ishkoman valley and in upper Hunza (Gojal) valley Wakhi. It belongs to the Pamirian branch of Iranian languages. 

Gojri

Gojri is the language of Gojar family settled in Naltar valley, Kargha and in the surrounding areas of Gilgit.

Architecture/ Archeological/heritage Remains/sites:

Gilgit Baltistan is famous for its remarkable architectural heritage and archeological sites. Well known heritage sites are Baltit Fort in Karimabad, Altit Fort in Hunza district, and Khaplu Fort in district Ghanche. Famous archeological sites include Manthal Rock Skardu, Kargha Buddha Site in Gilgit city, Hanzal Stupa near Gilgit city and the Sacred Rock carvings discovered in Ganesh village of Hunza and Danyore near Gilgit city. Batura Glacier and Attabad Lake are also a famous site in Hunza.

Khaplu Palace

khaplu palace
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Khaplu Palace

Built in 19th century by Raja (King) of Khaplu, the palace was renovated by Agha Khan Trust and now owned by Serena Hotels. Today the museum here and the palace itself attraction for many who love nature and wish to know about the rich history, culture and diversity of Gilgit Baltistan

Yathini

To the south of Basin, a village about three miles west of Gilgit city, there stands a cliff at the junction of the Kargha and Naupurnullahs. A large image of Buddha is engraved on rock-face, about 30 feet above the ground. It evidences the historical legacy of the valley and reveals of the fact that Buddhism used to be the dominant faith practiced in Gilgit Baltistan in the past.

The inhabitants of  Gilgit now call it “Yathini (giantess), and relate a motivating story about it. They say that she was the sister of Shri Badat, a King of Gilgit who was the descendant of giants. She lived on the said rock and, being a man-eater like her brother, was in the habit of killing and devouring half as many of the men as happened to pass by, leaving the other half unmolested. The princess continued this practice for a long period, to the great distress of the inhabitants, until a certain Danyal (shaman) named Soglio, feeling the loss of so many people dear to his heart, devised a successful plan of murdering her to save his beloved countrymen. With the above design in his mind he set out for the palace with a party of brave and bold companions. Reaching the spot, he burnt a small fire at the foot of the said rock, and his companions took their seat around it in a small circle. The Danyal according to his usual custom put some Chili (Juniper) leaves on the fire and inhaled its smoke. This driving himself into a state of trance he began dancing and singing some magic prayers, which were repeated by his companions.

The Yathini was delighted to see more victims. As soon as she approached the Danyal, he stepped forward and addresses her in a song.

Hearing the sad news she struck her breast with her right hand,Soglio, who had with him some long iron nails, thrust one of them through her hand, as it lay on her breast. The nail penetrated her chest and went way into the rock behind. Soglio then sang another song. On this she struck her second hand on her thigh. Soglio quickly pierced this with another sharp nail. The Yathiniwas thus firmly fixed to the rock, and was unable to move, or to take revenge. The party was much delighted at this success of the Danyal, who further turned her into a stone by his prayers, and even more delighted were the inhabitants when they heard of the good news.

Soglio requested the people to bury him on his death near the Yathini, so otherwise he would return to life and continue her cruelties. The people were not sure about Soglio’s death, no one could tell when and where Soglio would die, whether they would be alive or able to procure his body at the time, hence they held a private council to discuss the matter. After a protracted dialogue they thought it best to assassinate Soglio in no time. A man was appointed to accomplish the horrifying task, which he did, and Soglio was also buried close to the figure on the rock. Today in Gilgit Baltistan still one can observe shamans (calling themselves ‘Danyals’) performing ecstatic dance in villages, treating people for various ills by communicating with mountain spirits. Interestingly in one such ritual in Hunza valley, the shaman drink flesh blood of a slaughtered goat before performing the ritual dance necessary for communication with the super-natural. This tradition of shamanism dates to the pagan history of the valley and folklore about the cannibal queen dates far back in the rich history of this marvelous region of Pakistan.

Festivals and Meals

A variety of cultural and religiousfestivals are held in Gilgit Baltistan throughout the year. These festivals represent several important recurring joys; cultural events bring value additions to the surroundings. These festivals include Rama festival, Ginani / Sheesho Got festival, Dumankhiya,Shandurmela, Nouroz, silk route festival.

Rama Festival

This festival is celebrated near the Rama Lake. The festival included with a lot of colorful events such as Local Music, Dance, polo match, art and craft stalls etc. The location of Rama Lake and exclusive events attract thousands of tourists every year.

Ginani / SheeshoGot

The people of Gilgit Baltistan are strictly prohibited from tasting any new crop before accomplishing the Ginani / Sheesho got ceremony. It is celebrated in the middle of June when the wheat and barley is ripe. The Raja or headman of the village fixes and announces throughout in his village the days for the performance of this ceremony.On the fixed day people set out of their fields with a special kind of bread with butter, which is eaten by all the members of the family at the corner of their fields. After this they cut some heads of barley and bring them to their homes. They keep those heads on fire for some time. These roasted grains then put in a small bowl filled with milk. Every member of the family then takes three wooden spoons of that milk. Then local music and dance continue till late in the night.

DomanKhiya

When people have finished the work of reaping their spring and autumn crops and put the grain into bags to carry their homes they recite some prayers.  After collecting their crops, the people celebrate a festival called DomanKhiya, an expression of their feeling of freedom from agricultural labor. A goat is slaughtered and roasted. The meat is eaten at the place where they perform their dances and it continues till late night.

Local  Artists and Artisans

Gilgit Baltistan is a place with multi cultural entities with different ethnic groups and backgrounds. GB has number of folk artists, craftsmen, craftswomen, writers, poets, musicians and singers. Following are the prominent artists and artisans of Gilgit Baltistan.

Jan Ali

Jan Ali is the legend of Shina music. He belongs to Sharot valley Gilgit and serving since 1960s. He hails from artisan class which has been the most marginalized caste in Gilgit. He is known as “baba-e-Hareep” as he is an expert musician in traditional music. Despite of social taboos on artistic endeavors in Gilgit this caste kept indigenous music.

Talib Hussain Talib

He is famous for songs on love. He has got an attractive voice. He belongs to Nomal valley. He sings both shins and Burushaski songs.

Jabir Khan Jabir

Jabir Khan is the most popular young artist with uncountable skills. He makes everyone crazy when he plays flute. He is son of famous poet and singer Baber Khan.

Deedar Ali/Craftsman

He is famous for making rugs and Patti weaving (Woven strip made from sheep wool).

Sultan Ali/Craftswoman

She is Master artisan in the field of Hunza embroidery. She belongs to Hunza. She has learnt this artistic work from her mother.

Memona Abbas Khan: Poetess/Writer

Memona Abbas Khan hailing from Gilgit Baltistan is the very first poetess of the region. She done Masters in Education from Aga Khan University Institute for Educational development Karachi. She has been writing poetry since her school days but has now started publicly shared her poetic muses through different media. She is the first female to represent Gilgit Baltistan in a mushaira at AIOU Islamabad in April,2017. Her main area of interest lies in writing poetry, articles and short stories. Her writing themes are mainly related to issues faced by women.

Aziz Ali Dad: Writer

He is a renowned commentator, columnist, philosopher and Researcher of Gilgit Baltistan. He has done Masters in Philosophy from London School of Economics and Political Science. He writes in prominent daily newspapers of Pakistan like the News and Express Tribune. In 2015 he has been selected as Research Fellow of Crossroads Asia in Berlin, Germany. As a fellow, he delivered seminars in universities across Germany about history, culture and politics of Gilgit Baltistan. He is author of research paper titled “Boundaries and Identities: the case of Gilgit Baltistan”.

Zafar Waqar Taj

Is renowned Shina and Urdu poet and writer of Gilgit Baltistan. He has been the first deputy commissioner of Hunza Nagar district. His famous book is “Anand”, his early life collection of poetry when he used to be student in Cadet College Razmak, North Waziristan. He has written some of the contemporary famous songs in Shina and Urdu performed by renowned singers like Salman Paras and Almas Iman from the region.

Imran Hunzai

He is the eminent Visual Artist and Educationist from Hunza. He has established his Arts Institute in Islamabad to promote the culture of Gilgit Baltistan. Currently he is teaching as Assistant Professor in National College of Arts (NCA)Pindi.

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