Basic History and Features of Baltistan

Baltistan comprises of two districts, namely Skardu and Ghanche. There are five valleys, which are Khaplu, Kharmang, Shigar, Skardu and Rondu. It is located in the extreme north of Pakistan bordering with the Xinjiang province of China and Laddakh, an autonomous area controlled by India. In 1947 when Pakistan gained independence, Baltistan was a part of Kashmir and was ruled by the Dogra rulers of Kashmir. The people of the area being predominantly Muslims revolted against the Dogra forces and joined Pakistan, but they are still struggling to get full citizenship of Pakistan.

Baltistan is a mountainous region and the whole area is surrounded by lofty mountains. The average altitude of the area is about 3,350 meters above sea level. The famous peak of the Karakoram Range, K-2, lies in Baltistan. K-2 is the world’s second highest mountain being 8,611 meters above sea level. Besides this, there are more than forty mountains which are above 20,000 feet high.

Ethnically the majority of the people of Baltistan are Tibetan and almost 95% of the local population speaks the Balti language, which is also a Tibetan dialect. The remaining 5% speak the Shina language. Urdu is the official language and is widely understood by the people as a second language.

There are two main rivers in the area which are the Indus River and the Shyok River. Both of these rivers enter from Laddakh into Baltistan and merge within the Skardu district. There are many other smaller rivers like the Saltoro River, Shigar River, etc. Besides rivers there are several glaciers too; including the Siachen glacier, the Baltoro glacier, the Biafo glacier, and the Hisper glacier. The Siachen glacier is the largest frozen water source on the earth, next to the north and south poles.

The major source of earnings for the people is fruits and vegetables. Popular fruits include apricot, apple, mulberry, grapes, cherries and nuts. Other important crops are wheat, maize, and barley.

Baltistan has a very rich culture. Polo is the most popular game. The polo played here is called free style polo and in this game there are no hard and fast rules. The people are very fond of music. Music is played on all special occasions like marriage, local festivals, especially during polo matches. As almost 100% of the local population is Muslim the religious festivals are also observed with zeal and enthusiasm. The most important religious events are Eid-ul-fitr, Eid-ul-adhha, and Eid milad-un-nabi. Besides these the other festivals include jashn-e-noroz, harvest time festival , and jashn-e-ghanche.