• December 12, 2023

Gilgit-Baltistan: The Jewel of Pakistan’s Northern Areas

Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, is a highly mountainous region in Pakistan that borders Azad Kashmir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor, China’s Xinjiang region, and the Indian-administered union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. Together with Azad Kashmir, it is referred to as “Pakistan-administered Kashmir”. 

Gilgit-Baltistan: The Land of High Passes

Gilgit-Baltistan, also known as Baltiyul or Little Tibet, is a true gem of Pakistan that has captivated the hearts of many tourists who have visited the region. The area has a rich historical background and diverse cultural heritage which makes it stand out from other destinations.

Tourism in the region has gained immense popularity in recent years due to its accessibility to various mountain ranges and alpine terrain, including the world’s second-highest mountain. It’s no surprise that Gilgit-Baltistan attracts adventure seekers and tourists interested in mountaineering, trekking, and exploring the local history and culture.

With confidence, we can say that Gilgit-Baltistan is a must-visit destination for anyone seeking an unforgettable experience. The people of Gilgit have always been proud of their ethnicity and culture.

Gilgit Baltistan

Unemployment 1.5%
Mortality Rate74%
Litracy Rate80% (2017-2018)
Established1 Nov 1948
Capital CityGilgit, Skardu
Area27991 Sq ml
Administration typeElected
LanguageBalti, Shina, Burushaski, Wakhi, Domaki
Stuning 44%
Official websiteClick


Covering an area of over 72,971 km2 with a population of over 7864733 persons (census 2023), Gilgit-Baltistan is strategically located at the crossroads of South and Central Asia. Its economy, driven by the agriculture and tourism industries, is bustling. Besides, Gilgit-Baltistan boasts five of the 14 eight-thousands in the world, including the world-famous K2, fifty peaks more than the height of 7000 meters, also three of the world’s longest glaciers outside of the polar region.

Gilgit-Baltistan covers an impressive 6,592 sq. km of lush forests, accounting for 9.1% of its total area. With a landscape that is second to none, it’s no wonder that nature enthusiasts are drawn to this region. Although terrorism has posed challenges to the area’s tourism growth, we remain confident that Gilgit-Baltistan will continue to be a highly sought-after destination for travelers seeking adventure and cultural experiences in a jaw-droppingly beautiful setting. Baltistan is six times larger than Azad Kashmir.

Language and Culture

Gilgit-Baltistan is a culturally rich region with a blend of various ethnicities and languages. While the dominant language spoken in the region is Balti, a Tibetan language, Shina, Burushaski, Wakhi, and Domaki are also spoken by different communities.

These languages have their own unique scripts, with Balti and Shina primarily using a Perso-Arabic script.

The linguistic diversity of Gilgit-Baltistan is a testament to the region’s historical connections with Central Asia

Historical Background

Gilgit Baltistan is an incredible destination that exudes confidence and draws visitors from all over. Its rich cultural and historic significance can be seen in the diverse communities that have thrived here for centuries.

In this unique melting pot of traditions and customs, you can discover a treasure trove of archaeological and architectural wonders that showcase the vibrant heritage of its inhabitants. From ancient rock carvings to breathtaking palaces, the region offers a vast array of cultural and historical landmarks that reflect the resilient spirit of its people.

Visitors are welcomed with open arms and can immerse themselves in the warm hospitality and vibrant local culture of Gilgit Baltistan. There is nothing quite like the experience of exploring this incredible region, which promises to captivate and inspire all who visit. Come with confidence and leave with unforgettable memories.

Ancient History and cultural development

The ancient rock carvings found throughout Gilgit-Baltistan, particularly in the Passu village of Hunza, confidently indicate that human presence has been in the region since 2000 BC.

Over time, the region was inhabited by various ethnic groups, including Tibetans and the Balti people of Baltistan, sharing similar cultures and geographic features to Ladakh. Western areas such as Gilgit, Chilas, Astore, and Diamir are mainly populated by Dards, who speak Shina, while Burushaski and Khowar speakers dominate the Hunza and upper regions.

This diverse range of cultures and languages demonstrates the rich and varied history of this region, making it a fascinating destination for anyone interested in exploring ancient civilizations.

Early history

With a rich history influenced by various religions and empires, this region has stood the test of time. From the Bon religion in the 1st century to the introduction of Buddhism in the 2nd century, this region has continually evolved.

Even Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Faxian (between 399-414) and Xuanzang (between 627-645) were inspired by the religious practices in this region.

These powerful influences have contributed to the uniqueness and cultural depth of this area. As we explore the region, we can confidently embrace the rich history and fascinating legacy left by its earlier inhabitants.

Medieval history, spreading of Islam

This region has a rich historical background influenced by various religions and empires. Its religious evolution began with the Bon religion in the 1st century, followed by Buddhism in the 2nd century. Chinese Buddhist pilgrims Faxian and Xuanzang left their marks on this area during their visits between 399-414 and 627-645,

In the 14th century, Sufi Muslim preachers from Persia and Central Asia introduced Islam to Baltistan. Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani was one of the famous Muslim preachers. The Gilgit region adopted Islam through its Turkic Tarkhan rulers. The area was ruled by several local rulers, including the Maqpon dynasty of Skardu and the Rajas of Hunza. 

Under the reign of Ali Sher Khan Anchan, who had friendly relations with the Mughal court, the Maqpons unified Gilgit-Baltistan with Chitral and Ladakh while introducing polo, sports, arts, and architecture to the Gilgit region. These events have shaped the unique culture and history of the region.

In fact, under the reign of Ali Sher Khan Anchan, Gilgit-Baltistan was unified with Chitral and Ladakh, and he fostered friendly relations with the Mughal court.

Anchan was also responsible for introducing polo to the Gilgit region and promoting arts, sports, and architecture. Given this rich history, we can be confident in the cultural heritage of Baltistan.

Princely State of Jammu and Kashmir

Jammu and Kashmir’s rich history is intertwined with the sublimity of Gilgit-Baltistan. Notably, Dogra commander Zorawar Singh made an indelible mark in 1839, by conquering this state and capturing its then-ruler, Ahmad Shah.

After the First Anglo-Sikh War, the region underwent a significant political transformation as it became a part of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, under the governance of the Dogras.

The region further came under the glorious reign of Dogra Commander Wasir Lakhpat who reconquered Baltistan in 1842. Subsequently, Gilgit-Baltistan remained under Sikh and Dogra rule until 1860, adding to the imperishable legacy of the state. In the 21st century, we acknowledge the courage and resilience of our forefathers, who were instrumental in shaping the history and identity of this great nation.

Despite these sentiments, the area remained a part of the princely state, with certain areas occasionally leased to the British authorities temporarily. The region’s political and social dynamics are characterized by a complex interplay of various factors.

Alliance with Pakistan

Gilgit-Baltistan, a region with a significant population of Muslims, was under the control of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir during the partition.

Initially, Maharaja Hari Singh, the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir, showed his will to be independent. However, the local population, along with military personnel from the British Indian Army, initiated a rebellion against the Maharaja’s decision.

The Gilgit Scouts, led by ex-British officers, took control of Gilgit-Baltistan on October 31, 1947, resulting in the establishment of an independent government known as the Provisional Government of Gilgit-Baltistan.

After taking control, the people decided to align themselves with Pakistan due to religious and cultural affinities. This decision was later confirmed in the Karachi Agreement of 1949.

Modern history and political changes

In 2009, Gilgit-Baltistan was granted limited autonomy through the Self-Governance Order, and in 2020, after the Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly election, the region is slated to attain provisional provincial status.

The Governor of Gilgit-Baltistan represents the federal government and serves as the ceremonial head. The region has its own legislative assembly and an elected Chief Minister who heads the government.

Gilgit-Baltistan Council, Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly, Gilgit-Baltistan Secretariat, and various administrative departments are responsible for sectors such as education, health, infrastructure, and tourism.

This new development is a testament to the region’s growing significance and its immense potential for future growth and development.

Administrative Divisions

Gilgit-Baltistan is divided into three administrative divisions, separately with its own distinct.

Gilgit Division

Gilgit Division is the largest division and the Gilgit division consists of 6 districts, including Gilgit, Ghizer, Hunza-Nagar, and Gupis-Yasin. Gilgit City serves as the administrative capital of the Gilgit division. The approximate area of this division is 37207 Km(sq). 

Baltistan Division

The Eastern Division is called Baltistan, and Skrdu is the divisional headquarters of the Baltistan division. Sakrdu is a popular tourist destination and serves as the base camp for climbing 5 top mountains, including K-2, and Ghashabaram. Baltistan Division is further divided into five districts, Skardu, Ghanche, Shigar, Karmang, and Rondu districts. The approximate area of Baltistan is 26752 km(sq)

Map of gilgit baltistan

Image from Wikipedia Public domain

Diamer Division

The western is called Diamer Division, is situated in the west of Gilgit-Baltistan, and is characterized by its rugged terrain and picturesque valleys. There are 4 districts, Diamer, Chilas, Darel, and Tangir.

The divisional headquarters, Chilas, serves as an important transit point for travelers heading towards the Fairy Meadows and Nanga Parbat base camp. 

Threat of Terrorism

The 2013 Nanga Parbat massacre drastically affected Pakistan’s tourism. This event resulted in tourists being hesitant to visit the country causing negative consequences for industry, which supports the economy and provides job opportunities.

Thus, restoring trust and implementing measures to improve security, promoting Pakistan as a safe and welcoming tourist destination is critical. Cooperation between the government and industry is crucial to overcome the challenges faced.

Explore the Wonders of Gilgit-Baltistan

let’s explore the unmatchable beauty of Gilgit Baltistan

Unique landscape

Gilgit-Baltistan boasts an unparalleled geographic location, providing access to breathtaking mountain ranges and alpine terrain, including the illustrious K2, Nanga Parbat, Ghashabaram, and Mashabaram making it a prime destination for adventure tourism. Unmatchable trango towers waiting for you.

Magnetic wilderness pulls adventure seekers.

The rise in interest in trekking and mountaineering has become a vital contributor to the local economy. 

Gilgit-Baltistan has a thriving tourism industry with much to offer, from exclusive experiences to the awe-inspiring beauty that only nature can provide.

beauty of shangrila resort gilgat baltistan
Shangrila Resort

Top Attractions in Gilgit-Baltistan

  • Gilgit-Baltistan is a popular destination for tourists, offering a variety of attractions and activities that cater to different interests. Some of the top attractions in the region include:
  • Hunza Valley: A beautiful, high-elevation mountainous valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, known for its stunning scenery and ancient forts. For a truly unforgettable experience,
  • Deosai National Park: A unique national park located on the Deosai Plateau, featuring alpine flora and fauna.
  • Altit Fort: An ancient fort in the Hunza Valley that offers panoramic views and showcases the architectural heritage of the region.
  • Baltit Fort: Another historical gem in the Hunza Valley that now serves as a museum, providing insights into the region’s history and culture.
  • Attabad Lake: A beautiful turquoise lake formed by a massive landslide in 2010, popular for boating and photography.
  • Kunjerab Pass: The highest paved international border crossing in the world, connecting Pakistan with China and offering incredible views of the Karakoram Mountain range.
  • Karakoram Highway: One of the highest paved roads in the world, this engineering marvel connects Pakistan to China, providing access to stunning landscapes.
  • Naltar Valley: Located about 54 kilometers from Gilgit City, this popular tourist attraction is known for
  • Kargah Buddha: An ancient rock carving of Buddha located near the town of Gilgit, Kargah Buddha is an important historical and cultural site in the region.
  • Hushe Valley: A beautiful valley in Gilgit-Baltistan that offers spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, making it an ideal destination for trekking and mountaineering enthusiasts.
  • Danyor Suspension Bridge: A fascinating bridge located in Danyor, this suspension bridge offers a unique experience for visitors interested in engineering marvels and picturesque views.
  • Jagir Baseen: A scenic area in Gilgit-Baltistan known for its natural beauty, Jagir Baseen is an ideal spot for forking, camping, and photography.
  • Khalti Lake: A serene lake located in the Gupis Valley of Ghizer District, Khalti Lake offers a peaceful retreat for visitors looking to enjoy nature and tranquility.
  • Moreover, there are a number of beautiful locations waiting to be explored including, lower and Upper Kachura Lakes, Khaplu, village, Shyok River, Youching Valley, and Jagir Baseen Valleys

Festivals of Gilgit Baltistan: Rich Cultural Heritage

Festivals of Gilgit Baltistan are matchless like the people and landscape, Cultural richness and traditions of the Gilgiti and Balti people mesmerize the world. 

Shandoor Polo Festival: A Spectacle of Strength and Skill

The Shandor Polo Festival is a grand event celebrated on a plateau named the “Roof of the World” in Gilgit Baltistan, showcasing the region’s sporting prowess. The festival was founded by Colonel Evelyn Hey Cobb in 1930 and is celebrated annually from July 7th to 9th. The majestic Shandor Pass attracts polo enthusiasts from around the globe, who come to participate in this renowned festival. The thundering hooves, skilled players, and the breathtaking backdrop of snow-capped peaks combine to create a truly mesmerizing experience.


Nouroz Festival: Welcoming the New Year with Joy

Nowruz, meaning “New Day,” marks the arrival of spring and the New Year in Gilgit Baltistan. It is celebrated on the 21st of March every year. This joyous festival commemorates the rejuvenation of nature, symbolizing fresh starts and prosperity. The locals dress in traditional garments, partake in traditional dances, and savor delightful cuisine. The streets burst with vibrant colors, music, and cultural performances, creating a sensory feast that makes Nowruz truly enchanting.

Babusar Polo Festival: A Celebration of Equestrian Excellence

Gilgit Baltistan’s love for polo is further showcased at the Babusar Polo Festival. Held in the breathtaking Babusar Valley, this festival is a testament to the region’s strong equestrian traditions. Skilled riders compete in exhilarating polo matches, demonstrating their mastery over the sport. The festival not only entertains spectators but also provides a platform for local talent to shine.

Shigar Cold Desert Jeep Rally: Conquering the Sands

The Shigar Cold Desert Jeep Rally is a thrilling adventure that attracts adrenaline junkies from far and wide. Held in the cold desert of Shigar, this rally tests the skills of drivers as they navigate through the sandy terrain, battling the elements and pushing their vehicles to the limit. The event is a testament to the region’s passion for motorsports and offers an unforgettable experience for participants and spectators alike. This festival is celebrated in Aug/Oct and hosted different sports events.

Silk Route Festival: Tracing Ancient Trade Routes

The Silk Route Festival takes us on a captivating journey through history, following the ancient trade routes that once connected Gilgit Baltistan to Central Asia and beyond. This cultural extravaganza celebrates the region’s historical significance, showcasing traditional arts, crafts, music, and dance. Visitors can immerse themselves in the vibrant atmosphere, interact with local artisans, and relish the flavors of authentic cuisine. This festival is also celebrated August/October.

Traditional Music and Dance Festivals: Rhythms of Gilgit Baltistan

Gilgit Baltistan is renowned for its rich musical heritage and traditional dances. Various music and dance festivals throughout the year offer a glimpse into the region’s vibrant cultural tapestry. From the soul-stirring tunes of traditional instruments like the Rubab and daf to the graceful movements of the sword dance and the spirited steps of the cultural dance forms, these festivals celebrate the artistic expressions unique to Gilgit Baltistan.

What is Gilgit-Baltistan known for?

Gilgit-Baltistan is known for its stunning landscapes, including mountain ranges, valleys, and glaciers. It is a popular destination for adventure tourism, particularly trekking and mountaineering, due to its access to various mountain peaks, including K2, the world's second-highest mountain.

What is the climate like in Gilgit-Baltistan?

The climate in Gilgit-Baltistan varies depending on altitude and location. Generally, it experiences a cold, arid climate with warm summers and cold winters. In higher altitudes, the region experiences a polar climate with sub-zero temperatures and heavy snowfall.

What languages are spoken in Gilgit-Baltistan?

Several languages are spoken in Gilgit-Baltistan, including Shina, Balti, Burushaski, Khowar, Wakhi, and Urdu. English is also spoken by a small portion of the population, particularly in the tourism sector.

What is the traditional clothing of Gilgit-Baltistan?

 The traditional clothing of Gilgit-Baltistan is influenced by local culture, geography, and weather. Men typically wear a shalwar kameez, a long tunic with loose-fitting trousers, and a traditional cap known as the Gilgiti cap. Women also wear shalwar kameez, often accompanied by a headscarf or shawl.

What are the main cultural festivals in Gilgit-Baltistan?

Gilgit-Baltistan has a diverse cultural heritage, and several festivals are celebrated throughout the year. Some popular festivals include the Shandur Polo Festival, the Silk Route Festival, the Harvest Festival, and the Navroz Festival. These events showcase the region's rich traditions, music, dance, and sports.

What are the main attractions in Gilgit-Baltistan?

Some of the main attractions in Gilgit-Baltistan include Hunza Valley, Deosai National Park, Altit and Baltit Forts, Attabad Lake, Kunjerab Pass, and the Karakoram Highway. The region is also known for its ancient art and petroglyphs, which can be found in various locations.

Are there any safety concerns for tourists visiting Gilgit-Baltistan?

While Gilgit-Baltistan has experienced incidents of terrorism in the past, the security situation has generally improved in recent years. Tourists are advised to stay updated on local news, follow the advice of local authorities, and exercise caution when traveling in the region.
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