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Title: Baltistan  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Ladakh, Balti language, Ladakhi language, Tibetic languages, History of Ladakh
Collection: Baltistan, Divided Regions, Regions of Gilgit-Baltistan, Regions of Pakistan
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Baltistan (Urdu:بلتستان, Balti: བལ་ཏི་སྟྰན ), also known as Baltiyul or Little Tibet (Balti: བལ་ཏི་ཡུལ་། ), is a mountainous region in Pakistan situated in the Karakoram mountains just to the south of K2, the world's second highest mountain. It is an extremely mountainous region, with an average altitude of over .

Baltistan borders Gilgit Division in the west, Xinjiang Autonomous Region (China) in the north, Ladakh in the east, and the Kashmir Valley in the south.[1][2][3][4][5] Since 1947, the region has been divided by the Line of Control, with four of its five districts – Skardu, Gangche, Shigar and Kharmang – belonging to Pakistan and the Kargil district being part of India's Jammu and Kashmir. A small portion of Baltistan, including the village of Turtuk in the Nubra Valley, lies in the Ladakh district of Kashmir, India.[6]

The region is inhabited principally by the Balti people of Tibetan descent or Pakistani Tibetans. The vast majority of the population adheres to Islam. The Skardu district has majority Shia community of around 70%, 27% noorbakhshia and 3% other sects, while the Gangche district has a majority of Noorbakhsh community of around 95%.

The region has great strategical importance for both Pakistan and India as the Kargil War and Siachen War were fought here.


Skardu, the capital of Baltistan

Baltistan is described in the 1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica thus:

Baltistan forms the west extremity of Shyok. The capital, Skardu, a scattered collection of houses, stands here, perched on a rock . above the sea. The house roofs are flat, occupied only in part by a second storey, the remaining space being devoted to drying apricots, the chief staple of the main valley, which supports little cultivation. But the rapid slope westwards is seen generally in the vegetation. Birch, plane, spruce and Pinus wallichiana appear; the fruits are finer, including pomegranate, pear, peach, vine and melon, and where irrigation is available, as in the North Shigar, and at the deltas of the tributary valleys, the crops are more luxuriant and varied.[7]

Valleys and districts

Valley District Area (km²) Population (1998) [2001 census for Kargil] Numbers of Estate Headquarters
Khaplu Ghanche 9,400 88,366 56 Khaplu
Skardu Skardu 18,000 219,209 40 Skardu
Shigar Shigar District 6,450 60,295 53 Askole
Kharmang Kharmang 5,520 62,522 43 Tolti
Roundu Skardu _ 80,000 23 Thowar
Gultari Skardu _ _ 10
Purig Kargil district 14,086 km2 143,388 9 Kargil


For centuries, Baltistan consisted of small independent valley states that were connected to each other through blood relationships of the rulers (rajas), trade, common beliefs and strong cultural and language bonds.[8] These states were subjugated by force by the Dogra rulers of Kashmir in the nineteenth century.[9] On 29 August 2009 the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan legally announced the creation of Gilgit–Baltistan, a new province-like autonomous region with Gilgit city as its capital and Skardu as the largest city.

The last Maqpon king Ahmed Shah (killed in 1840 by Dogra rulers)

Baltistan was known as Little Tibet in olden days and in course of time this name was extended to include the area of Ladakh as well. Later on, in order to differentiate it from Ladakh, Baltistan was called Little Tibet whereas Ladakh was known as Great Tibet. But locally Ladakh and Baltistan is known as Maryul ("Red Country") and Baltistan is known as Baltiyul.[10]

Origin of Baltis and Baltistan

Today the people of Kharmang, Western Khaplu, and Kargil shows Tibetan race in their physical features while the people of Skardu, Shigar and eastern villages of Khaplu are Dard people.[12]

It was believed that the Balti people came under the sphere of influence from the kingdom of Zhang Zhung. Baltistan came under the control of the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century. Under Tibetan cultural influence, the Bon and Animist Baltis began to adopt Tibetan Buddhism. Religious artifacts such as the Gompas and Chortens were erected, and Lamas played an important role in the lives of the Baltis.[13][14][15]
It was in the 14th century that religious Muslim scholars from the Muslim World and Kashmir penetrated Baltistan’s mountainous terrain to spread Islam amongst a people who were originally Buddhist.[16] The Kharmang came under the control of the Namgyal royal family, and fostered a close relationship with Ladakh in the east when the Raja of Ladakh, Jamyang Mangyal, attacked the principalities in the district of Purik annihilating the Skardu garrison at Kharbu and putting to sword a number of petty Muslim rulers in the Muslim principalities in Purik (Kargil), Ali Sher Khan Anchan, Sher Ghazi, Raja of Khaplu and Raja of Shigar left with a strong army by way of Marol and by passing the Laddakhi army occupied Leh, the capital of Ladakh. The Raja of Ladakh was ultimately taken prisoner.[17][18][19] Legends show that the Balti army obsessed with success advanced as far as Purang, in the valley of Mansarovar Lake, and won the admiration of their enemies and friends. The Raja of Ladakh sued for peace and since Ali Sher Khan’s intention was not to annex Laddakh, he agreed subject to the condition that the village of Ganokh and Gagra Nullah should be ceded to Skardu and he (the Ladakhi Raja) should pay annual tribute. This tribute was paid through the Gonpa (monastery) of Lama Yuru till the Dogra conquest of Ladakh. Hashmatullah records that the Head Lama of the said Gonpa had admitted before him the payment of yearly tribute to Skardu Darbar till the Dogra conquest of Ladakh.
Ali Sher Khan Anchan also included Gilgit and Chitral into his kingdom of baltistan.[20] It is related that Baltistan was a flourishing country during the reign of Ali Sher Khan Anchan. They valley from Khepchne to Kachura was flat and fertile and fruit trees abounded in it. The sandy desert now extending from Sundus village to the Skardu Airport was a prosperous town. Skardu had hardly recovered from the shock of the death of the Anchan when it was visited by a great flood converting it into a sandy desert.
In 1845, the area came under the rule of the Dogras.[21] At the time of the independence of Pakistan from the British, some northern parts of J&K, came under occupation of Pakistan.[22]

Skardu city in 1800
a typical Balti village


The capital of Baltistan, Skardu, maintains several tourist resorts, and boasts many natural features including plains, mountain valley lakes and alpine mountains. Places such as Shangri-la, Deosai plain, Satpara Lake and Basho also host tourists in the region. In the north of Skardu, the Shigar Valley offers plains, hiking tracks, peaks, and camping sites. Other valleys in the Baltistan region are Khaplu, Rondu, Kachura Lake and Kharmang.

Glaciers in Baltistan

The Baltoro Glacier in the Karakoram, Balawaristan. At in length, it is one of the longest alpine glaciers on earth.

Baltistan is a rocky wilderness of around [23] containing the largest cluster of mountains anywhere in the world along with the biggest glaciers anywhere outside the polar region. The Himalayas advance into this region from India, Tibet and Nepal while to the north of them spread the more localized Karakoram range. Both ranges run northwest with the Indus River in between. Along the Indus are many valleys alongside the main river and in the path of its tributaries. Glaciers include Baltoro Glacier, Biafo Glacier, Siachen Glacier, Trango Glacier and Godwin-Austen Glacier.


View of Laila Peak, which is located near Hushe Valley (a town in Khaplu)
Baltistan is home to more than 20 peaks of over , including K2, the second highest mountain on Earth.[24] Other well known peaks include Masherbrum (also known as K1), Broad Peak, Hidden Peak, Gasherbrum II, Gasherbrum IV, and Chogolisa, situated in Khaplu Valley. The following peaks have so far been scaled by various expeditions:
Name of Peak Photos Height Date of Conquest Location
1.K-2 (28,250Ft) 31/7/1954 Shigar District
2. Gasherbrum I (26,360Ft) 7/7/1956 Ghanche District
3. Broad Peak (26,550) 9/6/1957 Ghanche District
4. Muztagh Tower (23,800Ft) 6/8/1956 Ghanche District
5. Gasherbrum II (26,120Ft) 4/7/1958 Ghanche District
6. Hidden Peak (26,470Ft) 4/7/1957 Ghanche District
7. Khunyang Chhish (25,761 Ft) 4/7/1971 Skardu District
8. Masherbrum (25,659 ft) 4/8/1960 Ghanche District
9. Saltoro Kangri (25,400Ft) 4/6/1962 Ghanche District
10. Chogolisa (25,148 Ft) 4/8/1963 Ghanche District


Baltistan has a population of about 322,000 which is a blend of many different ethnic groups, predominantly Tibetans and Monpas while a few Kasmiri merchants settled in Skardu which was brought by rulers of Skardu for various purposes like agriculture and woodcraft. Yabgo Royal family of Khaplu[25] were from Yarkant County.


Islam came into Baltistan by different Sufi missionaries during 16th to 17th century soon the region converted to Noorbakhshi Muslims. Mir Sayed Ali Hamadani came into Baltistan 3 times in different periods via Kashmir and Yarkand. Later Mir Shamsuddin Iraqi Mir Arif, Mir Ishaq, Syed Ali, Syed Mehmood came into Baltistan to spread the mission of Syed Ali Hamadani. All these Sufi scholars were followers of Kubrawiyya Noorbakhshi Sufi order.[26] These scholars were Rizvi Syeds. In Baltistan mostly Mosavi sayeds are descendents of Noorbakhshisufis. While Rizvi Syeds came in 19th century to convert Noorbakhshiinto Shia Muslims. Today majority of Noorbakhshi Muslims live in Ghanche and Shigar district. While 30% of Noorbakhshi Muslims survived their existence in Skardu district.[27]


Panoramic view of Sheosar Lake in Skardu District.


Golden-Marmot in deosai plains

Baltistan has been called a living museum for wildlife.[28] The Baltistan High altitude Deosai National Park, in southern Baltistan, is a good habitat for predators as it has abundant prey populations.
There are two main categories of animals which are found in different parts of Baltistan.

Domesticated animals

This includes yaks, cows, bulls and cross between yak and cows viz ‘ZO’ and ZOMOS, sheep, goats, horses and donkeys.

Wild animals

Wild animals of the area include ibex, markhor, musk deer, snow leopard, brown bear, black bear, jackal, fox, wolf, and marmot.

Balti children from the Shigar Valley


Balti culture is a mixture of Central Asian, Mughal and Tibetan culture.

Balti music and art

A Balti version says that the Mughal Princess Gul Khatoon better known in Baltistan as Mindoq Gialmo (Flower Queen) brought with her musicians and artisans into Baltistan. The musicians and artisans propagated Mughal music and art under her patronage.[29] Musical instruments such as the ‘Surnai’, ‘Karnai’, ‘Dhol’, ‘Chang’ etc. found their way into Baltistan.


The classical and other dances are displayed on Nowruz (21 March) and at the marriages of Rajas etc. These can be classified into Sword Dances, Broqchhos and Dewan or Ghazal.[30]

Chhogho Prasul commemorates a great victory by the Maqpon Rajas over their enemies. As a mark of respect the musician who plays on the drum (dang) stands up and goes on playing on it for some time. The Maqpon princes would sometimes dance when this tune was played.

Gasho-Pa, also called Ghbus-La-Khorba, is a sword dance associated with the Gasho Dynasty of Purik (Kargil) who loomed large in this region.

Sneopa, or the Marriage Procession Dance, is performed on the occasion of the marriages of Rajas. The Pachones, twelve Wazirs who accompany the bride, take part in it.


view of Chaqchan Mosque

The architecture of Baltistan contains Tibetan and Mughul[31] influences as well as monastic architecture which reflects the Buddhist imprints left in the region. The Buddhist Straight painted can be seen on feature on every Fort, and khanqah of Noorbakhshi sect including the likes of Chaqchan Mosque, Amburik Mosque in Shigar, Khanqah e Muallah Shigar, Khaplu Fort, Shigar Fort, and the Skardu Fort.


Polo match in skardu around 1820 as depicted in Godfrey Vigne's book

Polo is very popular in Baltistan. This royal sport is indigenous to the Karakoram Range. It was Ali Sher Khan Anchan the Maqpon ruler of Baltistan who introduced this game to other valleys upon his conquests that stretched beyond Gilgit and Chitral.[32]

Popular culture references


The government radio broadcaster "Radio Pakistan " (AIR)[33] and government television station "Skardu TV station" both have stations in Khaplu that broadcast local content for all the day.
There are also a handful of private news outlets.

  • Daily k2[34] is a newspaper published from Skardu serving Gilgit-Baltistanin Urdu.
  • Bad-e-Shimal, claims to be the largest circulated daily of Gilgit and Baltistan.[35]
  • Nawa-e-Sufia, a monthly magazine covering Baltistan's religious news of Nurbakshi sect.[36]


External links

  • Britannica Baltistan.

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