Baltistan (, Balti: , also known as Baltiyul), is a region in northern Pakistan which forms Gilgit-Baltistan, bordering the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of China. In addition, a part of Baltistan also falls into the part of the disputed region of Jammu and Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan It is 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 3,350 m (11,000 ft). It is inhabited principally by the Balti people of Tibetan descent.
Karakoram Highway and the Indus River
Baltistan consisted of small independent valley states that were connected to each other through blood relationships of the rulers, called rajas, trade, common beliefs and strong cultural and language bonds. These states were subjugated by force by the Dogra rulers of Kashmir in the nineteenth century. In 1947 when India and Pakistan gained independence, Baltistan was still part of Kashmir. The people of Baltistan being predominantly Muslims revolted against the Dogra rulers and after a struggle lasting a year became independent. Along with Gilgit, it is now administered by Pakistan as the region of Gilgit-Baltistan (formerly Northern Areas). Its links with Kashmir as a subjugated people today continue to be an impediment in granting its population citizenship of Pakistan. The Kargil district of this region is located in the north of Indian-administered Kashmir, while the districts of Skardu and Ganche, whose main town is Skardu, are located in the Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan region. The region has the highest peaks of the Karakoram, including K2.
Baltistan consists of two districts, Skardu and Gangche. It is made of five regions: Skardu, Shigar, Khaplu, Rondu and Chorbat. Some areas of Baltistan are currently administered by India as well, as part of the Ladakh district of Indian-administered Kashmir. The vast majority of the population adheres to Islam. The Skardu district has majority Shia community around 90%, while the Gangche district has majority of Noorbakhsh community around 85%.
Baltistan forms the west extremity of Tibet, whose natural limits here are the Indus from its abrupt southward bend in 74 45 E., and the mountains to the north and west, separating a comparatively peaceful Tibetan population from the fiercer Aryan tribes beyond. Muslim writers about the 16th century speak of Baltistan as Little Tibet, and of Ladakh as Great Tibet, thus ignoring the really Great Tibet altogether. The Balti call Gilgit a Tibet, and Dr Leitner says that the Chilasi call themselves But or Tibetans; but although these districts may have been overrun by the Tibetans, or have received rulers of that race, the ethnological frontier coincides with the geographical one given. Baltistan is a mass of lofty mountains, the prevailing formation being gneiss. In the north is the Baltoro Glacier, the largest out of the arctic regions, long, contained between two ridges whose highest peaks to the south are and to the north . The Indus, as in Lower Ladakh, runs in a narrow gorge, widening for nearly 20 m. after receiving the 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.
On 29 August 2009 the Government of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan announced the creation of Gilgit-Baltistan, a new province-like autonomous region with Gilgit city as its capital and Skardu as the largest city.
Popular culture references
- The region of Baltistan is the focus of Greg Mortenson's book, Three Cups of Tea.
- Dani, Ahmad Hassan: History of Northern Areas of Pakistan, National Institute of Historical Research, Islamabad, 1991.
Baltistan in History by Banat Gul Afridi 1986
- Hussainabadi, Muhammad Yousuf: Baltistan per Aik Nazar 1984
- Hussainabadi, Muhammad Yousuf: Tareekh-e-Baltistan 2003
- Hussainabadi, Muhammad Yousuf: Balti Zaban 1990
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