Gilgit-Baltistan Culture Tour
Gilgit-Baltistan has been at the crossroads of various civilizations for centuries. Not so long ago, it was the central theatre of the “great game in which the erstwhile empires maneuvered for strategic supremacy while caravan of traders, sundry adventurers and explorers traversed the serpentine coil of tricky mountain paths that came to be known as “silk route” .
The isolation associated with the Karakoram Mountains ensured that Gilgit-Baltistan, developed and preserved its unique history, cultural values and traditional political identity. The territory of Gilgit-Baltistan consists of seven districts namely Gilgit, Ghezir, Hunza Nagar, Diamar, Astore, Baltistan (Skardu) and Ghanche.
LANGUAGE & LITERATURE
Urdu is the lingua franca of the region, understood by most of the inhabitants. The Shina language (with several dialects like Asturjaa, Kharuchaa, chilasi) is the language of 60% of the population, spoken mainly in Gilgit, Astore throughout Diamer, and in some parts of Ghizer. The Balti dialect, a sub-dialect of Ladakhi and part of the Tibetan languages group, is spoken by the entire population of Baltistan. Minor languages spoken in the region include Wakhi, spoken in upper Hunza, and in some villages in Ghizer, while Khowar is the language of Ghizer. Burushaski is an isolated language spoken in Hunza, Nagar, Yasin (where Khowar is also spoken), in some parts of Gilgit and in some villages of Punyal. Another interesting language is Domaaki, spoken by the musician clans in the region. A small minority of people also speak Pashto. Despite being referred to as part of Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan has few remnants of Kashmiri speaking their own language.
English is fairly widely spoken among the educated classes and those involved in the tourist industry.
Literature in Shina language is all about bringing harmony among the various sections of society through the humanism, tolerance and pluralism. Literary and poetical works of Abdul Khaliq Taj and Jamshed Dukhi who have through their work strived to forge unity among the people of different ethnicities are renowned.
Though Balti has remained under adverse conditions, even then it has proved to be a very fertile language capable of creating several categories/ kinds of folk and classical literature. Prose is not find except Proverbs (in hundreds) and some Epics and Sagas (of King Kesar/Gesar, Rgyalucho-Lo-bZang and Rgyalu-Srasbu and some others), all in oral tradition. All other literature is in verse. The Balti literature has adopted numerous Persian styles of verse and vocables that have amplified the beauty and melody of its poetry.
People of Gilgit-Baltistan are usually living in remote, mountainous region. In upper mountain region, the architecture has a unique continuity of design, usually with one central room built around the hearth. The room is laid out in raised platforms at different heights, each for a certain purpose, with five symbolic pillars and a diamond-shaped hole in the roof for smoke and light.
Traditional Wakhi houses are single storied, built of mud and stones. The floor is mud with carpets or animal skins and the door, roof-hole, pillars, and sometimes the platforms are made of wood. In the older houses the outside door is about 1.5 meters tall to preserve heat. Light comes from a skylight, the door, the fire, and oil lamps. The hearth at center is usually fed with brush or yak dung. The pillars have a peculiar four-spiral device with a fifth spike, said to represent the fingers of the hand, and the five holy personalities of Ismailism.
The buildings in Baltistan show great indebtedness to Kashmiri style of architecture. . The rich carvings on the window frames, door frames, at the arches and panel of the verandahs, while the top horizontal panels all show various geometric designs, the verandah arches which are trefoil and stilted have scroll designs at the tympanums. Some buildings have inscriptions fixed over the doorway. They are mostly historic in content. Historical view of Altit Fort, Baltit Fort, Ganish fort and skyscraper mountains is also a rich example of architecture.
Most of the buildings in the region use wood as a building material to preserve old traditions. However structures have been replaced by new materials. All of the houses are built in the same design, usually in more out-of-the-way places where building a large traditional house would be difficult. The carpets made up of sheep/yak hair, Rolled up sleeping mats and a Back room for storage is commonly seen.
ARTS & CRAFTS
Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the tourist attractions from all over the world. Hence the arts and crafts of the province are renowned worldwide.
Dori work is done on Choghas or ceremonial gowns. Embroidered caps and garments are specialties of Gilgit and hunza.
Carpet weaving on handlooms in a simple design formations is also specialty of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Stone work (sharma) is one of the famous craft of the province for making elaborated stoneware. There are traditional apricot spoons. Hard, seasoned walnut-wood lends itself well to the artistry of the wood-carver’s hand. Apart from elegant furniture, the walnut-wood carvers also produce decorative boxes, salad bowls, trays and cigarette-boxes.
Diamer is famous by its pine forest. Pine wood is used in good quality of furniture.
Woolen pattu of this place are unique in design and quality. These days the traditional designs have been made contemporary with the increase in todayï¿½s demand. Pattu is used for making gowns.
Ibex hair is used to make hand woven floor rugs. These firm rugs receive their decorative embroidery usually done by girls. The natural creamy-white base can also be dyed in vivid colours.
There are other floor-coverings that are unique. Kimma is used for making Numdah. They are brightly embroidered in metro rectangle to small round ones which can be scattered all over a room to lend it warmth and colour.
The gabba is another variety of floor-covering. These are exotic, multi-coloured and geometrically patterned rug. Embroidered wallets, key chains, caps and other products are also noticeable.
MUSICS & DANCES
The famous trio band music is played in this region as in most of the other regions. On the rhythm of this loud music, men love to dance in their typical way. There are some variations in lyrics from region to region.
Gilgit, Ghizer Yasin, Puniyal,and Gupis favorite rhythm is Alghani. Ajoli rhythm is played during departure of bride from her house. Souse is a martial rhythm and fast rhythm, played when sword dance is performed. Hunza people’s favorite rhythm is Dani.
Instruments commonly used in Gilgit Baltistan are, Dadang (drum), Damal and Surnai while some other instruments like Sitar, Gabi(flut) Rabab and duff represent the different areas. Beside these khling-boo, chang, porgho-too etc instruments are used in Baltistan region.
Old Man Dance is performed by more than one man wear some old style dresses and wear local hat and dance.
Sword Dance is a unique dance that is performed by men taking one sword in right and Shield in left. One to six participants as pair can dance.
Cow Boy Dance is performed by a man wear earlier period dress, long leather shoes and a stick has in hand.
DRESSES AND ORNAMENTS
As in most other regions of Himalayas, the men generally dress in woolen stuffs of home manufacture, their garments being the coat (anga), trousers(pyjama) of dark thick cloth, cap(topi) familiar to all hill men, and very generally a long frock coat (bakhu), while their shoes are the same as those worn every where in the hills. Though sometimes they wear woolen boots of chequered color and are soled with rope very ingeniously and finely plaited. There is a bright iron pipe and a knife in sheath struck in his belt.
Women dress consists of tight fitting Pyjama and a lady’s gown. A shirt like a Punjabi kurta is worn as an under cloth. A sash is worn round the waist over the gown. The lining on the gown is some times embroidered along the margins. The favorite colors are black, red and blue. And finally a head-gear which goes one to one and half yards down the back and with which the face can be covered. In winters sometimes ladies wear thick shawl like woolen Chadders. The hair is plaited into a tail which comes down to the shoulder-blades and sometimes a little lower. Long woolen boots complete the description.
The wedding dress of women of Gilgit-Baltistan has a highly decorated bodice. It is so heavily worked front and back in geometric designs that the shoulders stand out from the body. The pompoms are made of Hunza wool. The wide sleeves extend past the hands are also elaborately embroidered on the cuffs. The swirling skirt is made of 23 yards of printed cotton.
Ornaments and jewellery are made of gold and silver. Necklaces are of various types made of turquoise, coral and pearl. Sometimes nose pins are studded with precious and semi precious stones. In young ladies chains of gold and pearl-beads are most common now. Silver bangles are also used.
Food in Gilgit-Baltistan involves the use of mild aromatic spices and less oil. International cuisine and fast food are popular in cities. Blending local and foreign recipes (fusion food) such as Pakistani Chinese is common in large urban centres.
The origins of Balti cooking are wide ranging and owe as much to China (with a slight resemblance to the spicy cooking of Szechuan) and Tibet as well as to the ancestry of the Mirpuris, the tastes of the Moghul emperors, the aromatic spices of Kashmir, and the ‘winter foods’ of lands high in the mountains.”
The food and its style of presentation proved very popular. Balti cuisine offers very large “Karack” naan bread pieces, meant to be shared by the whole table.
Ful-cobi ne mutter jo shaak / Cauliflower and Peas curry, Tandoori Bateta ne Ful Cobi / Tandoori Cauliflower and Potatoes, Machi Bhat / Spicy Coconutty Salmon with Rice , Tikkha Chilla, Bharela Marcha / Stuffed Peppers , Bakala jo soup . Mixed Vegetable Soup, Khajur ne Akrot jo Cake / Date and Walnut Cake, kebabs, bateta saak (potato curry), chicken saak (chicken curry) and rice are the traditional specialities of Gilgit-Baltistan. In Ismaili community, the relatively small Samosas having special recipe is famous.
Yak’s milk is given special importance. It is used for making butter that has a very high fat content. It is considered as the best present that a family can give to another. Those living in the remote regions lead simple lives and the monasteries in the vicinity have a great impact on their lives.
CUSTOMS AND TRADITIONS
Gilgit-Baltistan has been influenced by various cultures and civilizations throughout history. Its unique location – the main trading route between India, China and Central Asia (Silk Route) passed through the area – not only made it a meeting place for traders and pilgrims, but also attracted emperors and conquers from Central Asia and Persia. The road was built over an historical caravan trail which was once part of the ancient Silk Road, and was a combined effort between China and Pakistan.
Baltistan is mainly inhabited by Baltis, Muslim tribes of Tibetan origin. The Baltis are a very forbearing, cheerful, and hospitable people. The Wakhis survive by herding sheep, goats and yaks or by farming small plots of wheat or barley. Almost all Wakhis are Ismaili Muslims, a liberal, pacifist branch of Islam led by the Aga Khan. Wakhis are among the friendliest and most hospitable people of the area. Gilgit-Baltistan has a rich cultural heritage and variety of rare plants and flowers.
In the land of Gilgit-Baltistan, many cultures and ethnicities exist, three distinct sectarians groups practice their respective interpretation of Islam. But this whole region shares a beautiful landscape of terraced fields, high-mountains, and clean glacier water. Most people practice some form of agriculture and their beautiful orchards and wheat and potato fields are fed by these glacial waters.
The people inhibiting this region have a common memory of gaining independence from the Dogra Raj on November the 1st 1949. These diverse people who also proudly claim distinct cultural heritages, however, find unity in many important dimensions of their respective cultures such as the commonality of musical instruments and their tunes, and unique methods of dance. These people can also be uniformly identified from their headgear the Farzin and the long coat Shoqa, and of course in their food.
FAIRS & FESTIVALS
Navroz, Jashn-e-Baharan, Shandoor Polo Festival, Babusar Polo Festival and Harvest time festivals are the major festivals of the province.
Harvest Time festival is performed in the same way as the seeding festival. The villagers thank “Allah” (God Almightly) for the bounty that they are going to harvest. For this, it means lively music (drum beats), dancing and eating and on top of sharing the happiness with one another.
Traditional sport game of Gilgit Baltistan is polo. Polo was originally started from Gilgit centuries ago and Britisher learned to play Polo from Gilgitis during their stay in sub continent. It is still played in its original version at Gilgit.
Polo is the favourite game of the people of Gilgit, Chilas, Astore, Hunza, Nagar and the surrounding areas. Every year, many tourists visit to enjoy polo in Gilgit-Baltistan. Other games such as cricket, Tuksori of Nagar, gulli danda, kabbadi, and volleyball are also played.
Simply stand up and cheer for the local teams, when they clash in a unique style of polo-the game of Kings! Mesmerize Yourself this Summer-Visit Gilgit-Baltistan.
For centuries, the Silk Route remained the main trading route between the south Asia and the central Asia. The Silk Routes Festival has provided a great opportunity to travelers to explore the natural beauty, unique cultural and ancient traditions of the Northern Areas and together with other Silk Route countries like China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, to Turkmenistan participate in this event reflecting the work of their artisans, craftsmen and folk musicians.