Spreading over an area of about 26,000 square kilometers and situated in the heart of the Karakoram, Baltistan is a region of the Gilgit-Baltistan and the home of lofty peaks and long glaciers. It borders with Laddakh in the east, Gilgit Hunza in the west, the Sinkiang Province of China in the north and Kashmir in the south.
The indigenous features of the population, the cultural trait and the similarity of the Balti language to archaic Tibetan has earned this area the nickname of “Little Tibet”. From earliest times, it was in the cultural sphere of northern India. Alexander of Macedon (356–323 BCE) subdued Baltistan and brought Hellenic influence to the area. Thereafter, Baltistan was part of Gandharan culture and was an important center of Buddhism. It was only in the eighth century CE that Tibetan tribes made inroads into the region and became a dominant part of the population. Ladakh and Baltistan remained under the Central Tibetan dynasty for a very long time.
Majority of people converted to Islam when it came to Baltistan in the thirteenth century, during the rule of the Makpon dynasty. It is often said that only with the Makpon rulers did Baltistan acquire its identity. Ali Sher Khan Anchan (Anchan means strong) was the greatest ruler in the Maqpon dynasty. The period of his rule is considered to be the golden period in the history of Baltistan. His rule spread from Mansroar, a lake in Tibet, to the valley of Kalash, Chitral in the east-west, and from the Karakoram mountain range in the extreme north to the northern boundaries of the present day Kohistan Hazara. Their rule lasted until 1840, when the Dogras under the rule of Ghulab Singh Maharajah Jammu and Kashmir, seized the area.
The ethnic and cultural bonding between Baltistan and Ladakh deepened during the Dogra period (1842-1948), as the Dogras consolidated both regions into one province called the Ladakh Wazarat. The union of Ladakh and Baltistan within one administrative setup was based on the fact that both regions have a similar culture.
Laddakh Wazarat was the largest province of the unified Jammu and Kashmir, exceeding the total area of Kashmir province by six times. It was divided into Leh, Kargil and Skardu districts. Skardu, the capital of Baltistan, was the winter capital of the province while Leh, the capital of central Ladakh, was the summer capital. The Dogra Regime introduced state subject rule to protect the socio-political and economic interests of the native Muslim and Buddhist populations by allowing only local ownership of land. The provincial set-up further enabled strengthening trade and socio-economic links along with cultural development. Roads and bridges were constructed and a postal system was set up, thereby accelerating communication between the various valleys of the province and bringing people even closer.
Baltistan remained part of Kashmir until 1947. Partition of Ladakh Wazarat in 1948 led to separation of Ladakh and Baltistan, when the local Baltis fought for freedom from the Hindu Dogra regime to join Pakistan. Baltistan was later annexed by Pakistan and incorporated into the Gilgit-Baltistan.
Other prominent places in Baltistan & historical sites there in
Skardu is the center of Baltistan and the largest district of Northern Areas. It is situated on the bank of the Indus River near the confluence of the Indus and Shigar Rivers. At an altitude of 2300 meters and lying in a region characterized by mountains that are stark and rise up to 18,000 feet, gorges that are deep and steep, glaciers that are gigantic and imposing, waterfalls that are fast-flowing and noisy, and lakes that are pure and placid, Skardu is marked by a cool and pleasant climate. This truly is, in Fosco Mariani’s words, “The world’s greatest museum of shape and form” and a sight defying imagination.
Over a big rock, on the bank of the Indus River is the relics of the Kharpocho Fort, (The king of forts), also known as Alexandria Fort. This maze of low doors, dark passages and steep wooden steps dates back to the sixteenth century. However, opinions differ regarding the constructor of this fort. Hishmatullah has attributed it to Maqpon Bugha (1490 – 1515 AD), the great grandfather of Ali Sher Khan Anchan. But Mughal historians and European writers, such as Cunningham, Foso Marine, and G. T. Vagne are positive that the great fort was built by Ali Sher Khan Anchan himself. The location and construction of this fort demonstrates the warfare and architectural genius of its constructor.
Gul Khatoon (gul means flower and khatoon means lady) decided to build a palace with flower garden beneath the fort. Since the garden was located at a higher point the queen linked the garden to Lake Sadpara five miles from Skardu by a canal to bring water to it. Hence the aqueduct was constructed through the center of the town. The palace, named after the queen, was called Mindoq Khar, meaning flower palace. When Maharaja Gulab Singh, the Sikh ruler of Kashmir, invaded Skardu in 1840 AD, his troops destroyed the palace. The ruins of the palace can still be seen. Hundreds of years have passed but the aqueduct still exists, witnessing the intelligence of the queen.
A meditating Budha is carved on the northern face of a large rock about half way between Skardu and Sadpara. This is the one and only surviving Rock with carvings of an image of a meditating Maitreya Buddha. It has been suggested that these rock carvings and images of Buddha can be placed in the period of Great Tibet Scholars Empire in 900 AD. When the Buddhists of Gandhara migrated from their land, they passed through the present day northern areas of Pakistan; they set up temporary settlements at some places and carved drawings of Stupas, scenes of their experiences, and images of Buddha with texts in Kharoshti language. Either these rocks are lost in the Satpara Lake, or were utilized as building material by Ali Sher Khan Anchan. It is an easy walk from the road across the Sadpara stream, crossing a foot bridge over the stream and up to the slope on the other side at Manthal.
Eight Kilometers south of Skardu, is a 10 minutes’ drive or an easy walk to Sadpara Lake or Satpara Lake. The walk along the aqueduct in the centre of the town is most pleasant and shorter than following the jeep road. A small islet in the centre of the lake is reached by boats. (Construction of the dam is nearing completion and the islet may soon be under water). The lake abounds in trout fish and is an ideal place for fishing and boating.
Deosai plateau lies 32 kilometers southwest of Skardu and can easily be reached via the Satpara Lake and village. The average height in Deosai is about 3,500 meters (11,660 feet). Spreading over about 70 kilometers across, it links Baltistan with Astore Valley.
Deosai plateau has officially been declared National Park and Himalayan Brown Bears, jackals, wolves and other species of wildlife are found here. The land is covered with snow for seven months of the year. In spring, vast stretches of green and thousands of wild flowers are intercepted by crystal clear streams and backed by snow-covered peaks.
Behind a ridge near the Kharfocho Fort, at a distance of one and half kilometer is the first Organic Village of Pakistan “Nangsoq Village” where farmers follow organic practices for production of food. By virtue of the support rendered by Agha Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) in understanding the worth of their century’s long unique practices, the village has become the first organic producer. All type of food produced, consumed and supplied in the village is organic. It provides all facilities, i.e. campsites, bathrooms/toilets, open air restaurants serving with all kind of traditional and local foods, walking tracks and sitting places. Walking on the sandy bank of the Indus River, the track bears one of the most exciting features in itself. It gives the visitors an unmatched experience of trekking on the mountain path in the Karakoram.
Shigar is the gateway to a wonderland for trekkers and mountaineers, where some of the largest glaciers of the world, including the famous Baltoro glacier are situated. Four above 8000 peaks are located at the head of the Baltoro glacier.
Shigar is the most fertile valley in Baltistan. Apples, walnuts, peaches, grapes, pears and apricots are in abundance.
Shigar town has great historical sites to offer.
Built upon a huge boulder, Shigar Fort-Palace is locally known as Fong Khar – literally the Palace on the Rock. Sited on the right bank of a mountain stream, slightly elevated above the nearest hamlets of Shigar, at the foot of a steep rock formation, a hundred or so meters high, on top of which lie ruins of the original Fort.
Raja Hassan Khan, the twentieth ruler of the Amacha dynasty, ascended the throne in 1634, but lost his kingdom to other invaders. He managed to regain the throne with the help of the forces of the Moghal emperor Shah Jehan. The Raja brought various artisans including shawl weavers, carpenters, goldsmiths and stone carvers from Kashmir to Shigar and proceeded to build the palace-fort. Fong Khar was gradually abandoned in the 1950s in favour of more recent annexes, built in its immediate vicinity.
Shigar Fort was selected for adaptive reuse and restoration as a major strategic investment which would re-establish community pride by conserving and putting into use one of the major heritage assets of Baltistan. The current function of the Fort complex as a museum and exclusive guesthouse will have ripple effects in terms of economic benefit for the community and will also influence them to value their cultural heritage. In addition the process of conservation will revive traditional artisans’ skills which will result in the community manufacturing products for local and international tourists. The introduction of compatible use of a palace as a hotel will provide necessary funds for the future maintenance of the Fort and also sustainability for local institutions.
The conservation of the Palace into a guesthouse was designed in such a way as to remain faithful to the original structure and minimum architectural interventions. The basic decision of the re-use is based on the potential offered by the cellular typology of the architecture, which lends itself admirably to individual room units.
Conservation principals have not been sacrificed to conventional commercial thinking; it was though that, on the contrary, maintaining the historic character will enhance the rarity value of the rooms. Some rooms have only small windows, but this is part of the authentic experience. Furnishing is restrained, discreet and tasteful, utilizing simple wooden furniture and hand-woven textile elements from a re-vitalized textile craft in the neighbouring village. As much as possible original features such as bed niches, woodcarvings, screens, have been conserved and displayed as an integral component of the décor. Plastered earthen walls lightened up by a muted lime wash and timber and walnut floors make the rooms friendly. Bathrooms have been integrated as much as possible in small service rooms or added in ways, which do not conflict with original historic features.
The complex at Shigar comprises the old Fort-Palace and two ancillary buildings) the “Old House” and the “Garden House”). The adaptive re-use plan for the Fort was predicated on transforming it into an exclusive 13-room guesthouse with the grand audience hall and the anterooms serving as a museum of Balti woodcarving and local living traditions. The guestrooms – some being rather small, some having comfortable suite character – retain as much as possible the authentic character of the Fort/Palace. Modern furniture and equipment in the rooms is minimal. Many guestrooms feature spectacular original or restored woodwork complimented by traditional craft objects and artifacts from the region. Accommodation is geared to an international clientele of connoisseurs, who look for an authentic, special experience.
The “Old House”, having less historic value, is now a reception and restaurant compound, with the restaurant, the kitchen and service rooms occupying the former stable on the ground floor, while the lounge, a conference room and a manager’s office occupy the upper floor. The lower restaurant has a porch and an attractive garden overlooking the stream, while the lounge benefits from a covered veranda with spectacular views.
The “Garden House” overlooking the traditional garden has been converted into a modern 7-room guesthouse with rather conventional rooms. Local craft products have been used to decorate the rooms.
Khaplu, “Shyuk Valley” or “Siachan Valley” is located at 2600 meters above sea level. Khaplu is cooler than Skardu. With the friendly character of the people and superb walks along irrigation channels, Khaplu is well worth visiting and the nicest place to stay in Baltistan.
Khaplu is the gateway to Masherbrum Peak, K7, K-6, Namika, Chogolisa for mountaineers and Gondogoro la, Gondogoro Peak, Saraksa Glacier, Gondogoro Glacier, Masherbrum Glacier, Aling Glacier, Kandey Nangma, Machlu Broq, Thaely La, Daholi lake, Kharfaq Lake, Ghangche Lake and Bara Lake for trekkers, Khaplu is a very beautiful place for hiking like Khaplu Braq, Khaplu Thung and Kaldaq. One most grade opportunity for rafting on Shyok River, as well as the rock climbing places like Biamari Thoqsikhar and DowoKraming (Hot Spring). At 2555 meters, Khaplu is cooler than Skardu, with the friendly character of the people and superb walks along irrigation channels; Khaplu is well worth visiting and the nicest place to stay in Baltistan.
It is said that the site of the mosque has always been a place of worship from the very existence of human life in this area. A mosque was built by Amir -e- Kabir Syed Ali Hamdani in the 14th Century AD. The architectural design of the mosque is unique and presents the true picture of ancient Islamic art.
Is attributed to Syed Muhammad Shah & was built in 1712 AD / 1124 AH.
Is a beautiful historical building of the last & best Tibetan style in Pakistan. This palace was built by the rulers of Khaplu in the middle of 19th century.
Is a nice and beautiful picnic spot, with lush green fields surrounded by snow clad peaks.