The Gilgit Baltistan is the most spectacular and fascinating region of Pakistan. It is here that the world’s three famous mountain ranges meet – the Himalayas, the Karakorams and the Hindukush. The whole Northern Pakistan has come to be known as a paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, hikers and anglers of the most famous “Trout fish”.
In the Gilgit Baltistan regions of Pakistan, at a stone’s throw from the Amu Darya, is” Bam-e-Dunya” (the roof of the world). This was the name given to the great Pamir plateau, apex of six of the mightiest mountain ranges of the world.
The historic Karakoram pass 5,575 metres, an ancient trading route between Kashmir and Xinjiang, gives its name to the range west of it that forms the watershed between the Indus and the Central Asian deserts. The eastern boundary of the Karakoram is the upper Shyok River from where it extends over 322 km. westwards to the Karumbar river and the Hindukush range. To the north the Shaksgam tributary of the Yarkand River and south by the Indus bound the Karakoram. Here, the Nanga Parbat 8,126 metres massif is the western anchor of the great Himalayan range which stretches in an arc 24,124 km. east to Burma, a boundary and barrier, “the razor’s edge” which for centuries has determined the destiny of the Indian sub-continent.
Such is the setting of Karakoram Range, this remnant of a primeval ice age, “the third pole,” with extensive glacier systems and the greatest concentration of lofty mountains in the world. Some of the largest glaciers outside sub-polar regions flow in the Karakorams. For its sheer mountain grandeur and breath-taking panorama of beauty, few places can match the superb landscape through which the Karakoram Highway snakes. A fantastic and unforgettable spectacle is the passage of the Highway along the Baltura glacier, rated among the worlds seventh largest.
The Khunjerab Pass, which the Highway crosses, and the nearby Mintaka Pass lie astride the fabulous ancient Silk Route that led from Europe to Asia and over which history’s most famous tourists once travelled. These include the Venetian trader Marco Polo after who has been made the wild Marco Polo sheep in the thirteenth century, the Chinese Monk Fe Hien in the fourth century and the Arab historian, Al-Beruni in the eleventh century.
The Siachin glacier is 75 km, the Hispar, (52 km) joints the Biafo at the Hispar La 5,154 metres to form an ice corridor, 116 km. long.The Batura too is 58 km. in length. But the most outstanding of these rivers of ice is the Baltoro (62 km). This mighty glacier fed by some 30 tributaries constitutes a surface area of 1,219 sq. km. Of the fourteen over 8,000 m peaks on earth, four occupy an amphitheatre at the head of Baltoro. There are K-2 (8,611) second only to Everest, Broad Peak (8,047 metres) Gasherbrum-I (8,068 metres), Gasherbrum-II (8,035 metres). Seen from a distance, the Baltoro appears smooth and beautiful but in fact it is a chaotic tumbling mass of rock and ice, troughs and hillocks and the debris of centuries.
It is a unique remote corner of earth. For here, in a frozen wilderness a crag, cornices and crevasses, raise towering spires of granite, great snowy peaks with fluted icy ridges and pinnacles that pierce the sky.In the Lesser Karakorams there are equally great peaks such as Rakaposhi (7,788 metres), the dominant giant in Hunza valley. Its north face is fantastic precipice – 5,791 metres of plunging snow and ice.
There are scores of over 7,000 m peaks in the Karakoram Range and hundreds of nameless summits below 6,000 metres, mere points on the map. The shapes, forms, sizes, colours provide tremendous contrast, which defy description. K-2, the undisputed monarch of the sky, Broad Peak, massive and ugly, Muztagh Tower, deceptively, sheer. Gasherbrum-II, the “Egyptian Pyramid” that even Cheops would have preferred for a tomb, Chogolisa, the “Bride Peak”, in whose eternal embrace lies Hermann Buhi, the first man to climb Nanga Parbat. The Cathedrals of the Baltoro with their great knife-edge ridges, the sky cleaving monoliths of the Trango Towers and most beautiful of all – the Peak of Perfection – Paiyu, (6,600 metres) first climbed by a Pakistani expedition in 1977. The Hindukush is also a mountain vastness containing hundreds of peaks, many above 7,000 metres including a Trichmir 7,705 metre that is the highest point of the range.
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to a number of diversified cultures, ethnic groups, languages and various backgrounds. It is home to people belonging to all regions of Gilgit-Baltistan as well as from other cities of Pakistan and aboard. This multitude of cultures is because of the strategic location of Gilgit. Being the headquarters of the Gilgit-Baltistan as; most of the key offices are located in Gilgit. Shina is the basic language spoken by most of the original settlers but the new comers have various backgrounds of languages and cultures. Other key languages spoken in Gilgit are Wakhi, Brushaski, Khowar & Balti. Urdu and English are the official languages spoken – while other languages include: Pushto and Punjabi. Because of various cultures the pattern of living, housing, food style and over life style has become a mixture having various colors.
Because of the multicultural and multi lingual aspects: people also have a beautiful mix of lifestyles and attitudes. These range from the typical people tending to preserve the traditions and culture to the modern people somehow influenced by other cultures, media and education. That makes a pluralistic society having a range of people with various backgrounds and living together with peace and tranquility.
Majority of the inhabitants are Muslims belonging to two different communities of interpretations i.e. Sunnies, Shias and Ismailies. A small number of Christians also reside in Gilgit. For religious practices Sunnies go to Masjid, Shias go to Imam Bara and Ismailies attend Jamat Khana.
There are mainly two types of festivals i.e. religious and cultural. Religious festivals include: Eid-e-Ghadir, Edi-ul Fitr and Eid Miladunnabi (the birth anniversary of Prophet Muhammad-Peace be upon Him). There are some other important events specific to different communities of interpretation which are celebrated with complete peace and fraternity. Cultural events include:
Shandoor Polo Festival.
Babusar Polo Festival.
These are greatest opportunities for people to get together and share their talents and skills.
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
The people of Gilgit-Baltistan as have some unique and very beautiful dances in different parts. Following dances are common during the festivals, traditional events and ceremonies
Old Man Dance In this dance more than one person’s wear some old style dresses and dance
In this unique dance the participants show taking one sword in right and shield in left. One to six participants as pair can dance.
Cow Boy Dance (Payaloo).
In this dance a person wears old style dress, long leather shoes and a stick in hand.
The instruments commonly used in Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan are Dadang (drum), Damal and Surnai while some other instruments like Sitar, Gabi(Flute) Rabab and duff represent the different areas. Beside these khiling-boo.chang, porgho-too etc instruments are used in Baltistan region.
TYPES OF MUSIC.
Alghani: The people of Gilgit, Ghizer Yasin, Puniyal, and Gupis call this rhythm as Alghani.
Ajoli: during departure of bride and groom from house this rhythm is used in different parts of Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan.Souse: A martial rhythm and it has a fast rhythm and is used specially in sword dances.
Dani: Dani is the name of a traditional music used in Hunza which links to Tibet, Baltistan and Laddakh.
After many months, the plants are now ready for reaping and harvesting. This stage involves another festival. Harvest time is celebrated. This festival is performed in the same way as the seeding festival. The villagers thank “Allah” for the bounty that they ore going to harvest. For this, it means lively music (drum beats), dancing and eating on top of sharing the happiness with one another.
THE SHANDUR POLO FESTIVAL.
A Highlight of the Region’s, the Country’s and the World’s Polo Playing Calendar Story and Photographs by Doug Kuzmiak The exact place where polo originated is shrouded in mists and perhaps myths of the history of Western and Central Asia, but there is no doubt that that this region in general is its birthplace and with some even going so far as to so’ that it was in the Gilgit-Baltistan, and Baltistan’s town of Shigar in particular, where it all started. Whether or not that indeed is the case polo has a long tradition and enjoys a substantial following of enthusiasts in the Northern Areas. Even among people who could never dream of owning a horse, polo has its loyal devotees who regularly support their favourite team and often ‘travel long distances throughout the Gilgit-Baltistan to demonstrate that loyalty. One such instance, and perhaps the largest and most dramatic in the whole Northern Areas, and perhaps all of Pakistan, is the annual Shandur Polo Festival held in July. Until last year Shandur was the highest polo ground in the world ‘it 12,263 feet. That distinction now goes to Babusar at almost 13,599 feet, still in Pakistan. Shandur is on a spur of the old Silk Route. It has been the site of a fierce rivalry between the polo teams from the old fortress town of Chitral in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) and the ancient caravanserai and now modern city of Gilgit in the Northern Areas. In 2008 Chitral won the free-style, no chukker polo tournament by two goals and the match had to go into spirited, hard-playing extra time on a ground wider, longer and higher than usually found else-where. It was not without altercations, disagreements, some wildly flying balls and perhaps a rumored fist or two. The Shandur plateau is usually the haunt of grazing sheep, goats and yaks. These occasionally become the prey of brown bear, wolf and even the rare and endangered snow leopard. There is a complex of extremely shallow, snowmelt-fed lakes, which are only about 10 feet deep. The complex constitutes one of South Asia’s great bird-migration flyways, and they play a major role in the propagation of species found nowhere else. The lakes themselves are breeding grounds for species of frogs, toads, snails and plant life in addition to attracting the passing birds. Polo at Shandur goes back a long way and is somewhat colorfully clouded in embellishment. But originally, the polo match at Shandur was a clash between the region’s ruling classes with the princely Methars of Chitral and the equally princely Rajas from what is now the Northern Areas. During the days of the British Raj, when Shandur was one of the farthest and most remote point north in South Asia where the Union Jack flew, polo rivalry was shared by the Chitral Scouts and the equally competitive Gilgit Scouts military regiments. Even though the existing polo pavilion and seating area were established, some say, as far back as the 1930s, Shandur’s remoteness was its environmental saviour. And when Partition of India and Pakistan took place, there appears to have been a break in the activities. That was until the 1980s, when the federal government started supporting polo at Shandur on a large scale, and things began growing from there. Nevertheless, things still were, and are, kucha at best. Players and mounts live in and around tents with the Chitral team on one side of the border, the Gilgit-Baltistan team on the other. Players and their mounts are still made up of the region’s elite, some of whom are the best players in the country and perhaps the world. The 1990s saw prime ministers, including the late Benazir Bhutto, flying in by helicopter for the last day’s main event and during the early 2000s the road between Gilgit and Shandur was paved and from Chitral to Shandur partially paved. People then began loving Shandur to death. The now-comparative ease of access saw an increase in the numbers of both spectators and sellers, and also an increase in indifference to the environment. Solid-waste management, water pollution and erosion problems manifested themselves in a very big way. Vehicles, horses, clothes, crockery and cutlery, and people were all being washed in the fragile lake complex. The mountain of trash and difficulties managing it grew. Going on the environmental offensive, this year the 18-month-old Pakistan Wetlands Programme (PWP), a seven year long Ministry of Environment environmental initiative being implemented by the World Wide Fund for Nature, Pakistan (WWF-P) and in particular its Gilgit-located Regional Operations Base set out to “Save Shandur” through an environmental campaign aimed at solid waste management and conscious raising among participants, spectators and vendors. It was acting upon a PWP-sponsored landmark study done in 2006 by Oxford University scholar David Johnson regarding the environmental challenges facing Shandur. The PWP encouraged support from the army and police, whose duties this year included cordoning off and guarding access to the lake and other environmentally sensitive areas. The PWP got the Gilgit-Baltistan Environmental Protection Agency (NAEPA) along with Tourism departments from both the NWFP and NAs, and non-government organizations involved in the effort. Officials of the NAs Forest Department along with their counterparts at the NWFP Wildlife Department agreed to assign four rangers to environmental check posts on the road at the two entrances to Shandur. At the same time, the PWP drew together community organizations from both sides of the polo match’s competing regions to work together for a common cause. Particularly special help and consideration to the environmental effort was given by the officers and men of the Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts, a comparatively new paramilitary regiment made up from the corps of the old Gilgit Scouts and who were camped next to the PWP. They provided material, logistical and tactical assistance to the program’s staff and volunteers, helped with the maintenance of the PWP vehicles in the demanding conditions, operated a snack stall and dining room open 10 ail and provided evening traditional folk dancing and musical events. The Scouts had a fully equipped medical unit that was prepared to ok., and did aid, in any way it could. Its presence was considered to be a major contributor to the environmental initiative’s success. And while the polo players battled it out on the polo ground day after day, the volunteers maintained high-profile, periodic clean-ups of the polo ground area and marches on it, inducing a grand finale on the last day. Repeated announcements were made over the public address system encouraging spectators to be environmentally sensitive. Thirty visually friendly, blue, plastic trash bins were provided by the Gilgit-Baltistan ERA and strategically positioned by the volunteers in the bazaar. The bins were lined with locally made, heavy-duty polyurethane bags, which had the PWP and NAEPA logos printed on them. For security reasons only the liner bags were allowed to be placed in the polo ground area. Thanks in part to the public-relations blitz, the corps of environmental volunteers achieved some notable successes. Officially, 550 bags of trash averaging 16.5 pounds each, totaling about 9,232 pounds, or 4.6159 tonnes, were systematically collected by the volunteers, weighed and contents of selected bags analyzed and disposed of in an EPA approved dumpsite on the Northern Areas side of Shandur plateau.
“This year’s Save Shandur showed that with the right dedication and will, things that were in the past considered difficult or impossible can be achieved. And if it can be done at Shandur, it can be done anywhere. It is already envisioned that for next year the cleanup and conscious-raising campaigns will be expanded to include more volunteers, organizations, and cover the entire area of the event. Good fun and good environmental practices can coexist,” said Dr. Humaira Khan, the Pakistan Wetlands Programme’s coordinator for the Northern Areas.
BABUSAR POLO TOURNMENT.
Babusar polo tournament was organized from August 5-7, 2008 by the Tourism Department Gilgit-Baltistan, Gilgit at the highest polo ground in the world at Babusar (13,812 ft) at the highest Polo group of the world. This Polo Tournament is based on its geographical location, lucid atmosphere and newly constructed NHA road which, will provide easy access to Gilgit-Baltistan from Naran and Kaghan valleys of NWFP, the tournament was designed to signify the touristic potential of Babusar and it’s surrounding. The festival also includes Tug of war, Tent pegging, Paragliding, Photo Exhibition, Gemstone Exhibition, Handicrafts Exhibition, Trekking, Horse Riding and camp Fire. The Babusar Pass is located in District Diamer of Gilgit-Baltistan . It is located at a distance of 35 kms from KKH near Chilas, which takes 2 hours drive on road journey to Babusar. The Babusar Pass can also be accessed through Mansehra, via Kaghan Valley covering a distance of 200kms.
Gilgit has an area of 38,000 square kilometers (14,672 sq mi). The region is significantly mountainous, lying on the foothills of the Karakoram mountains, and has an average altitude of 1,500 meters (4,900 feet). It is drained by the Indus River, which rises in the neighboring regions of Ladakh and Baltistan. The Gilgit-Baltistan borders the Wakhan corridor of Afghanistan to the northwest, China’s Uygur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang to the northeast, the Indian-controlled state of Jammu and Kashmir to the south and southeast, the Pakistani-controlled state of Azad Jammu and Kashmir to the south, and Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province to the west.
The Karakoram and the Himalayas are important to Earth scientists for several reasons. They are one of the world’s most geologically active areas, at the boundary between two colliding continents. Therefore, they are important in the study of plate tectonics. Mountain glaciers may serve as an indicator of climate change, advancing and receding with long-term changes in temperature and precipitation. These extensive ranges may have even caused climate change when they were formed over 40 million years ago. The large amounts of rock exposed to the atmosphere are weathered (broken down) by carbon dioxide this process removes the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere, and could have caused the global climate to cool, triggering an ongoing series of ice ages.
Pakistan is home to 108 peaks above 7,000 meters and probably as many peaks above 6,000 m. There is no count of the peaks above 5,000 and 4,000m. Five of the 14 highest independent peaks in the world (the eight-thousanders) are in Pakistan (four of which lie in the surroundings of Concordia; the confluence of Baltoro Glacier and Godwin Austen Glacier). Most of the highest peaks in Pakistan lie in Karakoram Range (which lies almost entirely in the Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan, but some peaks above 7,000 m are included in the Himalayan and Hindukush ranges.
Most of the highest mountains in Pakistan are located in the Karakoram Range, but some high peaks are in Himalaya (the highest of which is Nanga Parbat, globally ranked 9th, 8126m) and Hindu Kush (the highest of which is Tirich Mir, globally ranked 33rd, 7708 m). Where Great Mountain Ranges Meet (Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindu Kush Mountain Ranges) Pakistan is a land of varied and unique landscape. While high mountain ranges dominate its North, series of low mountain ranges of Suleman, Pub, Kirthar and Makran extend from North to Southwest and to South in a bone like manner. These low ranges dominate the plains and deserts to the East and warm and captivating beaches of the Arabian Sea to the South. It is, however, Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan which is endowed with most unique geographical feature in the world. It is here that the three great, lofty and spectacular mountain ranges, Karakoram, Hindukush and Himalayas meet. In an area of about 500 kms in width and 350 kms in depth, is found themost dense collection of some of the highest and precipitous peaks in the world, boasting more than 700 peaks above 6000 meters, and more than 160 peaks above 7000 meters. These include five out of the total fourteen above eight thousand meter high peaks on earth, namely the second highest rock pyramid – the K-2 (8611 m), the killer mountain Nanga Parbat (8126 m), the Hidden Peak, Gasherbrum I (8068 m), the Broad Peak (8047 m) and the Gasherbrum II (8035m). This enormous mountain wealth makes Pakistan an important mountain country, offering great opportunities for mountaineering and mountain related adventure activities. The area is aptly called a paradise for mountaineers, adventure seekers and nature lovers. The compelling charm of these high, challenging, endless sea of rugged rock and ice pinnacles lure large- number of climbers, adventure seekers and nature lovers from across the five continents to the Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral, each year.
K2 is a rocky mountain up to 6000 meters, beyond which it becomes an ocean of snow. The exact height of the peak is 8,611 meters/28,251 feet. The mountain owes its name to a coincidence. In 1856, T. G. Montgomerie from the British Cartographic Service in India was taking down the consecutive summits by the initial of the Karakoram mountain range when doing his measurements there, adding them in the order in which he was studying them. He had no idea that K2 is in fact the second highest mountain on Earth. There was no local name attached to the mountain. Attempts were made to find a name for it in the language of the inhabitants of Baltistan, the region in which it is situated. The highlanders liked “key two”, the most, however, the way it is pronounced in English. Later on, this turned out to be “Chogori”. Chogori is a Balti word meaning King of Mountains. The name K2, however, still stands. In 1860, Captain Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen, of the Survey of India, went to the Baltistan area and surveyed the famous Shigar and Saltoro valleys. This greatly contributed to the knowledge of the area. In 1861, he started from Skardu and entered Braldu valley from Skoro-La (5,043m). He then climbed and surveyed the Chogo-lungma, Kero Lungma, Biafo and Panmah glaciers. It was from Kero Lungma that Godwin Austen climbed the Nushik pass (4,990m/l 6,371 ft) and is stated to have entered the 53-km-long Hispar glacier. He was perhaps the first European to reach it. It is a myth that the K2 peak, which was erroneously called Godwin-Austen peak, was discovered by him. It is, however, a fact that he explored the gateway to K2 (the Baltoro glacier), along with famous glaciers including Godwin-Austen glacier. This was indeed his outstanding contribution to the geography of the area.
The Himalayas are a great mountain range formed by the collision of Indo-Pakistan tectonic plate with the Asian Continent/The central Himalayan Mountains are situated in Nepal, while the eastern mountains extend to the borders of Bhutan and Sikkim. Nanga Parbat massif is the western corner pillar of the Himalayas. It is an isolated range of peaks just springing up from nothing, and is surrounded by the rivers Indus and Astore. Nanga Parbat or “Nanga Parvata” means the naked mountain. Its original and appropriate name, however, is Diamir the king of mountains. Nanga Parbat (main peak) has a height of 8,126m/26,660 ft. It has three vast faces. The Raikot (Ra Kot) face is dominated by the north and south silver crags and silver plateau; the Diamir face is rocky in the beginning. It converts itself into ice fields around Nanga Parbat peak. The Rupal face is the highest precipice in the world. Reinhold Messner, a living legend in mountaineering from Italy, says that “everyone who has ever stood at the foot of this face (4,500m/14,764ft) up above the Tap Alpe’, studied it or flown over it, could not help the amazement of its sheer size; it has become known as the highest rock and ice wall in the Nanga Parbat has always been associated with tragedies and tribulations until it was climbed in 1953. A lot of mountaineers have perished on Nanga Parbat since 1895. Even today it is claiming a heavy toll of human lives, mountaineers in search of adventure and thrill and in finding new and absolutely un-climbed routes are becoming its victims. The Nanga Parbat peak was discovered in the nineteenth century by Europeans. The Schlagintweit brothers, who hailed from Munich (Germany) came in 1854 to Himalayas and drew a panoramic view which is the first know picture of Nanga Parbat.
Gasherbrum in local language means “Shining Wall”. There are six Gasherbrum Peaks. Gasherbrum I, also known as Hidden Peak 8,068m/26,470ft), is the highest peak among them. A French Expedition lead by H. De Segogne made the first attempt in 1936, but I they could not climb beyond Camp V located at a height of 6,797 m. However, in 1958 an American Expedition led by Nich Clinch made the first ascent to Gasherbrum. I. Schoening and Kaufman were the first to reach the summit. The approach route to Base camp starts from Skardu through Shigar Valley and approach trek starts from Askole through Baltoro glacier.
“Hidden Peak or Gasherbrum I (8068 m)” is the llth highest mountain of the world. The British explorer M. Conway introduced the names ‘Hidden Peak’ and Gasherbrum II. In 1958 an American expedition, headed by Clinch and Schoening, climbs the summit for the very first time. On the way crossing the south spur, they use short ski and snow shoes. Pete Schoening and Andrew Kauffman got to the summit on July 4th 1975. In 1982 a German expedition headed by G. Sturm climbed the Hidden Peak. G. Sturm, M. Dacher and S. Hupfauer got via a new route in the north face to the highest point. In the same year, the very first woman reached to the summit. Moreover, the first ski descent from the top of an 8000 meter peak was also made.
The shining mountain on the Karakoram Range is just the second highest peak amongst the Gasherbrum Peaks with an altitude of 8,035m/26,361ft. The first ascent made by Austrians led by Fritz Moravec along with Joseph Larch and Hans Willenpart on 8th July, 1956. They set up a base camp on the south Gasherbrum glacier. Camp 1 was set up at 6,005m/l 9,700ft. It was here that the party was forced to stay for ten days because of a severe storm. Consequently, they lost a large supply store in an avalanche. After setting up a few more camps, Fritz Moravec, Joseph Larch, and Hansenpart set up a bivouac below 7,620m/25,000ft. Inspite of frostbites suffered in the bivouac, the three reached he summit of Gasherbrum II on 8th July and came back without meeting any further accident. The climb on this peak is both on rock and ice. A high level of technical skill, physical fitness and acclimatization is required. The approach to base camp is via Skardu and takes about a week’s trekking on Baltoro Glacier. An Expedition to Gasherbrum II provides a more complete mountaineering Experience than the commonly guided Tibetan 8000m Peaks ( Shishapangma & Cho Oyu) which can be reached by Jeep road. The Walk to Gasherbrum II base camp along the Baltoro Glacier has been described as one of the best treks in the world.
The Gilgit-Baltistan of Pakistan are rich in flora and fauna because of varied climatic conditions and ecosystems. In spite of unscientific management and ruthless hunting in the past, wildlife in the Gilgit-Baltistan still supports rare and endangered species of mammals and birds like Marco Polo sheep, blue sheep, markhor, black bear, brown bear, chakor and ram chakor. Due to the destruction of habitat wildlife population of Gilgit-Baltistan is decreasing rapidly. According to rough estimate of late Raja Bhadur Ali Khan, (Conservator of Forests, Gilgit-Baltistan); in 1970, there were 500 Marco Polo sheep in the Khunjerab National Park, but in 2004 they were only 75, restricted to Kirchinai nallah of the valley. Similarly snow leopard and other valuable species are also decreasing. (Khan, 1970). Until 1947 almost all the important valleys, most of them now included in protected areas, supported a high density of wild animals and hunting was allowed to only a few British and high ranking local officials, rulers and persons with high social status. Furthermore, the area was hard to access. Hunting for the common poachers was not easy. Traditional muzzle loading guns were commonly used, but were not very effective.
Mammals: The mammalian fauna of Gilgit-Baltistan mainly belongs to Palaearctic region, which may have spread southwards from Central Asia. Fifty-four mammal species are estimated for Gilgit-Baltistan. These species consist of one shrew, 10 bats, 18 carnivores, 6 artiodactyls, 3 lagomorphs, and 16 rodents. There is only one endemic species of mammals, i.e. the woolly flying squirrel, while the Astore markhor (flare-horned markhor) can be considered near-endemic, as its distribution is restricted to a few valleys because of rugged terrain and natural barriers like rivers. The distribution of many small mammal species is very patchy and restricted to certain watersheds due to physical barriers like high mountains and rivers. Virk et al. (2003) quote Z.B. Mirza that the most diverse groups are carnivores and rodents. The rodents have high breeding capacity and are the food base for many carnivores. Species like shrews provide food base to foxes, weasels and stone martens. Large mammal species richness is higher in Gilgit-Baltistan as compared to other parts of Pakistan. Two areas are considered as a “hot spot” for large mammal’s diversity. These are the upper Hunza and the triangle between Indus and Astore rivers. Several large mammal species found here are endangered. These includes snow leopard, Marco Polo sheep, Himalayan brown bear, black bear, musk deer, flare horned markhor, Laddakh urial, blue sheep, and Himalayan lynx. Most of these species require large areas to maintain viable populations. Species like markhor and Ladakh urial constitute much of the remaining global populations. The current status of Marco Polo sheep and musk deer is also uncertain, as both of these species have been persecuted heavily in the past. The population of musk deer is very low and fragmented. Its status in Northern Areas is endangered and it is listed in both the IUCN Red Data Book and in CITES Appendix-I. Marco Polo sheep is not a permanent resident of Pakistan but occasionally migrates into the Khunjerab National Park through the border passes of Khunjerab, Killick, and Mintaka. The area around the Khunjerab pass provides suitable summer habitat for this species, but it has not migrated this location in the recent past probably due to greater human presence. The Chinese have also erected fence along the Khunjerab pass, which has further reduced this species’ crossing into Pakistan. The other possible place where this species can cross into Pakistan is through the Killick and Mintaka passes where its sighting has been less in recent years. Only a herd of 46 animals was sighted in the area during July 1997 by local herders and Game Watchers of KNP (Virk et al., 2003). The most comprehensive account of large mammals has been given by Schaller (1977) and Roberts (1997). However, the occurrence of some of the species as Red dog or Indian wild dog (Coun alpinus) and Tibetan wild ass (Equus kiang) is still a controversy. There are reports that these species occur in the Shimshal Pamir, the area next to Sinkiang, China (Rasool, 1998). Earlier accounts suggest occasional crossing of these species from China into Pakistan around the Broldu and Oprnag rivers in Shimshal Pamir, but there is no confirmation of their recent sightings.
Snow leopard (Uncia uncia) is a beautiful Palaearctic cat, which blends well in rocky terrain in the mountains of Gilgit-Baltistan Pakistan. In summer months it ascends to the alpine zone, returning in winter to the oak forest to forage for food, which consists mainly of grass eating animals. Its fur is very soft and luxuriant and thick in winter. It is gray-brown in summer, paling in winter with pure white under parts. Its tail has long fur. It is vulnerable to illegal hunters mainly because of its valuable pelt. Occasionally it is poisoned by nomadic shepherds to prevent goat losses. Himalayan lynx (Felis lynx isabellina) occurs in alpine slopes in the extreme of Northern Areas. It is a powerful and expert climber, generally nocturnal but occasionally hunting by day in remote areas. Its usual food is marmot, pika, hare, snow cock and other birds, but can also overpower large animals like sheep, goat and even markhor.
Wolf (Canis lupis) is found throughout the Northern Areas. It hunts domestic livestock, wild ungulates (ibex, markhor, blue sheep etc.) and other small rodents. Himalayan black bear (Selenarctos thibetanus) occurs in pockets in Iran and Balochistan and is widespread in the Himalayas from China to Russia. It lives in caves in the remote, mountains areas and descends at night to feed, mainly on small insects, but it is also eats crops, particularly ripe maize.
Brown bear (Ursus arctos) is a holarctic species found in alpine and sub alpine scrub zones in Chitral, in Deosai in the Gilgit-Baltistan, around the slopes of Nanga Parbat and in Astore, Swat and Indus Kohistan. It is also found in Pamir and the Hindu Kush. The brown bear eats insets, voles and succulent shoots. It hibernates during winter from the end of October until the following spring. Musk deer (Moschus moshiferus) is another palaearctic species found in the northern mountains, including Hazara, Kashmir and the Himalayan ranges eastwards to Nepal and Sikkim. Its usual habitat is birch scrub and bushy upland regions. At times it moves with nomadic goats. Although vulnerable to snow leopard and wolf attacks, its main enemy is human being who kills it for its valuable musk pod, which is used to make scent and other cosmetics. Siberian or Himalayan ibex (Capra ibex) is a palaearctic species found in the high mountains of Chitral, the Northern Areas, Hazara, and Indus Kohistan and possibly in the Safad Koh Mountains. This ibex is also distributed in Afghanistan, the Pamir the Altai and the Shah mountains. In Pakistan it stays above 6700 meters, but during the rut season in December it may descend to below 2000 meters. It mainly browses, but also grazes when lush grass is available.
Urial, Shapu (Ovis orientalis) is found in the northern mountains, the western ranges, the Salt Range, the Kalachitta Range and Balochistan. It is a close relative of the wild sheep found in North America, Europe and central and northern Asia. It is generally found in arid country where tree growth is sparse. In the Salt Range it inhabits areas of dense acacia scrub. Male herds segregate from females, mixing only to breed. In the rut season males fight to express dominance over each other. In Gilgit-Baltistan it is found in Askloi valley (Shiger), Kharpocho (skardu), Ghursey (Khaplu) and Astore valley.
Marco Polo sheep (Ovis amon polii) is found in a very small area (less than 26 hectares) of high rolling terrain in extreme northern Hunza in the Kilik and Khunjerab passes into which it migrates from China during winter. Its main population is found in the greater Pamir Mountains, in Wakhan, Afghanistan, in Tajikistan and China. It shares its habitat with the snow leopard and the wolf, and is hunted by both. Alpine or Altai weasel (Mustela altaica) is found in the palaearctic zone of Pakistan, mainly in Baltistan and on the slopes of Nanga Parbat. It is also found in Kaghan valley above 3200 meters. Like the stoat, it feeds on pikas, hamsters and other rodents, birds and insects. Common otter (Lutra lutra) lives in the cold mountain rivers and streams of northern Pakistan. It is an agile swimmer, diving for fish. It has a distinctive bark, and when alarmed lets a loud cry.
Marmot (Marmota caudata and Marmota bobock) are two palaearctic species found in the northern mountains, including Hazara district, near the high glaciers at 3200 to 4850 meters. They live in burrows amongst rocks, collecting large quantities of food to last them through the snowy months. Bat (Isabelline serotine eptesicus isabellinus) is found in Gilgit. They hibernate in winter. Out of seven Pipistrelle species of bats found in Pakistan two are palaearctic. These are the common pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) found in Gilgit-Baltistan. The common pipistrelle has been known to fly with open mouth emitting ultrasonic notes. Unlike other bats it is mainly active around dawn and dusk. Hemprich’s long -eared bat (Otonycteris hemprichi) is found in Gilgit. It has conspicuous long eared and flies very low to the ground hunting for insects. Grey long eared bat (Plecotus austriacus) is a palaearctic bat found in the Gilgit-Baltistan and the Kaghan valley. It roosts with its ears tucked under its forelegs in the roofs of houses, tunnels and other dark areas. It is capable of flying very slowly and can hover, enabling it to pick insects from the surface of leaves.
The tube-nosed bat (Murina huttoni) is a palaearctic species and has been recorded in Nalter in the Northern Areas and in the Murree hills. It roosts mainly in tree cavities. Royals high mountain vole (Alticola roylei) is found in the Gilgit-Baltistan, the Kaghan valley, Swat and the Safed Koh. It is nocturnal and partly diurnal. It lives in burrows in stony soil from about 8,000 ft up to the permanent snow line. It collects and stores food for winter consumption. It is eaten by stoats, weasels, kestrels and even the brown bear. Chinese birch mouse (Scista concolor) is found in Gilgit-Baltistan and northern parts of the Kaghan valley up to a height of 13,200 ft and hibernates in winter. It has a semi prehensile tail. Its teeth are strong enabling it to rack seeds, but also feeds on insects. Migratory hamsters (Cricetulus migratorius) are found in Northern Areas, the western mountains and northern Balochistan above 4,400 ft. It has well developed cheek pouches, which it fills with food for chewing later on or for storing. It is aggressive, especially when cornered, and will attack jerboas and frogs. Royal pika (Ochotona royalei) is found in Hazara, Gilgit and Baltistan. The long eared pika (Ochotona macrotis) is also reported from extreme northeastern Baltistan. But it is very scarce. Russian scientists considers it to be a subspecies of Royal pika. These are active during the day, gathering vegetation to store for winter.
Avi-fauna: According to Virk et al. (2003) the Gilgit-Baltistan have one of the most diverse avi fauna of the mountain region of the world. But little information is available on the distribution, status, diversity and ecology of many of these bird species. The most comprehensive account of the avifauna of Pakistan comes from Robert (1992, 1991). Some researchers have documented bird diversity of certain parts of Gilgit-Baltistan. These include studies on avifauna of the Khunjerab National Park (Blumstein, 1995), Deosai plateau in Baltistan (Khan and Rafiq, 1998; Woods et al., 1997) and in the Nalter Wildlife Sanctuary (Sheikh, 2001). Much of the information contained in this section is derived from these publications.
The Karakoram and Himalayan ranges separate the uplands of Central Asia from South Asia, forming a barrier between two large areas of Asia which are different climatically. The geographic location of Gilgit-Baltistan make them ideal for many bird species. The area is a staging, transitory, breeding, migratory and native ground for many species. In total, about 230 species of birds have been estimated for this region. These include passage migrants, vagrants, residents, breeding and irregular visitors. Many of these species breed in Northern Areas and are found over a large range. The estimated number of bird’s species here is based on published records, distribution range maps and discussion in Roberts (1992, 1991). But the lack of reliable and consistently published data of the Gilgit-Baltistan indicates the need for long term ornithological studies to determine the distribution and abundance of birds. Studies indicate that the area is rich in avifauna for example 109 birds species have been recorded from the Deosai plateau (Khan and Rafiq, 1998). Similarly, 87 species have been reported from KNP. Nalter valley in particular and lower Hunza, Gilgit and Astore valleys in general have been studied by Sheikh (2001) describing the ecology, breeding biology, distribution and species diversity of about 110 species .A large number of warblers, buntings, red start were found to be breeding here. There are some rare species which not only occur in the area but also breed here. These include lammergeyer and the golden eagle. There is a possibility that species like peregrine falcon also breed in some high altitudes valleys, particularly in Ghizer district. A few sightings of lesser kestrel have also been reported in lower Hunza near the Hunza River by Sheikh (2001). Some of the restricted range species like snow partridge and Himalayan monal pheasant are extremely rare and may be at the verge of extinction from many of their earlier strongholds. The most diverse group of birds in Gilgit-Baltistan is the passseriformes species. There are mostly warblers, tits, fly catchers and buntings. BirdLife International (2001) reported 27 species of Pakistan birds which are threatened internationally. Out of these, several species are found in Gilgit-Baltistan. There may be several more species, which are threatened nationally or face local extinction. For example, snow partridge and Himalayan monal pheasant are facing local extinction from many valleys. Similarly, large-billed bush warbler and tytlers warblers are rare species, but not included in the report of Bird Life International. A list of threatened species is given in the following table. These species have small and fragmented population and are threaten by loss and fragmentation of their habitat. (Virk et al., 2003). Snow partridge (Lerwa lerwa) is found in stony habitats in high areas above the tree line of the Himalayas, the Northern Areas and the Safed Koh mountains. It feeds on new grass in areas clear of snow. Himalayan snow cock (Tetraogallus himalayensis) is found in the Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral and Safad Koh region above 3600 meters. It cockles loudly in the morning and evenings all year round, and is a very fast flyer, beating its wings during the initial part of flight, then gliding with wings slightly closed in swoop. It usually lives where the ibex can be found and eats succulent plants. Chukar partridge (Alectoris chukar) is resident in the northern and western mountains of Pakistan at minimum altitudes of 600 meters rising to 4500 meters. It is found in coveys of up to 40 birds, and eats insects, seeds, soft leaves, bulbs and roots dusk, emits a rapidly –repeated “chukor-chukor” which accounts for its name. Snow pigeon (Coiumba leuconata) is a palaearctic pigeon found in the Gilgit-Baltistan and the Kaghan valley up to 4000 meters. It roosts on cliffs and nests in rocks, holes and crevices. It flies down in large flocks to the lower valleys during early morning, returning to its roots in the evening. Pintail (Anas acuta) Alert and wary, this is one of the most elegant of the ducks, with a distinctive, long, pointed tail. It often feeds at night, especially where there is much disturbance. It is a good walker, holding the long neck erect, and the wings make a distinct hissing noise in flight. It is a common sight in winter throughout the areas on jheels or coastal waters. Common teal (Anas crecca) Abundant throughout the area in winter, this is a very agile duck, twisting and turning in flight and springing off the water with characteristic dash when alarmed. The drake looks rather dark at distance, but closer up it reveals attractive colors. Like other dabblers, it feeds mainly on vegetable matter. Sometimes it is seen in huge flocks, but usually occurs in much smaller parties (Woodcock, 1980).
The Gilgit-Baltistan have many rivers, streams and alpine lakes fed by snowmelt and glacier waters. The freshwater resources contain several fish species which are an important component of the region’s biodiversity. The fish fauna here is relatively poor due to high turbidity, low water temperature, high water speed, low benthic productivity, and long stretches of narrow river gorges (Rafiq, 2002). The fish are predominately Palaearctic with elements of Central Asian highlands. The fish diversity in Gilgit-Baltistan is not yet described with greater detail despite its biological and evolutionary significance. However, some recent studies report there are about 17 species of native fish and 3 of exotic fish, belonging to five families (Table 8). Out of these 17 native species, four are endemic to Gilgit-Baltistan, while several others have ranges confined to one or two localities. For example, Triplophysa stoliczkai, Ptychobarbus conirostis and Schizopygopsis stoliczkai are only found in eastern waters up to Kachura. During the Hunza/Gojal expedition 2000 undertaken by Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pakistan Museum of Natural History, specimens of three species of fish were collected; one of these reported as endemic here (Virk et al., 2003). The number of fish species found in high altitude streams and lakes is low. For example, only three fish species have been recognized from Deosai. These include Triplophysa stoliczkai, Diptyichus maculatus, and Ptychobarbus conirostis (Woods et al., 1997). Among exotic species, brown trout was introduced in Gilgit agency during the early 1900s. This species is now well established and is found in most of the rivers and lakes of Gilgit and Ghizer districts. Particularly upstream of the Ghizer river and its tributaries contain a large number of brown trout (AKRSP/DFID, 2000). Other exotic species include North America rainbow trout and Chinese carp introduced for aquaculture. However, it is not clear whether these exotics breed naturally. But their distribution is very limited and they are found only in those water bodies where they were stocked.
The Gilgit Baltistan is one of the most spectacular regions of Pakistan. Here the world’s three mightiest mountain ranges – the Karakorams, the Hindukush and the Himalayas – meets. The entire Gilgit-Baltistan is like a paradise for mountaineers, climbers, trekkers, hikers and anglers. The region has a rich cultural heritage and variety of rare flora and fauna.
Historically, the area ha remained a flash point of political and military rivalries amongst the Russian, British and Chinese empires. Immediately after the end of British rule in the sub-continent in 1947, the people of this region decided to join Pakistan through a popular local revolt against the government of Maharaja of Kashmir.
The Gilgit Baltistan have always been at the crossroads of conquerors, raiders and travelers. Therefore, its history has been deeply influenced by the various incidences of history. The Gilgit-Baltistan have a very rich history which can be understood through periodizations made by historians. It is said that small chieftains ruled Gilgit and Baltistan, until the beginning of the 19th century. They had to grapple with trivial issues amongst each other Taking advantage of their weaknesses and mutual rivalries, the Dogra regime of Kashmir annexed these territories around the middle of the 19th century even though they found the control of the area difficult. Baltistan was administered directly by the Kashmir Government as a part of District Laddakh with Headquarters at Leh. The British Indian Government got attraction in the region following the political developments in Russian and Chinese Turkistan during the late 19th century. The history of Gilgit Baltistan can be divided into the following periods:
Pre-History: The earliest inhabitants of the Gilgit-Baltistan can be traced back to 5th millennium BC They were known as Rock Art People as they started the tradition of rock carving which was continued by their successors. They were hunters and lived in rocks. There is a general perception that they had religion having faith in mountains.
Megalith Builders: These people came from Chitral and Swat and had the tradition of building large megaliths. They used to have a ceremonial carved stone in the middle which was worshiped. They used metals like copper, bronze, iron, gold and silver. They developed irrigated fields and also depended on livestock like goat, sheep and other cattle. They lived in mud houses as temporary settlement.
Dardic People: According to some historians, the Dardics lived in the present Gilgit Baltistan during the Achaemenian Empire (4th century B.C). Their economic activities included mining and trading gold. This led to the establishment of a trade route with Central Asia and China.
Scytho Parthians: Various rock inscriptions around Chilas suggest that the Scythians from Central Asia had established their rule in this area around the first century BC The rule of Scythians resulted in the introduction of Kharoshti script and Taxila style stupas and establishment of close trade relations with Taxila. The Scythian rule lasted only two generations between 1 B.C and 1 A.D. This was followed by the Gondophares branch of Parthians. The influence of the Parthians on local culture is evident from the rock carvings of this era which depict some new themes other than those of the earliest inhabitants.
The Kushans: The Khushans moved to Northern Areas between 1 B.C and 1 A.D who had already established their rule in Central Asia and China. They used gold for trade purposes and a route passed through Northern Area which was perhaps the Silk Route on which the current Karakoram Highway
has been constructed.
The Post Kushans: After the Khushans, the Sassanis from Persia controlled the area in the beginning of 3rd century AD. During that period, Budhism continued to flourish and this area remained a famous crossing point for travel to and from India, China and Central Asia.
The Huns: These were tribes from Central Asia who were warriors. They ruled through several Shina and Brushaski kings called ‘Rajas’. By that time, Budhism was still on its way of spreading.
The climate of Gilgit-Baltistan varies from region to region, surrounding mountain ranges creates sharp variations in weather. The eastern part has a moist zone of western Himalayas but going toward Karakoram and Hindu Kush the climate dries considerably. There are towns like Gilgit and Chilas that are very hot during the day in summer, yet cold at night, and valleys like Astore, Khaplu, Yasin, Hunza, and Nagar where the temperatures are cold even in summer.