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    Photo Credit: Manal Khan
    Gilgit Baltistan Culture

    Gilgit Baltistan Culture

    Gilgit Baltistan is home to a number of diversified cultural entities, ethnic groups and various backgrounds. This multitude of culture is because of the strategic location of Gilgit Baltistan. In view of the multi-cultural and multi-lingual aspects, people also have a beautiful mix of lifestyles and attitudes presenting a pluralistic society living together with peace and harmony for centuries.

    The region harbors diverse and endangered mountain cultural traditions. Historically Gilgit Baltistan has been aloof from the rest of the world and the people life living in the region has been revolving around livestock and agriculture. A variety of cultural festivals held in Gilgit Baltistan throughout the year present a exclusive facet of its cultural assortment and different forms of expressions.These festivals represent a number of important recurring merriment cultural events and religious festival brings value additions to the surroundings, the rich diversity of people, culture arts, crafts and heritage. The folk music and instruments commonly used in Gilgit Baltistan are Dadang (drum) Damal (percussion) Duff (a circle framed drum) Suranaye(a kind of flute) Ghajak (spiked fiddle) Sitar, Rubab and Gabi (flute) are popular and important instruments.

    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:

    • Brushaski,
    • Wakhi
    • Khowar.
    • Balti

    Urdu and English are the official languages spoke - 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.


    A majority of the people in Gilgit Baltistan prefer to live in a joint family, which could comprise anywhere between a group of two or more members to even over 20 members sometimes. The commanding position in a family is held by the eldest earning male member. He consults other adult members on important issues, but it is his decision that ultimately prevails. However, a lot of importance is also given to the advice of the eldest retired members of the family.

    It is the duty of woman to take care of her home. As such, from her very childhood, a girl child is taught cooking, cleaning and dish washing by her mother and other ladies in her family. She is also taught to attend to guests and strangers politely and elegantly because it is thought to greatly reflect upon her upbringing.

    One common trait you will find is that children show utmost respect to their elders. It is deemed disrespectful in Gilgit Baltistan to refer to an elder by his / her name. Instead people prefer calling them uncle and aunt, especially if the person is very elderly.

    The traditional arranged marriage has long been an integral part of the Gilgit Baltistan culture. As against love marriage, it is the concept in which the parents and family members search for the prospective bride or groom, through their acquaintances or relatives.


    Men Dress

    • Caps with tuft feathers/flower at the front side
    • Shalwar Qameez
    • Woolen Robe/Cloak Chugha having long or short sleeves

    Men Caps

    Male members of Gilgit Baltistan wear different stuff of woolen phatsun(caps) they consider it as a honour for them. Men usually wear two types of caps:

    • Sheen cast men wear Khoee
    • Balti cast men wear Nating

    The customs of wearing caps is common in man specially during events like dancing each of them use to decorate caps according to their needs. The people of Hunza and Balti usually adorn a flower on the front side of the cap while the Sheens use tuft of feathers on the front of the cap. Sheens call it Gamburi.

    Womenn Dress

    • Loose Shalwar Qameez
    • Iraghi Cap
    • Colorful FRAQ

    Women Caps

    Gilgit Baltistan women have a unique feature of its cultural heritage. Women caps are basically three types:

    • Hunza cast women wear Iraghi Cap
    • Baltistan cast women wear Balti Cap

    The customs of wearing caps is also common in women specially during events like bride makeup. The piece of jewelry worn in the front of iraghat phartsun called SILLA in Burushaski language and TUMAR in Balti language. which is made of Pure Silver. This is mainly use in the place of TEKA which is use usually wear by the women of subcontinent under the shall.


    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 different communities of interpretations i.e. Sunnies, Shias, Ismailies and Noor Bakhshia. A small number of Christians also reside in Gilgit.


    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

    • Navroz,
    • Jashn-e-Baharan
    • Cultural festivals.
    • Shandoor Polo Festival
    • Babusar Polo Festival
    • Harvest time festival

    These are greatest opportunities for people to get together and share their talents and skills.

    Music and 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.


    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 then one persons wear some old style dresses and dance

    Sword 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.

    Traditional Music: Music (Hareep)

    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.

    Festival Events

    Harvest Festival

    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 'ravel 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 CUP POLO Tournament

    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.


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