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Exploring the Heritage of Gilgit’s Balti People

It is a strange condition of human behaviour, when we have little to no understanding of the connectedness that surrounds us. Human evolution, migration and the creation of sovereign states is something that has helped combine people from many different heritage points into a shared geographical situation. This is something prominent but under-examined in the case of the Sub-Continent and associated regions. Pakistan is only as old as many of the grandparents of today’s youth and before its existence the area was subject to a great deal of diversification brought forth by some of Asia’s strongest empires and ethnic groups.

An often overlooked example of Pakistan’s amazing diversity is the Balti people who are focused in the Gilgit Baltistan region of the country but the Balti diaspora extends into many of the urban centers of Pakistan such as Lahore and Karachi -- there is even a small population of the group living in the Ladakh region of India as well as in the disputed Kashmir region. With just over a million Balti inhabitants living throughout the country, it is a shame that their rich and diverse origins are often unknown to the people of Pakistan.

In fact, Balti people have Tibetan origins and speak a language (the acknowledged local dialect of Balti) that belongs to the Tibetic language family. It is considered that the Balti language is both archaic and conservative, closer to Classical Tibetan than other variations of the Tibetan languages. Moreover, the group were practitioners of Bön and Tibetan Buddhisim until the arrival of Islam in the 14th century to Baltistan and other areas we now idetify as modern day India and Pakistan. This is responsible for the Balti people now being predominantly Shia or Sufi Islamic followers but nevertheless, the ancient pre-Islamic religions still have impact on the customs and culture of the Balti people -- assertively making one of Pakistan’s most unique demographic groups. Mosques in Baltistan can as a result often be found in the Tibetan style of architecture, while it is still possible to see some elements of Mughal influence. They are also known to adhere to Tibetan ways of simple lifestyle by having similar agricultural practices that involve a meagre living growing crops that comprise mainly of fruits and barley. The common description of Balti people is that they are known as peaceful and friendly.


Ethnic groups such as this particular one are a reminder that there is so much more about the history and heritage of Pakistan than is regularly discussed or known to us. Considering that while Balti people themselves are of Tibetan origins while the term “Baltistan” which refers to their native region is from the Persian language, it can be fairly concluded that Pakistan is a myriad too many different cultures and peoples which should never be dismissed but instead celebrated as diversity brings colour and knowledge to a nation.

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