Gilgit-Baltistan is the northern part of the Kashmir region, and comprises of around 16 cities, the prominent ones being Gilgit, Skardu and Karimabad (Hunza). It also has provincial status, which means it is autonomous territory. Being a largely mountainous area, it has more than 50 peaks which stand at heights greater than 7000m, and also houses three of the world’s largest glaciers (outside the polar region). Not only is the province visually stunning, but it is also home to an incredibly rich culture of music, dance and a strong sense of community. Moreover, this region prioritises education, specifically the district of Hunza, where the literacy rate stands at more than 95%.
Situated right in the centre of Hunza, the Baltit fort dates back to approximately 700 years. When the Mir (King) of Hunza eventually vacated the Altit fort, the Baltit fort served as his preferred residency till 1945. It was also nominated for World Heritage Status by UNESCO in 2004. Today, the fort is one of the most popular tourist sites in the region. Upon visiting, tourists can explore the fort and learn it’s history through a guided tour. The rooftop also overlooks all of Karimabad, making for a spectacular view.
Located in Skardu, the Khaplu Palace is also a historical sight, which now serves as the Serena Hotel in the region. It was built in the 19th century as the royal residence the Raja of Khaplu, and now tourists can not only visit it but also choose to stay in it. This four floored palace contains a museum, 21 hotel rooms, and a famous Balti-style lounge area with large, open windows, to fully enjoy and take in the views. All in all, Khaplu palace is one of the most well kept and maintained historical palaces in Pakistan, and visiting it is truly an unforgettable experience.
Deosai National Park
Traditionally known as the “Land of the Giants” , the Deosai National Park is located in the Western Himalayas in Gilgit Baltistan. The main geographical feature is the Deosai plains, which also the second highest plateau in the world. Many folk tales surround this area, with some claiming it is haunted by giants, and others trying to find explanations for it’s extremely unpredictable weather (it sometimes snows in the summer). https://www.instagram.com/p/CR_2yZ7J9IZ/
“Ham Gilgit-Baltistan kay hain”.
“Ham Gilgit-Baltistan kay hain” is the unofficial anthem of the province. Sung by two locals, Salman Paras and Salma Jabeen, the song can be heard at any event in Hunza, and engulfs an aura of patriotism through it’s melodious tune.
“Tum Chalay Aao Paharon Ki Qasam”
Although this song didn’t originate in Gilgit, it is commonly sung in the area as a tribute to mountaineers. Students of the local music schools use instruments such as the rubab, sitar and tabla to bring the chilling lyrics of this song to life- “Tum Chalay Aao Paharon Ki Qasam”, meaning “Come back for the sake of the mountains.” Attached below is a sitar cover of the song by Valley Beats Hunza.
Bulbulik Music School in Hunza
Bulbulik was the first folk music school in the area. It provides opportunities to males, females, and even children to facilitate their aim of reviving the “Wakhi” folk culture. The school offers training in many traditional instruments, including but not limited to the Rubab, Sitar, Dorya, Gabi and Tutek. Not only does it actively work to preserve the melodies of folk ulture, but it also documents and translates Wakhi songs, since it is reported by UNESCO as an endangered language.
Chapshoro is the local equivalent to stuffed crust pizza. It typically consists of bread, which is filled with chicken, tomatoes and red chilis, but toppings may vary according to the consumers wish.
Mamtu are Hunza’s delicious boiled dumplings. They are usually filled with minced lamb, beef, various vegetables and served with black pepper and vinegar. The story behind this dish is that it is assumed to be the popular food for travellers on the Silk Route, therefore over the years the recipe passed into the Gilgit region where it became a local delicacy.
Café De Hunza
No list of Gilgit food will be complete without an honourable mention to the ever-so famous Café De Hunza, located in Karimabad. Home to the well- known walnut cake, Café De Hunza has also made it’s mark as a tourist spot in the city, and has been in business since 1998.