Gilgit Baltistan formerly known as the Northern Areas, is the northernmost political entity within the Pakistan, sandwiched between the Hindukush and Karakoram on the north and western Himalaya on the south. It borders Pakistan's Khyber Pukhtunkhwaprovince to the west, Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor to the north, China to the northeast, Azad Kashmir to the south, and Jammu and Kashmir State of India to the southeast.
The Northern Areas comprise the two districts of Baltistan and the three districts of Gilgit (where the capital is located). Gilgit-Baltistan covers an area of 72,971 km² (28,174 mi²) and is highly mountainous. It has an estimated population approaching 1,000,000. Its administrative center is the city of Gilgit(population 216,760).
Hunza, an independent principality for 950 years which only came under Pakistani rule in 1974, is also located in this region. The main political centres are the towns of Gilgit, Skardu and Chilas.
Before the independence of Pakistan and the partition of India in 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh extended his rule to Gilgit and Baltistan. After the partition, Jammu and Kashmir, in its entirety, remained an independent state. The Pakistani parts of Kashmir to the north and west of the cease-fire line established at the end of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, or the Line of Control as it later came to be called, were divided into the Northern Areas (72,971 km²) in the north and the Pakistani state ofAzad Kashmir (13,297 km²) in the south. The name "Northern Areas" was first used by the United Nations to refer to the northern areas of Kashmir. A small part of the Northern Areas, the Shaksgam tract, was provisionally ceded by Pakistan to the People's Republic of China in 1963.
The territory became a single administrative unit in 1970 under the name Northern Areas and was formed by the amalgamation of the Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan District of the Ladakh Wazarat, and the states of Hunza and Nagar. Pakistan considers the territory separate from Kashmir.
On 29 August 2009, the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, was passed by the Pakistani cabinet and later signed by the country's President. The order granted self-rule to the people of the former Northern Areas, now renamed Gilgit-Baltistan, by creating, among other things, an elected legislative assembly.
Gilgit-Baltistan is administratively divided into two divisions which, in turn, are divided into seven districts, including the two Baltistan districts ofSkardu and Ghanche, and the five Gilgit districts of Gilgit, Ghizer, Diamer, Astore, and Hunza-Nagar. The main political centres are the towns of Gilgit and Skardu.
The climate of Gilgit-Baltistan varies from region to region, surrounding mountain ranges creates sharp variations in weather. The eastern part has the moist zone of the 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.
The Northern Area 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.
Five of the Eight thousander (above 8,000m) peaks of the world are in the Northern Areas of Pakistan. There are 108 over 7,000 m peaks in the Karakoram Range and hundreds of nameless summits below 6,000 metres, mere points on the map.
The Karakoram and the Himalaya, the newest mountain ranges in the world, began to form some 5 million years ago when the Indian sub-continent drifted northwards and rammed into the Asian land mass. By this time the dinosaurs were already extinct. India is still trundling northwards at the geologically reckless rate of five centimeters (two inches) a year, and the mountains are still growing by about seven millimeters (1/4 of an inch), annually. the KKH runs through the middle of this collision belt, where there is an earth tremor, on average, every three minutes.
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.
Amongst the highest mountains are K2 and Nanga Parbat, one of the most feared mountains in the world.
The pride pinnacles of the Northern Areas are:-
· K2, 2nd highest of the world at 8,611Metres
· Nanga Parbat, 9th highest of the world at 8,125 Metres
· Gasherbrum I, 11th highest of the world at 8,080 Metres
· Broad Peak, 12th highest of the world at 8,047 Metres
· Gasherbrum II-IV, 13th-17th highest of the world at 8,035 Metres - 7,932 Metres
· Masherbrum (K1), 22nd highest of the world at 7,821 Metres
· Rakaposhi, 27th highest of the world at 7,788 Metres
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.
Three of the world's longest glaciers outside the polar regions are found in Gilgit-Baltistan — the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier.
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.
There are several high-altitude lakes in Gilgit-Baltistan:
Sheosar Lake in Deosai Plains - Astore region
Satpara Tso Lake in Skardu - Baltistan
Katzura Tso Lake in Skardu - Baltistan
Zharba Tso Lake in Shigar - Baltistan
Phoroq Tso Lake in Skardu - Baltistan
Bara Tso Lake in Gangche - Baltistan
Byarsa Tso Lake in Gultari - Baltistan
Borith Lake in Gojal upper Hunza - Gilgit
Rama Lake near Astore
Rush Lake near Nagar - Gilgit
Kromber Lake In Kromber Pass - Ishkoman Valley, Ghizer District
Barodaroksh lake in Bar valley Nagar
The Northern Areas of Pakistan are rich in flora and fauna because of varied climatic conditions and ecosystems. In spite of unscientific management and ruthless hunting, wildlife in the Northern Areas 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.
The main sources of freshwater in the Northern Areas are glaciers and snow deposits which contribute to stream flow. Other smaller sources are precipitation and spring water.
Gilgit-Baltistan contain the greatest area of perennial glaciers outside the polar regions (22,000 km2) and estimates are that as much as 28% of the region is glaciated; the area of winter snow cover reaches up to 30-40% (Ahmed and Joyia, 2001). There are more than 100 glaciers that are over 10 km in length and many go beyond 50 km. Many of them are very remote and have barely been studied. Hence glaciers and seasonal snow constitute a huge reservoir for freshwater in the area and contribute vastly to the flow of the Indus river.
The Deosai Plains, are located above the tree line, and constitute the second-highest plateau in the world at 4,115 meters (14,500 feet) after Tibet. The plateau lies east of Astore, south of Skardu and west of Ladakh. The area was declared as a national park in 1993. The Deosai Plains cover an area of almost 5,000 square kilometres. For over half the year (between September and May), the plains remain snow-bound for good about six months from November to May. Deosai is snow-bound and cut off from rest of Astore & Baltistan in winters. The village of Deosai lies close to Chilum chokki and is connected with the Kargil district of Ladakh through an all-weather road.
In the northern 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 Karakoram Highway is known as the 'Ninth Wonder of the World' and National Highway 35 (N35), and parts of it are taller than Europe's Mont Blanc. Karakoram is Turkish for 'crumbling rock', an apt description for the giant, grey, snow-capped slag heaps that tower above the gorges cut between them.
Connecting Pakistan to China, it twists through three great mountain ranges - the Himalaya, Karakoram and Pamir - following one of the ancient silk routes along the valleys of the Indus, Gilgit and Hunza rivers to the Chinese border at the Khunjerab Pass. It then crosses the high Central Asian plateau before winding down through the Pamirs to Kashgar, at the western edge of the Taklamakan Desert.
By this route, Chinese silks, ceramics, lacquer-work, bronze, iron, furs and spices travelled West, while the wool, linen, ivory, gold, silver, precious and semi-precious stones, asbestos and glass of South Asia and the West travelled East.
The road was built over an historical caravan trail which was once part of the ancient Silk Road, and was a combined effort between China and Pakistan. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) goes from Western China to Pakistan across the Himalayas and is the world's highest highway. Although the highest peaks are on the Pakistan side, driving the Chinese part is, nonetheless, enthralling for adventurists. The Karakoram Highway provides access to the otherwise unreachable massive peaks of the Karakoram for mountaineers and cyclists.
For much of its 1,284 kms (905 miles), the Karakoram Highway is overshadowed by towering, barren mountains, a high altitude desert enjoying less than 100 millimeters (four inches) of rain a year. In many of the gorges through which it passes, it rides a shelf cut into a sheer cliff face as high as 500 meters (1,600 feet) above the river. The KKH has opened up remote villages where little has changed in hundreds of years, where farmers irrigate tiny terraces to grow small patches of wheat, barely or maize that stand out like emeralds against the grey, stony mountains. The highway is an incredible feat of engineering and an enduring monuments to the 810 Pakistanis and 82 Chinese who died forcing it through what is probably the world's most difficult and unstable terrain. (The unofficial death toll is somewhat higher, coming to nearly one life for each kilometer of road).
The Indus River flows northwest, dividing the Himalaya from the Karakoram, before being knocked south by the Hindu Kush. The KKH hugs the banks of the Indus for 310 kilometres of its climb north, winding around the foot of Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world and the western anchor of the Himalaya. The highway then leaves the Indus for the Gilgit, Hunza and Khunjerab rivers to take on the Karakoram Range, which boat 12 of the 30 highest mountains in the world. By the time the road reaches the 4,733 mere (15,528 foot). Khunjerab Pass, it has earned the name of the highest metalled border crossing in the world.
The famous Karakoram Highway (KKH), the highest international road in the world, also pass through the NA to connect China with Pakistan through the Khunjrab pass, which is at an estimated altitude of 4850 meters.
Karakoram Highway offers thrilling experience for an adventure lover. You may pass many beautiful scenic spots that offer virgin beauty untouched by the outward influence. On the other hand you may come across miles and miles of barren land with rocky mountains staring you in the face.
Just 10 kms from the town of Gilgit, is a Buddha carved into a stone face. Buddha is a victory monument of Taj Mughal, built 700 years ago. The beautiful valley of Naltar in the south eastern side of Gilgit is 35 km away from the main town. It's lush green pastures and green carpeted ground make it a jewel of the Gilgit. It is a forested (pine) village known for its wildlife and magnificent mountain scenery.
Ghizer is North most part of Gilgit Baltistan. It is multi ethnic district and four major languages are spoken. Shina, Khowar, Burushaski and Wakhi. Ghizer offers scenic beauty is famous for treking & trout fishing.
Diamer is the district where the Karakoram Highway enters to the Gilgit from the NWFP. Chilas is the capital of Diamer district. Diamer is famous by it's pine forest. Pine wood is used in good quality of furniture.
Hunza is one of beautiful place in region. It offers historical view of Altit Fort, Baltit Fort, Ganish fort and skyscraper mountains. It's covered by high peaks namely Rakaposhi (7,788 m), Ladyfinger (6,000 m) and Darmyani Peak (6,090 m) and Lady Finger mountains. In Hunza three major languages are spoken, Shina in Lower Hunza, Burushaski in Central Hunza, Wakhi in Upper Hunza and Burushaski in Nagar.
Nager Valley is very famous for hunting animals such as Marco Polo sheep, brown bears, show tigers etc. Gulmet, Faker and Bar are the popular tourist attraction places in Nagar. Golden peak Rakahposhi is situated in the Nagar Valley.
Ghanche is the easternmost district of the Gilgit.The capital of Ghanche District is Khaplu. This is the coldest place in Pakistan. Ghanche borders the Ladakh region of the Indian-held Kashmir and has two military fronts Siachin and Kargil.
Astor lie at the junction of several mountain routes, providing ample and varied trekking opportunities, including many short walks through this beautiful area. Tracks head eastwards from the Bulashbar area, up towards the wild but beautiful Deosai Mountains and Plains. To the north west, a trekking route leads to the Muthat Pass and continues on to Fairy Meadow. In the southwest, Rupal valley provides numerous opportunities for short and long treks. Rama lake is a must see!
Baltistan is extremely mountainous region. The second highest peak K2 is situated in Baltistan. In Baltistan are fourteen highest peaks which attracts tourists. Glacial lakes are abundant in Baltistan and are of high touristic value.
The Karakoram Highway (completed in 1978) connects Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu, which are the two major hubs for mountaineering expeditions in Gilgit-Baltistan. The journey from Islamabad to Gilgit takes approximately 20 to 24 hours. Land slides on the Karakoram Highway are very common.
The KKH connects Gilgit to Tashkurgan and Kashgar in China via Sust (the customs and health inspection post on the Northern Areas side) and the Khunjerab Pass, the highest paved international border crossing in the world at 4,693 metres (15,397 feet).
Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO) offers bus and jeep transport service to the two hubs and several other popular destinations, lakes, and glaciers in the area.
In March 2006, the respective governments announced that, commencing on June 1, 2006, a thrice-weekly bus service would begin across the boundary from Gilgit to Kashgar, China and road widening work would begin on 600 kilometres of the Karakoram Highway. There would also be one daily bus in each direction between the Sust and Tashkurganborder areas of the two political entities.
Flights are being operated by PIA from islamabad to Gilgit. All flights, however, are subject to weather clearance, and, in winter, flights are often delayed by several days.
Gilgit city is one of the two major hubs for all mountaineering expeditions almost all tourists headed for treks in Karakoram or Himalaya ranges arrive at Gilgit first. Many tourists choose to travel Gilgit by air since the road travel between Islamabad and Gilgit by Karakoram Highway takes nearly 18 hours, whereas the air travel takes a mere 45-50 minutes. Gilgit Airport is located at a small ground very close to the center it takes 5-10 Minutes from Airport to any hotel in town.
Places of Interest:
The Victory Monument of Taj Mughal was built about 700 years ago and lies at a distance of 11 kms from Gilgit and it takes about 25 minutes by jeep to get there.
Miles and miles of terraced fields and fruit orchards mark Karimabad, the capital of Hunza Valley. It offers a panoramic view of the Rakaposhi, Ultar and Balimo peaks. It is 112 kms from Gilgit and it takes a jeep about 3 hours to cover the distance.
Sher Qila is the main village of the picturesque Punial valley. The distance is 40 kms and time required to reach there is about 2 hours.
This spot in the Punial valley offers ideal trout fishing opportunities. It is 56 kms away and takes 3 hours to get there.
A valley providing ideal opportunities for hiking and trekking, it lies at distance of 160 kms and the jeep journey requires about 7 hours.
This picturesque area has a lake which abounds in trout. It is about 177 kms away and the time required to get there is about 8 hours.
This 1250 feet long pass connects Gilgit to Chitral. The pass remains snow-bound during winters. It is 250 kms and 15 hours away by jeep.
A lake in this region offers an awe-inspiring view of the eastern side of Nanga Parbat, 8126 meters high. It is 120 kms away and takes 6 hours to get there.
For the adventure-loving tourist, hiker, angler, art-lover, mountaineer or polo enthusiast, there are few places in the world that could compare with Gilgit.
Naltar is the loveliest fully-day outing from Gilgit. About a two-hour drive away, it is an area of alpine meadows and pine forests 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level and surrounded by snow-capped mountains. the road up from Nomal climbs steeply through a rocky gorge to emerge on the fertile, high-altitude pastures. Those who wish to stay can choose among the Public Works Department rest-house, the very basic local hotel, or camping. Naltar is the perfect base for gentle walks through the forest or up to Naltar Lake, where the fishing is excellent. The village is also the starting point for more energetic treks across the 4,000 (13,000 foot). Naltar Pass to the Ishkoman Valley, or across the 4,800 meter (15,700 feet). Daintar Pass to Chalt. The two ski-lifts at Naltar are reserved for army use.