Gilgit-Baltistan is an administrative territory located in the northern portion of the larger Kashmir region. It borders Azad Kashmir to the south, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor to the north, Xinjiang region of China to the east and northeast, and the Indian-administered union territories Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to the southeast.
Formerly known as the Northern Areas, the region became a separate administrative unit in 1970, formed by the amalgamation of the former Gilgit Agency, the Baltistan district, and several small former princely states, including Hunza and Nagar. In 2009, the region was renamed Gilgit-Baltistan and granted limited autonomy through the Self-Governance Order. However, scholars state that the real power rests with the governor and not with the chief minister or elected assembly.
Gilgit-Baltistan covers an area of over 72,971 km2 (28,174 sq mi) and is highly mountainous. Its economy is dominated by agriculture and the tourism industry. The region is home to five of the 14 eight-thousanders, including K2, and additionally has more than fifty mountain peaks above 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). Three of the world’s longest glaciers outside of Earth’s polar regions are found in Gilgit-Baltistan. The main tourism activities are trekking and mountaineering, and this industry has been growing in importance throughout the region.
The population of Gilgit-Baltistan was estimated to be 1.8 million in 2015, with its capital city being Gilgit, with an estimated population of 216,760. The Pakistani government had rejected calls for provincial status in the past, but in November 2020, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that Gilgit-Baltistan would attain provisional provincial status after the 2020 Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly election.
The region of Gilgit-Baltistan has a rich history, with evidence of human presence dating back to 2000 BC. The Tibetan people inhabited the region after settling on the Tibetan plateau and preceding the Balti people of Baltistan. The Dards, who are the Shina-speaking people of Gilgit, Chilas, Astore and Diamir, lived mainly in the western areas. In contrast, Burushaski and Khowar speakers predominated in Hunza and the upper regions. The Bon religion was prevalent in the 1st century, and Buddhism became the main religion by the 2nd century.
Chinese Buddhist pilgrims, Faxian and Xuanzang, visited the region between 399-414 and 627-645, respectively. The region was governed by a Buddhist dynasty called Bolü or Palola between the 600s and 700s. The Palola Shahis dynasty is believed to have been mentioned in a Brahmi inscription, and they were devout adherents of Vajrayana Buddhism. The rising Tibetan Empire gained control of the region in the late 600s after the fall of the Western Turkic Khaganate. However, the Tibetans were forced to ally themselves with the Islamic caliphates, facing the growing influence of the Umayyad Caliphate and the Abbasid Caliphate to the west. The region was contested by Chinese and Tibetan forces and their vassal states until the mid-700s. The rulers of Gilgit formed an alliance with the Tang Chinese, holding back the Arabs with their help.
Navasurendrāditya-nandin became king of the Palola Sāhi dynasty in Gilgit between 644 and 655, and Jayamaṅgalavikramāditya-nandin was king of Gilgit in the late 600s and early 700s. In the late 700s, the Ladakh region became part of the Tibetan Empire, and by this time, Buddhism was practiced in Baltistan, and Sanskrit was the written language.
In 721-722, the Tibetan army attempted to capture Gilgit and Bruzha but failed. The king of Little Palola at that time was Mo-ching-mang, who visited the Tang court seeking military assistance against the Tibetans. The Korean Buddhist pilgrim Hyecho passed through the region between 723 and 728. In 737-738, Tibetan troops under the leadership of Minister Bel Kyesang Dongtsab of Emperor Me Agtsom took control of Little Palola. By 747, the Chinese army under the leadership of the ethnic-Korean commander Gao Xianzhi recaptured Little Palola. The Chinese army captured Great Palola in 753.
Gilgit-Baltistan is a region in northern Pakistan, divided into three administrative divisions: Baltistan, Diamer, and Gilgit. The region is further divided into 14 districts, with Gilgit and Skardu as the primary administrative centers. The population of Gilgit-Baltistan was estimated to be around 1.8 million in 2015, with an annual growth rate of 4.85% between 1998 and 2011.
Security in the region is provided by the Gilgit-Baltistan Police, the Gilgit Baltistan Scouts, and the Northern Light Infantry, which is part of the Pakistani Army.
Gilgit-Baltistan is home to Pakistan’s five “eight-thousanders,” as well as over 50 peaks above 7,000 meters. The region is renowned for its stunning mountain ranges, including the Karakoram, western Himalayas, Pamir Mountains, and Hindu Kush. K2 and Nanga Parbat are two of the highest peaks in the region.
Gilgit-Baltistan is also home to three of the world’s longest glaciers outside of the polar regions: the Biafo Glacier, the Baltoro Glacier, and the Batura Glacier. The region is dotted with high-altitude lakes, including Sheosar Lake, Naltar Lakes, Satpara Tso Lake, Katzura Tso Lake, Zharba Tso Lake, Phoroq Tso Lake, Lake Kharfak, Byarsa Tso Lake, Borith Lake, Rama Lake, Rush Lake, Kromber Lake, Barodaroksh Lake, and Ghorashi Lake.
The Deosai Plains, located above the tree line, constitute the second-highest plateau in the world after Tibet, at 4,115 meters. The area covers almost 5,000 square kilometers and was declared a national park in 1993. For over half the year, Deosai is snowbound and cut off from the rest of Astore and Baltistan during winter. The village of Deosai lies near Chilum chokki and is connected to the Kargil district of Ladakh through an all-weather road.