Once the center of the Buddhist realm, Gilgit is the capital city of Gilgit-Baltistan province of Pakistan. It is situated at the elevation of 4800 feet in the north-east region of the country near the point of confluence of River Hunza and Gilgit River. Gilgit city has strategic importance in Asia because it links China with the Indian sub-continent. It has a population of 500,000 people and is locally called “Gilit” or “Sargin-Gillit”.
Generally, Gilgit has a cold dry climate with an average annual rainfall varying between 120-240mm. The summer season, in the city, is transitory but hot. Sometimes, the temperature reaches as high as 40°C or above because of which floods and landslides are common occurrences. While winter is freezing cold as the temperature can drop down to -11°C. It is the prevalent season of the region that is valid for almost eight to nine months.
Language of Gilgit
The residents of Gilgit can speak either Shina, Burushaski, Balti, Khowar, Gujari, Pashto, Ladakhi, or Purgi. Although, the official language is Urdu but Shina is the primary language of the city. Specifically, the local people communicate in the prestige dialect of Shina called Gilgiti. Shina is an Indo-Aryan language. It is commonly written with a Devanagari script and occasionally with a version of the Urdu or Arabic alphabets.
The population of Gilgit is entirely Muslim but fairly diverse. The locals follow different sects of Islam including Sunni, Shia, Noorbakhshi and Ismailism. Although, the majority of people in the region are Shia.
Culture of Gilgit
1. Traditional Dresses
Gilgit has a rich cultural heritage that manifests in its lifestyle, customs, traditions, clothing and local music. The traditional dresses of local people are greatly influenced by the weather, geography and culture of the area.
Women of Gilgit usually wear traditionally embroidered-colorful frocks or loose Shalwar Kameez. They pair it with a Dupatta or Shawl, a traditional Iraghi Cap and silver jewelry. The men generally wear Shalwar Kameez along with a woolen Gilgiti hat. In winters, they pair their attire with either a waistcoat, jacket or a men’s shawl.
2. Family System
The local people of Gilgit have profound respect for their religious as well as cultural values. Therefore, the majority of people prefer to live in a joint family system.
Arranged marriage is an integral part of the culture. The elders of the family usually search for a prospective groom or bride for an individual. The life partners are usually selected within the family. It is the duty of women to take care of family and home. Generally, they do all the household work. The divorce rate in Gilgit is very low.
Traditional Gilgiti dance, classical dance, Sword dance, Sneopa and Gasho-Pa are quite popular in Gilgit. Sneopa is a marriage-procession dance, while, Gasho-Pa is a sword dance performed during festive events.
The residents of Gilgit exceedingly appreciate art, crafts, music and poetry. Hence, they love to play musical instruments like Gabi (flute), Duff, Damal, Surnai, Dadang (drum), Rabab, Ghajak (spiked fiddle) and Sitar.
The traditional manuscripts of Gilgit are the oldest in the world. They were recorded during the 5th and 6th Century CE, although, some of them were discovered later on. Generally, these manuscripts have a huge significance in Buddhist studies and the evolution of Asian as well as Sanskrit literature.
In 1931, the corpus of Gilgit manuscripts was discovered in Gilgit. It had four sutras from the Buddhist canon including the Lotus Sutra. These were inscribed on birch bark in old Sanskrit language. These manuscripts are based on different themes, for example; philosophy, folklores, medicine, general knowledge, iconometry, and life.
i) Shino Bazono
With the onset of spring, the people of Gilgit celebrate a fifteen days long festival famously known as Shino Bazono. The celebrations start in the middle of February and last till the start of March to commemorate the harvesting of new crops as well as the departure of a tough winter season.
For Shino Bazono, the women prepare special sweetmeat dishes called Wailai Diram and Diram Phiti. Wailai Diram is made from locally grown wheat flour, apricot oil, walnuts and water. This mixture is then cooked without the addition of sugar. Diram Phiti is small flat loaves prepared from wheat flour. It is consumed along with raisins.
As soon as the cultivated crops of barley and wheat ripe, the entire Gilgit celebrate the ceremony of Ganoni in mid-June. During one afternoon, the residents take bread loaves fried in butter to their fields. This bread is shared among all the family members. Afterward, they cut some of the fully ripened ears of barley, take them to homes and put them on fire for a while. They put these roasted grains in small basins filled with curd or milk. Each family member then takes at least three spoonfuls of this milk/curd. The ceremony concludes with local songs and dance performed till late at night.
iii) Duma Nikha
Following the reaping of spring or autumn crops, the local people put the grains into handmade bags, recite prayers and eventually gather their harvests to celebrate Duma Nikha. This festival commemorates freedom from agriculture labor. Hence, a goat is slaughtered, subsequently roasted and the meat is shared between people at a common place where they perform regional dances and play various games including polo.
Aside from the above–mentioned festivals, the people of Gilgit also celebrate Ayi Boyi, Seelo-ai-Thali and Nagi Suchemi.
Activities in Gilgit
Hiking and Mountaineering
After Skardu, Gilgit is the second major hub of mountaineering expeditions in Gilgit-Baltistan. Several high altitude summits including Haramosh Peak, Naltar Peak and the mountains of Karakoram and Himalaya Range are located in the city that serves as tourist’s reverie.
Gilgit is a dreamland for trekkers as it offers a lot of trekking opportunities.
The trout fishing is a renowned pastime of the residents of Gilgit.
In the serene Gilgit River, tourists can try their luck with boating and rafting.
There is a local paragliding association in Gilgit which provides ample facilities of this sport for the tourist.
The tourists can ride their bikes or bicycles along the exciting tracks of the Silk Route. These trails lead to China through Khunjerab Pass.
Best Foods Of Gilgit
The residents of Gilgit prefer fruits and organic food products. Unlike the other cities of Pakistan, they do not like spicy food. Dishes such as baked bread, salted/roasted meat, hand-made noodles and chai are thoroughly enjoyed. The local restaurants offer different Pakistani, Chinese as well as Western cuisines.
People of Gilgit love bread including Guli, Diram Phiti and Wailai Diram. Guli is a flat-bread made from wheat flour that is covered with butter. It is rich in Vitamin B-17.
Walai Diram is also prepared from wheat flour but is served with a mixture prepared from apricot oil, butter and walnuts.
Gholmundi is prepared by stuffing a filling of locally prepared cheese, chives and coriander between two buttery chapatis.
Chapshuro is similar to an Italian calzone. It is made from a thin dough that is filled with meat, chilies, coriander leaves, onions and tomatoes.
Similar to Hungarian fried bread, Shisar is a fried pastry made of eggs and wheat flour.
It is a crepe prepared from eggs, wheat flour and butter. The taste of Rishoki depends upon its constituents as it can be sweet or savory in taste.
Mamtu dish is a Gilgiti version of steamed dumplings that are stuffed with chopped lamb or beef, garlic, onion and peppers.
Sharbat is gooey, dry buckwheat dough served with pure apricot oil. It is a sweet winter dish that is eaten on special occasions.
The locally available trout fish is shallow fried in apricot oil to give it an inimitable taste.
Expenses/ Travel Guide To Gilgit/routes
PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) operate two flights daily from Islamabad Internal Airport to Gilgit Airport and vice versa. It requires 45 minutes to reach the city by air. This journey provides the most picturesque aerial view of Nanga Parbat and the surrounding peaks. The flights to Gilgit often get delayed because of bad weather.
Gilgit is situated approximately 10km away from Karakoram Highway that connects it to Abbottabad, Besham, Chilas, Dasu, Islamabad, Sust, Chitral, Skardu and Hunza in Pakistan. Moreover, this roadway also links the city to Xinjiang, Upal and Tashkurgan in China.
Local transport companies, for example; Northern Areas Transport Corporation (NATCO), Masherbrum Transport Pvt and Silk Route Transport Pvt operate buses from Islamabad, Sust, Kashgar and Tashkurgan to Gilgit and vice versa. But the border between Pakistan and China at Khunjerab is only open from May till October.
Condition of Roads
The roads to Gilgit have been upgraded as part of the CPEC. In winters, snow covers almost all the routes of the region. Also during monsoon, the roadway is sometimes blocked because of avalanches.
Places to Stay
- Dumani Mountain Resort- PKR 4000 per night
- Riverdale Resort- PKR 10, 000 per night
- Park Hotel- PKR 6,000 per night
- Fairy Meadows Cottages- PKR 5,500 per night
- Riviera Hotel- PKR 6,000 per night
- Naveed Tourist Inn- PKR 4,500 per night
- Alpine Pasture Guest House- PKR 5,499 per night
Best Time To Visit Gilgit
The ideal time to explore Gilgit city is from May till October. This is because the roadway of Karakoram Highway is usually blocked during winter and monsoon because of snow and landslides respectively.
Top Places To Visit In Gilgit
Naltar valley is situated 40km away from Gilgit. Hence, it is accessible via a 2 hours’ drive by jeeps through the Gilgit Link Road. Naltar is covered by a pine forest that is surrounded by the seemingly gorgeous Nomal and Hunza. Famous for its magnanimous mountains, glorious wildlife, trekking routes, stunning glaciers and pristine lakes, this beautiful valley is accessible via public transport which is available during specific time periods.
Naltar Pine and Naltar Bala are the two villages of Naltar Valley that are located at a distance of 40km and 34km from Gilgit, respectively. PAF organizes annual Ski competitions in the Naltar.
Naltar peak is a magnificent mountain located in the Naltar Valley of the Gilgit District. It is present at the altitude of 4678m and lies south-east of the renowned Mehrbani Peak. Naltar peak is accessible via 4×4 vehicles.
In the past, Gilgit was under the influence of Buddhists. Hence, a rock statue of Buddha famously known as the “Kargah Buddha” was stamped, in the 7th century. It is situated near the ravine of Kargah Nallah approximately 10km away from Gilgit. Kargah Buddha was discovered between 1938 to 1939 along with three stupas and a Buddhist monastery.
Situated on the serene Gilgit River, it is a narrow suspension bridge that merges into a tunnel on the far side. It was built by the collaboration of engineers of the National Highway Authority and CRBC (Chinese Road Bridge Construction Company). Gilgit Bridge was opened on 30th November 2008 for traffic. It is the longest suspension bridge in Asia with 2m width and 182m length.
Monument of Taj Mughal
Constructed to commemorate the victory of Taj Mughal, this monument is situated at a 30km drive away from Gilgit. It was constructed by the soldiers of Jutial and Khomal at an altitude of 1000 feet on the top of Gilgit city.
Situated at the distance of 38km from Gilgit, Sher Qilla is a famous fort that has the world’s best trout fish lake. It is connected to Astore, Ghanchy, Hunza, Skardu and Ghizer.