GILGIT-BALTISTAN, Pakistan --
Gilgit-Baltistan is a favorite destination for tourists inside and outside of
Pakistan. It features some of the world's great mountain ranges -- the
Himalayas, Karakoram and Hindu Kush.
The region, as a whole, is like heaven for mountaineers and hikers. Other than
its lofty peaks, it also offers a unique cultural heritage, beautiful valleys,
dazzling high-altitude natural lakes, glaciers and an array of rare fauna and
It has been called the Roof of the World, the Wonderland of Asia and the Jewel
of Pakistan. More than 50 peaks reach above 7,000 meters in the area, including
the mountain known as K2.
The snow-topped mountains lie in spectacular contrast to the green fields of the
valleys below. The climate of Gilgit-Baltistan is different from area to area.
There are towns, such as Gilgit and Chilas, that in the summer are hot during
the day yet cold at night, and valleys -- Hunza, Astore, Khaplu, Yasin, Baltar
and Nagar -kharmang- where the temperatures are cold even in the summer.
Hunza, possibly the most beautiful valley of Gilgit-Baltistan, is located on the
top of a hill and is the home to two ancient forts. One is the Baltit Fort,
whose foundations date back 700 years. It has been restored and is being
maintained by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, which works to keep amazing
architecture that it is still standing in its original glory.
To visit the fort, one must climb a huge number of stairs to get to the top.
Inside, utensils, clothes, furniture and more are on display.
In the 16th century, the local prince married a princess from Baltistan who
brought master Balti craftsmen in to renovate the building as part of her dowry.
The architectural style is a clear indication of Buddhist influences in
Baltistan at the time.
Altit Fort is another ancient fort in the Hunza valley. It was originally home
to the hereditary rulers of the Hunza state who carried the title Mir. They
moved to the somewhat younger Baltit Fort three centuries later. Altit Fort and
in particular the Shikari tower are around 900 years old. The tower is the
oldest monument in Gilgit-Baltistan.
Gigantic glaciers like Baltoro, Biafo, Hisper and Bilafound add to the
importance of the region. The many lakes, such as Satpara, invite those
interested in fishing as they are full of trout.
There is also Deosai, the world's second-highest plateau, with hundreds of
beautiful wildflower varieties, and thousand-year-old palaces and forts like
Kharphocho (the mighty fort built on a hill in the heart of Skardu city), Phong
Khar Sghigar (the palace on the stone) and the palace of Raja Khaplu, and
mosques and tombs featuring brilliant Kashmiri, Mughal and Iranian architectural
The surrounding rocks embellished with monuments and carvings of 1,200-year-old
Bonism and Buddhism religions lure those tourists who are interested in
archaeology and ancient history.
The hotels in Gilgit-Baltistan exemplify the local tradition of hospitality and
give wonderful care to guests to the area, where they set up special night-view
points of the peaks, valleys and glaciers in the moonlight. The scene gives
indescribable peace to the mind and soul.
A range of continental and traditional foods are offered to guests. Popular
resorts in the area are the Pakistan Tourism Development Corp. motel, the Serena
hotel and the Riviera Hotel and Hunza Inn.
A thriving tourism industry can become an engine of change in Gilgit-Baltistan,
helping its people escape years of poverty and backwardness in an area that
makes up part of the disputed Kashmir region.
The Pakistan government has also taken the right step by returning the
Gilgit-Baltistan name the region, along with provincial status, instead of the
"Northern Areas," as it had been called.
But more needs to be done to cash in on the potential the region has for
tourism, local tourism operators believe. They want Skardu to have an
international airport, but for that a heavy investment has to be made.
Currently, Pakistan International Airlines operates regular flights from
Islamabad to Skardu and Gilgit to bring domestic and international tourists to