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|Regions with significant populations|
Jammu & Kashmir (India)
|Related ethnic groups|
The Balti is an ethnic group of Tibetan descent with some Dardic admixture, who live in the Gilgit–Baltistan region of Pakistan. In addition, smaller populations also exist in Ladakh, a region of Jammu & Kashmir, India; others are scattered in Pakistan's major urban centres of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad/Rawalpindi. The Balti language belongs to the Tibetan language family and is a sub-dialect of Ladakhi. Balti, Ladakhi and Burig are mutually intelligible.
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Centuries of Tibetan, Persian and Indian influence have shaped the Balti culture into its modern form. Islam plays an important role in Balti culture.
Tibetan influence can be seen in its architecture, where houses with flat roof painted white and sloping inwards are built, and the most notable artifacts of the Balti/Ladakhi architecture include Kharpoche in Skardu, Khapulo Khar in Khapulo, Chakchan and Shigar Khanqah and Baltit Fort of Hunza. Like the Ladakhi Muslim architectures, older mosques show a mix of Persian and Tibetan architecture, although strong Persian and modern influences can be seen in the newer mosques.
Little remains of the pre-Islamic Buddhist culture of Baltistan, largely destroyed and supplaced by the dominant Punjabi and Persian culture which arrived with Islam; this can be evidenced in the near-extinction of traditional Balti festivals such as Mephang, Mindok Ltadmo and Srup Lha. Folk literature such as those of Lha Kesar and works of Ali Sher Khan Anchan prevail among the Balti literature, which has experienced a revival in recent years.
Although climatic conditions are harsh and inhospitable, the village people of Baltistan are among the most friendly and hospitable of mountain peoples in Pakistan. The predominant population of today’s Baltistan is religiously and ethnically homogeneous.
Islam came into Baltistan by different scholars from Iran during 15th century A.D. Soon the whole region converted to Sofia Noorbakhshia.
During the start of the 19th century, the predominant population converted to other Islamic schools of thought such as Shia and Sunnis. Today, the Baltis are; Sufia Imamia Nurbakhshia (38%); Shi'a denomination (42%), and Sunni sect (20%). Today, Nurbakhshis are found in Baltistan and Ladakh regions of J&K, as well as a small number of Nurbakhshis are native to Iran, Kurdistan and Central Asia.
Local Muslims, who converted from Bön-po and Tibetan Buddhism still retain many traits of pre-Islamic Bön and Lamaist rituals, which makes Islam of Baltistan and Ladakh unique from other Muslim societies. Swastika (Yung drung) sign is considered auspicious and is carved on wooden planks that can be seen in historical mosques and Khankas. Showing respect to Lha and Lhu (Bön gods) is customary during many village rituals.
The Balti, who converted to Islam from Tibetan Buddhism in the 16th century, regard congregation in the Mosques and Khankah as an important religious ritual. The Khankahs are a kind of typical training school to which was introduced by the early saints arrived in the region. The students gain spiritual purity (tazkiah) through these trainings (meditations and contemplations) under well-practiced spiritual guides, who have already attained certain degree of spirituality. Mosques in Baltistan are mainly built in the Tibetan style, though several mosques constructed have wood-finish and decorations of Persian origin which can also be seen in Ladakh and Kargil. On every Friday, the men folk would generally attend the prayers sometime a little after noon. All Muslims will fast by day during the month of the Ramadan, and a celebration will be held at the end of the celebration.
Small pockets of Bön and Tibetan Buddhist believers that amounted up to 3000 people are found in Kharmang valley of Baltistan and in West Kargil. East Ladakh (Leh district and Zanskar) are predominantly Buddhist.
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Brahmi was used for written Balti between the 5th to 6th century. However, with the introduction of the Tibetan script under king Khri Getsung-Brtan in the 727 AD, Balti literature flourished. It remained in use until the 16th century, when the Persian script replaced the Balti script. Although, both the Tibetan and Persian scripts were not appropriate for Balti language as it restricts accurate pronunciation of the words due to deformation in writing form, so few years ago Mr. Yousuf Hussainabadi added four new letters to the Tibetan script and seven new letters to the Persian script to adapt both of them according to the need of Balti language, the far western Tibetan dialect. Two of the four added letters now stand included in the Tibetan Unicode alphabet. The Tibetan script had been in vogue in Baltistan till the last quarter of the 14th century A.D when the Baltis converted to Islam. Since then Persian script replaced the Tibetan script, but the Persian script had no letters for seven Balti sounds and has been in vogue in spite of the fact that it didn't fulfil the whole requirement. Addition of the seven new letters has now made it a complete script for Balti language.
And recently a number of Balti scholars and social activists have tried to promote the use of the Tibetan Balti script, Yige, with the aim of helping to preserve indigenous Balti and Ladakhi culture and ethnic identity. Following a request from this community, the September 2006 Tokyo meeting of ISO/IEC 10646 WG2 agreed to encode two characters which are invented by Mr. Yousuf Hussainabadi (U+0F6B TIBETAN LETTER KKA and TIBETAN U+0F6C LETTER RRA) in the ISO 10646 and Unicode standards in order to support rendering Urdu loanwords present in modern Balti using Yige script.
In contemporary Baltiyul, youth like Senge Thsering, Bakir Posingpa, Hassan Shesrab, Raza Tassawor, Zakir Shukur, Taki Akhunzada Namgyal, Nisar Ali Machulo and many others are trying to reintroduce Tibetan/Ladakhi script so that the richness of the Balti language could be promoted and restored. Today one can see many signboards on shops and offices in Tibetan script, a project started by Senge Thsering and Bakir Posingpa in year 2000.
Baltistan Cultural Foundation is an organization trying level best to promote the indigenous script Yige. A primer has been produced by BCF that will be introduced in private schools. Plans are to send Balti teachers to Nepal to learn Tibetan script that could be then taught in local Balti schools. Friends are requested to send funds to BCF in order to support the vital financial arrangements required in this regard.
Baltis of Kargil have also initiated school projects where Yige (Ladakhi/Tibetan) script is taught at primary level to local students. Muslims of Kargil and Baltistan have started showing enthusiasm in reviving the indigenous Tibetan script and enhancing cultural ties of Ladakh and Baltistan.
Social status 
See also 
- Tibetan Muslims
- Three Cups of Tea, a book about an American who was involved in building schools in Baltistan
Further reading 
- Muhammad Yousuf Hussainabadi, 'Baltistan per aik Nazar'. 1984.
- Hussainabadi, Mohamad Yusuf. Balti Zaban. 1990.
- Muhammad Yousuf Hussainabadi, 'Tareekh-e-Baltistan'. 2003.
- Addition of new four letter to tibetan scripts by Yusuf Hussainabadi