Balti people

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Kids of Tarashing.jpg
Balti children of Tarashing
Total population
28% of Gilgit-Baltistan (247,520) (1998)
Regions with significant populations
Gilgit–Baltistan (Pakistan) Ladakh (India)
Predominantly Shia Islam,[1] small minorities of Sufia Nurbakhshia, Sunni Islam
Related ethnic groups
Burig, Ladakhis, Tibetans, Dards

The Balti are an ethnic group of Tibetan descent with Dardic admixture who live in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan and the Kargil region of India. Smaller populations are found in the Leh region; others are scattered in Pakistan's major urban centres of Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad/Rawalpindi.


The origin of the name Balti is unknown.[2] The first written mention of the Balti people occurs in the second century BCE by the Alexandrian astronomer and geographer Ptolemy who refers to the region as Byaltae.[3] The Balti people themselves call their homeland Balti-yul ("the land of Baltis"). Baltistan is the Persian rendering of Balti-yul.[4]


The Balti language belongs to the Tibetic language family. Read (1934) considers it a dialect of Ladakhi,[5] while Tournadre (2005) considers it a sister language of Ladakhi.[6]


The Baltis historically practiced Bön and Tibetan Buddhism. Islam first arrived in Baltistan via Sufi missionaries such as Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani in the 14th century. The Noorbakshia sect further propagated the faith in Baltistan and most of the Balti had accepted Islam by the end of the 17th century.[7] With the passage of time a large number converted to Shia Islam, and a few converted to Sunni Islam.

The Baltis still retain many traits of pre-Islamic Bön and Tibetan Buddhist rituals, making them unique in Pakistan.[8] Their Balti language is highly archaic and conservative and closer to Classical Tibetan than other Tibetan languages.

Baltis regard congregation in the mosques and Khanqahs as an important religious ritual. The Khanqahs are training schools which were introduced by early saints who 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 Mughal origin which can also be seen in Ladakh, Kargil. On every Friday, the men generally attend the Friday prayers sometime 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.

After the birth of a child, a sheikh or akhun, is called to perform azaan (a prayer) in the ears of the newborn.[9]

Today, the Baltis are 60% Shi'a, 30% Noorbakhshi and 10% Sunni .[10][7]


Balti cuisine is rather well-known. One delicacy includes spicy curry, cooked in a karahi (a heavy, bowl-shaped cast-iron pan with two handles). This dish is often eaten with thick naan.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bakshi, S.R. (1997). Kashmir: History and People. Sarup & Sons. p. 186. ISBN 978-81-85431-96-3.
  2. ^ Backstrom, Peter C.; Radloff, Carla F (1992). O’Leary, Clare F. (ed.). Languages of Northern Areas. Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan. 2. Quaid-i-Azam University: National Institute of Pakistani Studies. p. 5. CiteSeerX ISBN 9698023127.
  3. ^ Afridi, Banat Gul (1988). Baltistan in history. Peshawar, Pakistan: Emjay Books International. p. 9.
  4. ^ Kazmi, Syed Muhamad Abbas (1996). "The Balti Language". In Pushp, P. N.; Warikoo, K. (eds.). Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh: Linguistic predicament. Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation. New Delhi: Har-Anand Publications. pp. 135-153]. ISBN 8124103453.
  5. ^ Balti Grammar, by A. F. C. Read. London: The Royal Asiatic society, 1934.
  6. ^ *N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56 [1]
  7. ^ a b "Little Tibet: Renaissance and Resistance in Baltistan". Himal Southasian. 30 April 1998. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  8. ^ "The Nurbakhshi religion in Baltistan". Baltistan Foundation. Archived from the original on 3 June 2019. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  9. ^ a b Winston, Robert, ed. (2004). Human: The Definitive Visual Guide. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 437. ISBN 0-7566-0520-2.
  10. ^ Bakshi, S. R. (1 January 1997). Kashmir: History and People. Sarup & Sons. ISBN 9788185431963.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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 Indian Muslim.
  • Akhond Muhammad Hussain Kashif "Malumaat e Gilgit Baltistan" 2013.
  • Shumal kay Sitarey by Ehsan Ali Danish Sermik.
  • Azadi e Gilgit Baltistan by Muhammad Yousuf.