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.

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, Tibetan Buddhism and Bon.
Related ethnic groups
Burig, Ladakhis, Tibetans, Dards


The Balti language belongs to the Tibetic language family. Read (1934) considers it a dialect of Ladakhi,[2] while Tournadre (2005) considers it a sister language of Ladakhi.[3]


The Baltis historically practiced Bön and Tibetan Buddhism. Islam arrived in Baltistan via Sufi missionaries such as Ameer Kabeer Syed Ali Hamadani in the 15th century, and soon became dominant. The Baltis still retain many traits of pre-Islamic Bön and Tibetan Buddhist rituals, making them unique in Pakistan.[4]

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.[5]

Today, the Baltis are 60% Shi'a, 30% Sufia Imamia Nurbakhshia, and 10% Sunni.[6]

Small pockets of Bön and Tibetan Buddhist believers in Kharmang Valley and West Kargil amount to about 3000 people.[7]


Balti cuisine is rather well-known. One delicacy include spicy curry cooked in a karahi (a heavy cast-iron dish with two handles). This dish is often eaten with thick naan.[5]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Bakshi, S.R. (1997). Kashmir: History and People. Sarup & Sons. p. 186. ISBN 978-81-85431-96-3.
  2. ^ Balti Grammar, by A. F. C. Read. London: The Royal Asiatic society, 1934.
  3. ^ *N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56 [1]
  4. ^ "The Nurbakhshi religion in Baltistan". Baltistan Foundation. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  5. ^ a b Winston, Robert, ed. (2004). Human: The Definitive Visual Guide. New York: Dorling Kindersley. p. 437. ISBN 0-7566-0520-2.
  6. ^ Bakshi, S. R. (1 January 1997). Kashmir: History and People. Sarup & Sons. ISBN 9788185431963.
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 12 June 2006.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

Further readingEdit

  • 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.