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A tract under the Wazir Wazarat of Ladakh, Kashmir, also known as Little Tibet, lying approximately between 34 and 36' N. and 75 and 77 E. It is bounded on the north by the Muztagh range and Nagar ; on the east by Ladakh ; on the south by Kashmir, Ward- wan, and Zaskar; and on the west by Gilgit and Astor. The tract is situated in the midst of enormous mountain ranges with peaks of 25,000 and 26,000 feet, and one above 28,000 feet, and glaciers which are the largest known out of Polar regions. The villages cling to the river valleys, the most impor - tant of which are the Indus, the Shyok, and the Shigar, together with the Dras and Suru rivers which unite near Kargil, the Braldu and Bashar which join the Shigar, and the Hushe and Saltaro which join the Shyok just above Khapalu, one of the most fertile oases in Baltistan.

Physical aspects

There are no forests of any size or value. Deodars and pines grow in clumps on the hills. In the villages and along the roadsides, where water is available, poplars and willows, as well as fruit-trees, grow freely. On the hill-sides and uncultivated land cumin-seed, violets, truffles, and asafoetida are gathered by the people. The rainfall is light, about 6 inches in the year, and the air is dry and bracing. The snowfall is often considerable, and is of great importance to the villages which depend on the snow for their irrigation. In Skardu and Shigar snow remains from the middle of December till the middle of March. In Rondu snow rarely lies. The cold is intense, most of the rivers freeze and form natural roads, superior to the rough tracks on their banks, and there are many villages which the sun's rays do not reach for more than an hour daily. The climate in the spring and autumn is mild ; but in July and August the heat in the villages on the Indus is very severe, especially in the sandy plains of Skardu and the narrow rock-bound valley of Rondu.


The old rulers of Baltistan, known as Rajas or Gialpos, trace their descent from & fakir. One of the most famous of the Gialpos was Ali Sher, who lived about the end of the sixteenth century. He conquered Ladakh, and built the fort on the rock at Skardu. Ahmad Shah was the last of the independent Rajas. His fort was captured by the Dogra general, Zorawar Singh, in 1840, and he himself accompanied Zorawar Singh on his ill-fated expedition into Tibet, and died in captivity near Lhasa. Several of his near relatives were deported as political prisoners to Kashmir, where their descendants still live. The present Rajas of Baltistan have little recognized power, but the people still look up to them with respect, and have endured their unlicensed exactions with patience. The Baltis are of the same stock as the Ladakhis. They have Mongolian features, high cheek-bones, and eyes drawn out at the corners, but the nose is not so depressed as is the case with the Bhotis of Ladakh. There is very little to distinguish the Baltis from the Ladakhis, save the absence of the pigtail, but they are perhaps slighter in build and taller. They are good-natured and patient, and are devoted to polo. In spite of much oppression, they are a merry, light-hearted race, always ready to laugh. Their aress consists of a skull-cap, coat and trousers of wool, and raw skin boots made comfortable by grass quilted inside. They shave the head, leaving long elf-locks growing from behind the temple into which they entwine flowers. When the Baltis adopted Islam and became Shiahs they eschewed polyandry ; and while in Ladakh, where polyandry prevails, the popula- tion does not fall heavily on the land, in Baltistan the population, owing to polygamy, is too large for the cultivated area. The density rises to 1,649 persons per square mile of cultivation in Khapalu, and the average per square mile of cultivation is 1,467. The constant sub- division of the lands held by a family leads to holdings becoming so small that the occupier can no longer subsist by cultivation, but deserts his land and turns to other means of earning a livelihood. There is in consequence much real poverty, and the Baltis emigrate to India in search of labour, or carry loads to Gilgit and Ladakh.

The principal castes are Raja, Balti, Saiyid, and Brukpa. The Baltis are numerically the strongest, and hold most of the land ; but the Raja caste, including the local chiefs and their collaterals, hold a con- siderable area of cultivation and enjoy numerous privileges. The Brukpa are immigrants from Dardistan, and are a distinct people from the Baltis. According to Major Kaye, Settlement Commissioner, Kashmir, they correspond to the Dum in Kashmir in their position among the village community. The most important tracts in Baltistan are Skardu, Shigar, Braldah, Basha, Rondu, Haramosh, Kiris, Khapalu, Chorbat, Parkutta, and Tolti. Farther east lies Kargil, where some of the population are Buddhists, acknowledging the Grand Lama of Lhasa as their spiritual head. The Baltis have suffered great hardships from maladministration and forced labour in the past. The language of the people is Tibetan, with a small admixture of Persian and Arabic. It slightly differs from the Ladakhi language, but the two peoples understand each other's talk.


Cultivation depends on irrigation ; and where water is plentiful excellent crops are raised. The actual work of cultivation, except ploughing, is done almost entirely by women, as the men are away tending cattle on the distant pastures, carrying loads to Ladakh and Gilgit, or repairing the watercourses and the terraces on which their little fields are built up. In many places the fields are too small for ploughing by cattle, and then either spade labour is employed or the ploughs are drawn by human beings. The plough is light and is made entirely of wood. The chief spring crops are wheat, barley, beardless barley {grim), peas, beans, and lentils ; while buckwheat, ch'ina {Panicum miliaceum), and kangni (Setaria Halted) are the most important of the autumn crops. Turnips are also grown as a following crop after barley and grim. Except in the higher and colder tracts, or where manure is deficient, the land bears two crops each year.

Certain land, usually strong and difficult to cultivate, situated high up the source of irrigation above the cultivation proper of the village, and known as ul abi, is reserved for growing fodder-grasses, chiefly lucerne. This is always watered, fenced, and carefully looked after. The soil is light, and requires little ploughing. The time for sowing depends on the snow, and when snow lies long it is artificially cleared by sprinkling earth over it. Among other peculiarities of cultivation in Baltistan may be noticed the large amount of irrigation given to spring crops as compared with that given to autumn crops ; the practice of rooting out the crops, instead of cutting them ; the little preparation given to the soil after the spring crop has been harvested and before the autumn crop is sown on the same land ; and the utter absence of rotation crops. In some villages good tobacco is grown. No crops can be raised without manure.

As winter approaches, earth is stored on the house-tops and mixed with the dung of cattle and human excre- ment. The latter is always collected in small walled enclosures. The manure is carried out in the spring in baskets and spread thickly over the land. Frost or early snowfall may cause a failure of crops. Fruits play an important part in the economy of the Baltis. The apricots are celebrated, and are largely exported to Kashmir and the Punjab. The dried fruit and the kernels are both in great demand.

Traders pay large sums in advance for the crop. Mulberries are an important source of food. Raisins are exported. Excellent peaches, in quality hardly surpassed by the best English fruit, and good grapes, melons, and cucumbers are common.

Gold-washing is carried on in many villages, and all find it profitable, and pay most of the revenue from this source. The State charge for a licence for gold-washing is Rs. 10. In Kargil to the south-east of Baltistan the gold industry is of some importance, and for the most part the sand is excavated high above the present river-level. The present methods of washing are wasteful, and with better appliances the industry might give a large return. Arsenic is met with, and sulphur abounds. Copper is found in Rondu, and white nitre exists in several places, but is not collected.

Trade and Communication

There is very little trade. Tea, cloth, sugar, and rice are imported, and there is a small business in salt from Ladakh. The most con- siderable export is that of apricots and apricot kernels, communications. but raislns are also ex Ported to Kashmir. A special manufacture is a very close thick black pattu (frekhan), resembling the cloth of which pilot-jackets are made. A curiosity is the zahri-mora, a green soft stone like an inferior jade found in the Shigar valley. Cups and plates are made of it, and in Kashmir and the Punjab it is used as an antidote to poison and in eye diseases. Communications are of the worst description, and money judiciously spent in road-making would add greatly to the comfort and prosperity of the Baltis. Several routes connect Baltistan with Kashmir, Ladakh, and Astor, and one dangerous track leads to Gilgit. Of the Kashmir routes, one passes over the Deosai plains. These lie at an elevation of 13,000 feet, and are surrounded by a ring of lofty mountains. For most of the year they are under snow, and even in the summer the cold at nights is intense. The so-called plains are mournful stretches of grass and stones, with many a bog difficult to cross, and uninhabited but for the marmots, an occasional bear, and swarms of big black gnats. The absence of wood for fuel, the distance from human habita- tions, and local superstitions regarding 'the devil's place' prevent the people from using the pastures of Deosai.


Baltistan has recently been placed under the charge of the Wazir Wazarat of Ladakh. His local deputies are the tahsildars of Skardu and Kargil. Both tahsils have recently been settled ... . by a British officer, and it is probable that the long- suffering and patient Baltis may look for better days. The ex-Rajas, or Gialpos, still exercise some authority over the people, and a definite sum out of the several collections has now been alienated in favour of each family. The total land revenue assessed at the recent settle- ment of the tahsils of Skardu and Kargil was 1-4 lakhs. Of this about a fourth is taken in kind.

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