By Momina Aftab
Apart from the scenic landscapes, breath taking valleys and inimitable hospitality of its people, Gilgit Baltistan is also loved for its vibrant and heartwarming festivals. There are various kinds of regional, cultural and religious festivals celebrated in this province annually. Below are mentioned the most popular and happening festivals of this region that are the epitome of Gilgiti and Balti culture.
Navroz, sometimes spelled as Nawroz marks the start of the Persian New Year. Though originating in ancient Persia, Navroz is celebrated in different parts of the world and has its local variants. It is celebrated traditionally in the Gilgit-Baltistan region on 21st March onwards every year.
The festivities begin early in the morning and include free-style Polo, traditional dance and music. Favourite traditional food items are served throughout the festival. Salutations and prayers are exchanged, everyone hums words of kindness and fortune to each other. In some parts of GB, literary events are also held to commemorate the occasion.
Shandur Polo Festival
One of the biggest festivals in all of Pakistan, Shandur Polo Festival is held annually from 7 to 9 July at Shandur Top; a flat plateau, famously known as the “Roof of the World” located in Shandur Pass that connects Ghizer District of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral District of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The participating teams of the Polo tournament hail from district Chitral and various districts of Gilgit Baltistan.
Polo was introduced in Shandur by Balti raja of Skardu, Ali Sher Khan Anchan who also built the Shandur Polo ground, which until last year was the highest polo ground in the world at 12263 feet. That distinction now goes to Babusar at almost 13599 feet, still in Pakistan. This festival has been held every year since 1936, where visitors come from all over the country to enjoy this matchless experience. The no-rules, free style Shandur Polo has become a legend all over the world, with international tourists visiting almost every year to witness it. There’s also live folk music, dancing and a camping village.
Harvest festival takes place when the crops sown months ago are ready for reaping and harvesting. Locals celebrate harvest time to show gratitude towards God for blessing them. Live music is played, the farmers rejoice through dancing and everyone shares their happiness with each other through food and prayers.
It is another annual crop harvesting festival celebrated with fervor and zeal in valleys of Hunza and Nagar. The date of the festival, 21st June, mostly overlaps with the longest day of the year. The celebrations begin 10 days prior to Ginani. Musicians at Altit Fort play tunes that are called Hareeps in Burushaski, for ten days till the Ginani day. On the day of Ginani, people gather at a place called chattaq. Prayers are offered for the wellbeing of the community and wheat grains are extracted from the harvested wheat plants and cooked. Special dish called “Dirum Pitti” is also prepared to commemorate the occasion.
Babusar Polo Festival
Another Polo festival of this region, Babusar Polo tournament is held in August every year at the highest polo ground of the world. Teams from various districts of GB participate in this tournament and provide a fulfilling experience to visitors from all over the country. The festival also includes tug of war, tent pegging, paragliding, photo exhibition, gemstone exhibition, handicrafts exhibition, trekking, horse riding and camp fire.